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Entrepreneurship: A Business Owner’s Maternity Leave

The Energy Burst

One of the most interesting facts for me in birth education was that in early labor, you often get a huge burst of energy, combined with an intense shot of nesting. Apparently, doing laundry between those early contractions is popular. (washing tiny onesies!) Some women vacuum for hours. Some finish up the nursery. Some (I swear to god) apparently bake cookies. (Midwife/Doula trick: bake cookies. Eat cookies in between baking—this part is a Meg trick. When you start burning the shit out of the cookies, consider going to the hospital.)

And as I’ve rolled into late pregnancy, something similar to the early labor energy burst has taken over my work life. (And let’s not kid ourselves. When I start getting contractions, it’s possible that David will wake up to find me in my office at three in the morning, sending some last emails, and making sure everything is organized for Maddie. Sadly for me, he probably won’t find me eating freshly baked three-AM cookies.)

If I’ve been quiet on APW lately, it’s because my current work life completely revolves around my white board. The white board is divided into two sections. Everything written in pink is the work to-do list, and everything written in blue is the personal to-do list. All day, I sit at my desk, and work on clearing the pink side of the board. And most nights I sit on the couch and work with David to clear the blue side of the board. We all deal with the uncertainty of introducing a person we’ve never met into our families (What? Strange, right?) differently, but it’s no surprise that one of the ways I’ve dealt with it is organization.

Changing, Expecting The Unexpected

Until recently, it hadn’t occurred to me to write about the part of entrepreneurship that is self-employed maternity leave, because I’d classed it under “boring” in my head. But since early college, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about how I could balance a successful career with the unrelenting biological realities of being female and choosing to have kids. And it recently realized that my in-the-moment process of starting to figure all this out, might be interesting to people other than me. Perhaps, at least.

One of the interesting things about pregnancy is that (somewhat like the engagement process) a lot is changing, but you’re not on the other side yet. Now, I don’t mean this in the way that I’ve heard it put over and over again, “You think that you know yourself and then you get pregnant and EVERYTHING CHANGES.” That always scared the shit out of me. So let’s be realistic. For me, at least, lots of things changed while pregnant. Why? Well, life changes you all the time always, so not to spoil the drama of the thing, but you were going to change anyway. Throw in a seriously life-altering event and (f*cking) hormones, and you’re probably going to change a little faster. But all that change is in the context of self. You change in ways that come from within and make sense given who you are. There is no reason that you have to let go of all of your fundamental ideas and philosophies about living your life, just because you got knocked up. Unless you want to. Which I didn’t.

What I’ve Learned

But still. Being pregnant is not the same as having a small squalling baby. So the best you can do is make plans based on what you think your needs are going to be, and make those plans as flexible as possible, to accommodate your changing needs. For me, it’s looked like this:

Preparedness 

I knew that for my sanity, I needed to feel established and happy in my work life to consider having a kid. It doesn’t work like this for lots of people, but I knew on some deep level that if I didn’t have the counter-balance of a career I liked, having a kid was going to throw me into a painfully unbalanced place. So we thought a lot about that. And I’m not going to claim that it worked out flawlessly or easily (because biology = not like that). But we were able to find a way to roughly make that work. And if we hadn’t been able to do that, I’m not sure we would have made the same choices. Which is okay too.

I say this not because what I needed to do to prepare is the same as what any other human on the planet needs to do to prepare. (And also? Lots of my favorite parents and people didn’t get to prepare at all (surprise), or did prepare, but their plans looked even more different than their realities.) But for me, knowing where my limits were helped. This process has been hard for me, but having a career as counterbalance has been one of the few things that made things work.

Flexibility

If I knew that in my ideal world I’d have a professional life I valued, before I had kids, I also figured out that the most important piece of that professional life for me was going to be some flexibility. I didn’t particularly want to be home with my kids all day, but I did want to be able to pick up my kids when they were sick, or stop working mid-afternoon if they had something important. One of the things that makes me livid about how we treat families in this country is that flexibility is hard to come by. When I was working at an investment bank, I knew that there was literally no way I could make that job fit around a family life, unless I had a stay-at-home partner (and by “partner” I mean “wife.” Because close to 100% of the people in that firm with young kids were men with stay-at-home wives. I’m so glad we’ve made progress. Ha.) The obvious point is that we need to change work policies for everyone in this country, to make it easier for parents (and most particularly mothers, who the burden seems to fall most heavily on) to work.

But what I’ve learned this year is that it’s not just about having a small kid. It turns out this flexibility has been incredibly important in making me a productive worker during pregnancy. Because pregnancy throws the book at you (and you never know what is going to hit you on any given day). You might feel fine, or be super ill, or have unexpected appointments, or be so exhausted that you can’t sit up. Because I ran my own schedule, other than on the very worst days, I worked a good seven to eight very productive hours. I’d start work at 8:00 or 8:30 in the morning and stop at some point to sleep or go to an appointment or (cough) throw up. And then when I felt better, I’d sit back down at work till 6:00. Or sometimes 8:00. Or sometimes… 10:00? Because I’m crazy, and I like my work a lot. Without this? Well, at the very least, it would have been harder for me to constructively contribute to the workforce. And as someone who really values women’s contributions and perspectives, I think this is a huge issue.

Support

Every so often a reader, or someone in the world at large, will make an offhand comment about how it’s impressive that I do All The Things. And then I laugh, because that’s always a fantasy we have about another person. I do some of the things (a few of the things?) pretty well indeed. I don’t do other things at all. And I’ve learned to enlist (and as a business owner, hire) help wherever I can.

For example, we’re using daycare, because well, it’s the clear choice for us. I can’t do my job while watching a child full time. I’ve done childcare most of my life, so I know that for a fact. And no one seems to expect David to bring the kid into his law office full time (fancy that). Do I feel guilty about daycare? Not in the slightest. We know that the way we want to use childcare might change when we meet the kid, so we tried to pick a daycare facility that gave us lots of options, and plan to roll with whatever happens. We’ll see. (There is a lot of “we’ll see” going around this house right now, combined with well-laid plans.)

I have a great staff. Human bodies (and new little human bodies) being what they are, I’m obviously not going to be here at my desk working right after I have a kid. So the amazing Maddie is taking over content for APW, and the amazing Emily is taking over advertising for the interim. Lucky for all of us, I’m giving birth in the slow season. Handy.

And then, with a nod to Sheryl Sandberg, I picked a good partner. After a run of egalitarian pregnancy, we’ve got a lot of balancing ahead of us. Sure, he can’t nurse, but he can cook (which is handy, because I really can’t). And if I try to hog all the baby holding and parenting duties, that’s super not going to work out for me, because I have a husband who thinks getting to do half the parenting is his due. He will order me to sit it out if I’m hogging the spotlight. (This is key, you guys.)

Focus

And finally. At Alt Summit two years ago, Tina Eisenberg of Swiss Miss talked about how her career kicked into higher gear with every kid she had. Why? Because she no longer had the time or patience for bullshit. I’m seeing that process start in pregnancy. As I get ready for my maternity leave, I’ve spent six months cleaning things up. If something isn’t working? Get rid of it. If a task can be more efficiently done by someone else, well why didn’t I think to have them do it in the first place? If I don’t care about it? Quit doing it. And for god’s sake, clear the schedule. Stop taking on obligations. Suddenly nothing looks as good as a week with no appointments, or a weekend with only one thing planned.

I have to realize that I might not get things done on as quick a timeline as I used to (no more writing books in four and a half months for awhile), but if they are important, I’ll move heaven and earth to get them done.

Because for men, having a baby isn’t about suddenly thinking small. It’s about adjusting. And for me well, it turns out that’s true as well. Lots of adjusting. But plenty of dreaming big too. This kid deserves it.

Photo: Our baby shower by Hart & Sol West

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