My sister has just had her first baby, so my entire family has babies on the brain – hence the topic of today’s My Advice column. For my sister, taking a year’s maternity leave was a reasonably straightforward task: apply for leave, granted leave, leave and not have to think much about work for a year. Of course, going back is already a daunting thought for her as her job is challenging, high stress and long hours – but there wasn’t much work preparation needed in the lead up to having her baby.
For me, and anyone else who works for themselves or runs a small business, it’s a different story. Your business won’t keep running without you unless you put a lot of thought into how you’re going to manage. I couldn’t ignore the advice of Tess McCabe, publisher, designer and CWC director, about how she made it work. Tess had her first child in 2012 and made the transition look easy (I’m sure it was anything but). Amy Constable, founder of Saint Gertrude Letterpress, had her baby in April and her advice is simple but oh-so important: relax. Illustrator Alarna Zinn made some big changes to her business-life and shares some thoughts about the transition into working creatively post-bub. Thanks for your honesty and sage advice, ladies.
Pray for a sleeper, prepare for a screamer.
Tess McCabe, publisher, graphic designer and director, Creative Women’s Circle
"My mantra when I was pregnant with my son was 'pray for a sleeper, prepare for a screamer'. I basically lowered my expectations down to getting absolutely nothing done work-wise (being running CWC or my graphic design work for clients) for the first four months of his life. Why I settled on 4 months I am unsure... perhaps I thought naively that everything would be sorted routine-wise by then - ha!.
After that, I told my clients I would be on an indefinite break, and I did a few things in preparation to ensure that despite my mini absence, tumbleweeds wouldn't blow across CWC's cyberspace presence. I hired a trusted colleague to take over some of the basic CWC admin for a short time, such as preparing weekly blog posts and keeping up with social media enquiries. I prepared CWC events to be held just before he was born (with a backup plan in place should he have arrived early!) and then a few months after, so that the flurry of activity associated with an event day wouldn't coincide with those precious early weeks.
After those 4 months, and much deliberation about when I would be 'back' taking on client graphic design work, I had to relent that my 'many pots on the stove' career just wasn't going to cut it being at home with a young'un: a baby and deadline-driven client work AND another small business just didn't mix well for me. So I focused just on what I a) enjoyed and b) offered me the most flexibility and the least stress, and that was maintaining CWC."
Amy Constable, founder and creative director, Saint Gertrude Letterpress
"Work as long as you feel fit and capable, but once that baby is born: clear your schedule! You have no idea what kind of baby you will have. Will they be laid back or clingy? Good sleeper or bad? And what kind of mummy will you be? Maybe you’ll be cool leaving your new baby to be looked after, maybe you’ll struggle to let go. These things can’t be predicted and it takes a good few months to work this stuff out. The last thing you need is work commitments, or a looming return to work date while you’re dealing with a baby behaving unexpectedly, not to mention your own hormones.
You won’t be left behind. It might feel like it as you check out all the cool things happening on Instagram while you're chained to the couch covered in spew, but the world won’t move on if you just take a little time off to get to know your new bub and your new life. In fact, people are pretty likely to say things like “that went fast!” when you do return to work. So relax, put an out-of-office on the email, and come back on terms that work for both of you."
Take things as they come and adjust if need be.
Alarna Zinn, illustrator
"We probably should have thought a little harder about what decisions would need to be made but it really is something you can never be prepared for. My husband and I both owned our own businesses, which took up a lot of our time and in the end we just decided having children was something we wanted to do. There was never going to be a 'perfect' time so we decided that we should just jump in and work things out as we went along! Firstly, I decided to close down my physical shop (Little Jane Street) in Brisbane's Winn Lane when I was about halfway through my pregnancy - which I was more than happy to do in exchange for daytime naps! After Ada was born, with a slightly heavier heart I also decided to close down my business completely as I just didn't feel like I could give it 100% anymore, which was important to me. A lot of pressure was lifted and I have been able take some time off and I actually feel like I have become more creative (not productive!) working on limited freelance jobs and personal projects around taking care of Ada.
You can certainly make plans for what you would like to do - things like when you would like to start back at work, get child care etc, however things don't always work out that way. In our family we tend to just take things as they come and re-adjust if need be to best suit everyone involved. It really is such a fleeting moment in time that they are little and if I am feeling frustrated with things not going to plan, I just think that I won't ever get this time again so I might as well just enjoy it because in a few years I will have all the time in the world to follow my dreams.
[Since Ada, my creativity] certainly isn't the same. For me, it is like my brain works on half power because the other half is trapped in the mundane everyday tasks and exhaustion of looking after a tiny person and that can sometimes be limiting. There is nothing inspiring about dirty nappies, food preparation, cleaning or entertaining a toddler. When I take all that away, I think the creativity is still there laying dormant but it is important to have that time to yourself to reconnect and tap into it. I definitely do not have lots of ideas popping into my head like I did before I had Ada. I find that I need to take the time away to do simple things - like explore the city, walk in the park, be by myself, read a book - to get inspired by something outside of our home. I am getting back into illustrating (very slowly) and I hope to do more this year as Ada spends a couple of days a week with our Nanny - this has been and important step for me to have assigned time to work so I will see if that creative drive comes back!"
Lizzie Stafford is a freelance writer and editor and owns and runs Künstler, an independent magazine and bookstore based in Winn Lane, Brisbane. She is the Brisbane events coordinator for CWC.