Vol 5: The Real Life of a Mompreneur – Navigating Maternity Leave as a Small Business Owner

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  • February 24, 2016

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Images: Rachel Lyn Photography

We’re back with another super amazing guest post in our #Momprenuer series (Vol1, Vol2, Vol3 Vol4, if you missed them!). Today we have Lori from Love, Lori Michelle (one of my ABSOLUTE favorite jewelry designers in DC) sharing her journey into motherhood and what that meant for taking maternity leave as a small business owner. I’ve continually told anyone (that listens to me) that I feel lucky that my day job allowed me to take 4 solid months of PAID leave. I know I shouldn’t feel lucky, as that should be a basic human right in our civilized nation, not luck – but for small business owners in our country, maternity leave is …. well, non-existent. Lori is here to share her personal experience of how she managed, and what she would have done differently (so listen up all you pregnant or maybe someday pregnant small biz owners!). Take it away Lori.

 Hi! Iʼm Lori, a longtime reader of Capitol Romance and one of Breeʼs neighbors in NE, DC. Bree asked if Iʼd be willing to share some of my thoughts on maternity leave as a small business owner, so here goes…

For the past five years, I have run two small business out of my home. Iʼm a 3D-artist and owner of Capital Pixel, a design company that specializes in architectural visualization for real estate marketing — the “day job” as I like to call it. And, as my creative outlet, I design and sell custom, 3D-printed jewelry at Love, Lori Michelle. Both of these ventures are run by just myself, and I love the freedom and autonomy that provides.

When you work for yourself, in addition to just doing the actual work that needs to get done, you have to wear all the other business-related hats as well: accountant, bookkeeper, administrative assistant, web designer, social media guru, and so on. And this is something I wholly embrace, the chance to control every aspect of what I do. On occasion, when my workload gets overwhelming, I have several connections (other artists like myself) that I can call upon for hourly contract work. Itʼs a great way for me to meet deadlines and still get everything done, and I pay for the work on an as-needed basis without having to hire a full-time employee, since Iʼm just not quite there just yet.


When I found out I was pregnant in 2013, I was ecstatic, nervous, excited, all the emotions you would expect rolled into one. The preparations began as most new parents-to-be would do: painting the nursery, stocking up on diapers, and buying too many pairs of ridiculously cute baby shoes.

But then the thought of maternity leave and child-care logistics began to weigh down on me as we got closer to my due date. Luckily my husbandʼs company had a 2-week paternity leave policy, and we had lots of family nearby to help with the arrival of our baby girl.

But I felt stuck. And worried. Could I afford to be out of work for several months? Who was going to run my business? There wasnʼt, and still isnʼt, another single person who knows the ins-and-outs of my work and could keep things afloat for me once the baby arrived. What was maternity leave actually going to look like for me? I had never really thought that far ahead.

The funny irony is that, when I told friends and family (and even clients) I was pregnant, so many responses went like this: “Congratulations! Thatʼs so exciting. And itʼs SO lucky for you to be able to work from home with the baby.” I would usually smile and nod my head in agreement, but I felt like screaming inside “It doesnʼt work like that!!!”.

One myth Iʼd like to dispel is that working from home does not imply that someone is necessarily under-employed, part-time employed, or just sitting around having fun without being required to shower. Sure, I have a busy times and slow times, just like everyone does, but on average Iʼm putting in 50-hour+ weeks. In fact, I think that most people who work from home actually work longer and harder hours to get ahead, build a business, or be an entrepreneur. Can I work in my pajamas? Yes. Are my hours flexible? Definitely. Can I still crank out 50 hour work weeks while caring for a child? Absolutely not. Itʼs no different than asking someone who works in a traditional office to care for a baby while at work. The only difference is the location.

So while parental leave is a hot-button topic these days, I felt like I had nowhere to chime into the discussion. On one hand, Iʼm lucky that I could theoretically take as much time off as I needed, but financially that wasnʼt an option and for the growth of my companies that wasnʼt an option. Plus, I wanted to keep working. Iʼm also lucky that I have a spouse that is employed with a steady source of income. Where would I be if I were a single mother?

On the other hand, I donʼt have a job with coworkers and a support network of colleagues who could cover my workload. I felt like I was in uncharted territory. As more people become self-employed it will be interesting to see how parental leave policies will or wonʼt affect this sector of the workforce.

So, my plan was to take 3 months off work to be home with my daughter. In June 2014, with about a month left to go in my pregnancy, I sent an email out to my longtime clients informing them of my leave, my need to wrap up loose ends on ongoing projects, and that I wouldnʼt be taking on new work until the fall. My hands were shaking as I wrote
and re-wrote the wording in that email until it felt right. Somehow, it felt like my pregnancy was a problem, that I was saying sorry, and that I wasnʼt making myself available enough to carry on my business and bring a baby into the world at the same time. There were also some new work inquiries coming in during that time that I just had
to flat out turn down. That was incredibly hard for me to swallow. I had worked so hard to build something up, and I felt like I was suddenly burying it.


 

Lyla was born on July 11, and she was perfect. I loved becoming a mother, it was the wildest thing Iʼd ever done in my life. We were so excited to bring her home and introduce her to everyone. When she was born, she looked just like her daddy. Over the summer, I continued to answer work emails. I got a few small work-related things done every week while Lyla would nap. The first month passed in a blur. Then slowly the emails and work requests started to trickle back in. Clients forgot that I was still on maternity leave. More new work requests came in and things just slowly pickedback up until I was suddenly going full steam ahead again, earlier than intended. It just happened, I had a really hard time saying “No, this has to wait.”

At two and a half months, we put Lyla into a nanny share with another child and family. It all happened faster than I had planned. I think any mother would agree that maternity leave whizzes by, no matter how long you have, itʼs never enough. Now that Lyla is 18 months and I can look back, I realize that many things went differently than I had planned. So, here’s what I’d do next time (with the caveat/disclaimer that any “mom” advice of thoughts you read, including mind, don’t work for everyone!):

1. Not feel guilty about taking maternity leave. I just wouldnʼt. End of story. For some reason our society applauds the overworking-and-doing-it-all mentality. It just doesnʼt have to be that way, and it starts with each individual. I wish I didnʼt buy into that feeling of having to keep it all going and under control. Especially as a woman running a small business, I felt like staying away too long would make me lose too much and look like a failure. Now, I realize I donʼt get a do-over.

2. Be more vocal. Iʼd be more honest with friends and family about the working/child care situation. People should know that itʼs impossible to work from home full-time and care for a child at the same time. We shouldnʼt even expect that as a reality from any parent.

3. Accept help, both at work and home. Itʼs ok to rely on friends who want to bring you food and family members who want to snuggle your baby. Going forward, Iʼve tried to accept that I canʼt do everything myself. Iʼve hired an accountant and a web designer to help lighten my work load.

4. Give myself a break. Early-on I had major FOMO on industry events and hated the thought of turning down invitations. Itʼs ok to miss out on work-related things. Those who know you will welcome you back with open arms when you return.

5. Realize who really matters. I was worried about my clients not understanding my need to take maternity leave. In retrospect, people were far more understanding than I thought theyʼd be. And if they werenʼt, they were not the kind of client I wanted to have anyways. Many clients even willingly shared their own stories about their kids and families, which humanized the whole experience for me.

6. Plan better financially. Itʼs a possibility that any of us could be out of work at any time, whether for having a child, an unexpected injury, whatever. I would have felt more at ease had I started planning a little earlier to have several months of income reserved for the time I had to take off.

In the end, both my businesses continue to grow. Lyla continues to grow, as well, and I donʼt see that either part of my life — as business owner or mother — has suffered too greatly. In fact, they now just feed off each other. My daughter makes me want to build a bigger and better business so that, when sheʼs older, she can see how hard I work at the things Iʼm passionate about. And in the meantime, it will help me afford to continue buying ALL the baby shoes for her.

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5 Comments

  • Jacki F says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been keeping an eye on your Momprenuer series to see what is in store for me, but now I feel like we went out for coffee (WINE) and I poured out all of the feelings to you. I’m 36 weeks pregnant. I’ve been running my own business for 10 years and made it my full-time job five years ago.

    Initially, my plan was to start cutting back: taking bigger $ projects, but less clients overall; gradually cutting out some of the work I didn’t enjoy as much; transitioning to part-time (we’re lucky enough to be in a position where that is a possibility if we re-assess some of our big picture goals). I failed horribly at all of the above, taking on more work, more clients, and a jam packed schedule.

    I’m weeks from maternity leave — and feel completely lost about stepping away from my business. Fortunately, a dynamic team of ladies who I’ve partnered with before have offered to run my shop for four weeks while I’m being a full-time Mom, but I’m scared out of mind of what is on the other side of that four weeks. You’ve again made me feel like if nothing else, at least I’m not alone.

    • Lori says:

      Jacki – Glad you liked the post! Your comments sound exactly the way I felt 2 years ago, before navigating the whole motherhood thing. I too planned to “cut back” but of course it’s much easier said than done. All I can say is that you’re not alone, even if your situation feels isolating. It sounds silly, but you will get through it, everything will work out, and you’ll re-approach your work with a new set of goals and outlook on life once you return!! Rely on your partners as much as you can, they sound like amazing women who are happy to help you out. Best of luck with the arrival of the little one!!

      • and let us know what we can do to help!!! Even if it’s leaving more comments here — sometimes just VENTING is like the best thing ever. I’m so glad these posts have helped Jacki, Lori’s in particular! #mompower

  • Laura says:

    Great advice, Lori! Seems to be in line with a lot of my mom friends (and SIL). Good to keep in mind for when I become a mama (hopefully one day before I’m too old/grey). Lyla is beautiful and I’m sure she’s proud of her mommy.

    Also, super excited to see you tonight and collaborate!

    xo
    Laura

  • […] be talking about (along with the struggles of being a working mom, the lack of childcare & paid leave in our country, and the reality of post-partum depression ) because keeping things like this inside is isolating […]

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