What I learned from taking maternity leave as a freelancer

“Are you going to keep working?”

Almost everyone asked me this question when I was pregnant with Zoey - who is six months on Friday, how did that happen?!

For months, I grappled with whether to give myself some time off or to keep going full steam ahead. Made of Words is my business baby, and part of me was scared that if I stopped, even for a moment, I’d sabotage my career.

Unfortunately, I think this is a fear most women have to confront when they’re about to have a baby - freelancer or not. Oh hey there, Jacinda.

Sidenote: isn’t sabotage an interesting word? It means to “intentionally prevent the success of a plan or action”. So, I was scared that I was intentionally messing up my career prospects because I was having a baby. In my fear, I was indulging in some outdated thinking that made me both the villain and the victim of my own story.

I forgot that I get to choose whether I view motherhood as career sabotage or career strength.

I also forgot that freelancers are ninjas and we get to make our own rules!

In the end, I decided to take some time out to get to know my baby and figure out my next steps. This was the right path for me - I have no judgement towards mothers who go straight back to work. Trust me, I get it. There were days when I physically mourned the loss of eight uninterrupted hours with my laptop.

So please don’t consider this blog post as advice or commentary on what self-employed mothers should or shouldn’t do once they’ve had a wee cherub. Gosh, isn’t writing about anything to do with motherhood a complete minefield? I’m terrified of saying the wrong thing.

This is simply my experience of taking maternity leave as a freelancer. Here’s what I learned after six months of spamming everyone with my out-of-office maternity leave autoresponder (you can all get back in touch now, it’s been switched off!)

Most clients will be really excited for you

I spent way too much time worrying about what my clients would think if I took maternity leave.

Would they think I was taking too little time off - or too much? Would I look like a neglectful mother if I only took three weeks - or self-indulgent if I took more than a year?

For some reason, the idea of announcing my pregnancy made me feel anxious and exposed. Like I was betraying my clients because I was having a baby.

But then I started talking to people and realised this was a crackpot notion I’d cooked up in my mind.

Most of my clients were over the moon for me. I think I’d forgotten that clients are people (not unfeeling robots) and most people get super excited about babies.

Of course, some clients were a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be available for a few months. But they trusted that I would look after them as best I could - whether this meant writing ahead or referring them to another copywriter.

I thought announcing my pregnancy would be a Big Deal and leave me vulnerable to criticism. But it actually helped me gain confidence as a copywriter and fledgling businesswoman.

Referring work to other creatives feels really good

As I prepared for maternity leave, I pledged to do what was best for my clients - and not necessarily what was best for my bank account.

In some cases, this was writing ahead and preparing a content plan to see clients through my absence.

But in most cases, this was referring clients to another copywriter (technically, a competitor) and saying goodbye for now.

A lot of well-meaning advisers balked at my plan to refer clients. Surely I didn’t want to lose some key relationships? Relationships that I’d spent years strengthening?

Thing is, I don’t view clients as prized possessions. I don’t own them! Freelancing is fluid; projects come, projects go. I needed to trust in my ability to attract new projects when the time was right.

Referring clients to other creatives felt like making a divine pact with the creative universe. I loved the energy of filling other writer’s calendars and watching new relationships blossom from the sidelines.

There will always be more work

Another reason I felt so relaxed about referring clients is because I truly believe that there is a high demand for quality copywriting.

I knew that all the copywriting jobs wouldn’t suddenly disappear in the six months I chose to spend with my baby girl.

And so far, I’m right. Since dipping my toes back into work, I’ve had to decline several leads and my calendar is already filling up - slowly but surely.

And in a wonderful stroke of serendipity, my website seems to have climbed the ranks on Google while I was in baby-land. Since January I’ve had an influx of queries from Google. It appears my brand was working even when I wasn’t!

Babies are incredible teachers

My darling girl Zoey has already taught me so much about myself, what kind of person I want to be, and how I want to approach my business. And she’s not even close to talking yet!

I knew having a baby would be life-changing, but nothing prepared me for the way these teeny, tiny little humans can crack open your heart, mind, and soul.

I thought maternity leave would leave me restless and itching for intellectual stimulation, but it’s actually been a profound time of reflection and creativity.

Even though I wasn’t working in the traditional sense, I know I did a lot of work on myself. I had so much time to think and dream, especially during those middle-of-the-night feeds.

I’m now returning to work with a clarity and confidence that I did not have before Zoey was born.

I have no doubt that balancing freelancing with motherhood will have its challenges, and that my current state of clarity and confidence will waver at times. But right now, I feel like I will be a better copywriter - and freelancer - because of the time I took off.

If you’re considering a baby (or just an extra long holiday!) I’ll leave you to stew on that. It appears that hitting the brakes can actually propel you further forward.

About the author

Jess O'Connor.jpg

Jess O'Connor is founder and chief copywriter at Made of Words. She loves helping people find the right words to attract their dream customers.

She has just returned from maternity leave and is working flexible, part-time hours alongside raising her 6-month-old daughter, Zoey.