I’ve been super busy with projects lately, which is a wonderful thing! And I’ve been looking at this project cycle in relation to my decision to take maternity leave as a freelancer; effectively, I had to start hustling for work just as hard as when I’d started freelancing in the first place. (Note: the bulk of my work has been in educational publishing, so the cycle I’m outlining reflects project lengths and payment periods common to that field. An editor working primarily on medical journals would likely experience a different cycle; an editor working primarily with independent authors would experience a cycle that’s different still.)
- June/July 2013: I decide on the dates I’ll be away on maternity leave and notify my clients well in advance.
- August 2013: I AM SO BUSY finishing up projects and squeezing in short ones before my leave starts.
- September 2013: My daughter is born, with no complications. I recover quickly. Invoice payments continue to roll in.
- October 2013: Rosaline turns out to be a happy, healthy baby. Invoices keep getting paid. I’m a tad bored, but life is good.
- November 2013: I start working again, slowly, touching base with current clients and reaching out to new ones.
- December 2013: The Holidays. A few new projects start up. Just about all outstanding invoices are paid by now.
- January 2014: This is, unexpectedly, the point at which I started to feel the financial pinch from maternity leave. Not much money was coming in, few of the projects I’d started in November had reached a point at which I could invoice for work done, and savings were starting to run out.
- February 2014: Busy, busy month. I add more projects, send a few invoices, and keep hustling. I win a couple of regular gigs.
- March 2014: Several large projects reach a midpoint at the same time others wrap up. I feel like I’m working nonstop. More invoices go out; more projects come in.
When I was figuring out how maternity leave would work, I expected that November and December would be the tough months, but starting in January, I’d be able to pick up steam again. Instead, the cycle looks much more like August–December 2012, when I was wrapping up a full-time job and transitioning into Last Syllable full-time. I picked up a few clients right away, put in the work on the first projects, invoiced when they were done… and then finally had those invoices paid in January 2013. After that point, invoices got paid at about the same pace as new projects came in and work went out, so the business was sustainable.
Judging by that information, April 2014 will be another tough month, but May 2014 should be better, and sustainability should come back around June or July — almost a full year!
So financially, I’m not sure how good an idea it was to take two months of maternity leave. However, I recovered very quickly from birthing and had no complications. Other than a bit of jaundice, my baby was born perfectly healthy; she took right to nursing and has thrived. If any part of that calculus had been different — if I’d had a difficult birthing, had to recover from a C-section, or had lasting issues from the pregnancy; if Rosaline had been sick or colicky or had trouble nursing or gaining weight; if none of us had slept well and I couldn’t think clearly; just to name a few possibilities — then a two-month maternity leave would have looked like a far wiser choice. Of course, I couldn’t predict any of these outcomes ahead of the birth, let alone far enough ahead of time to change my plans. And there were other benefits to the way I did it: no juggling deadlines and diapers until I had a pretty good handle on baby’s routine, for example. I didn’t have to stress about being sure I could keep a project on schedule, sure I could think straight, even if I was physically and mentally up to the challenge.
Is it possible to take maternity leave as a freelancer? Yes. Would I do it again? … I’d think very hard about that, given what I’ve learned, and I’d probably approach it as more of a temporary slowdown than a complete break.