I lost my copywriting job when I gave birth to my daughter. This was disappointing - and maternity discrimination - but it gave me the opportunity to try launching my own business. So I wrote freelance articles until she was one and then launched a parenting platform called The Early Hour. I published articles and interviews daily at 5am. Without any childcare at that stage, I had to rely on nap-times to write and edit content, schedule it, grow social media profiles, work on the PR and marketing strategies. But it was ok; I liked having a focus outside of motherhood; connecting with other adults, writing, editing, earning money. But then I became pregnant again and the pressure started to mount. I had a small team and we created and scheduled content to cover me for the first three months after the birth. This felt like a relief, at the time, but those first three months were actually quite chilled; it was when he became more wakeful and needed more than a boob to pacify him that the hard work began. At that stage, I had a potty-training two-year-old, a newborn, a business and my husband worked full-time. I would try to synchronise the kids’ naps so that I could catch up on work but sometimes I was exhausted and needed to nap too. I didn’t have one, though, I worked until I felt so anxious I had to make a change.
I remember walking around my kitchen feeling hot with stress and on the brink of tears. Sometimes I did cry. I felt angry. Shaky. I drank way too much caffeine - and that definitely didn’t help. And then I spoke to my husband and sister and they suggested reducing the content I was putting out on The Early Hour. They’d said it before, but I’d felt that if I wanted it to be a massive, successful online magazine, I couldn’t possibly put out less content. But at breaking point, I decided to give it a try. I reduced it to a couple of articles a week, and then one. Sometimes, I republished old content. I soon felt like I could breathe again. And the website continued to get tens of thousands of views each month; it didn’t make a huge difference.
But this also freed me up to write for the Guardian, Red Magazine, Metro. To do consultancy work. And to secure a book deal with Fourth Estate to write The Freelance Mum: A flexible career guide for better work-life balance. I’d made this adjustment and now had more money in, while working less hours. So I wrote the book to help other women who wanted to go freelance after kids but needed help with their business idea, confidence, what to charge, doing their own PR, networking, social media. All the stuff I’d spent a few years manically learning with very little guidance. I wanted to make it easier for other mums to become their own boss.
And then a few months ago, I had another idea. I decided to launch two online courses: one to help women make the leap from employment to self-employment and the other to teach business owners how to do their own PR. They sold out within two days. This has now become my main business, and my husband, Rich, has quit his job to help me grow it.
I’m expecting my third baby next month and I feel so much more relaxed this time, knowing that I can adjust my workload depending on how I’m feeling. Rich can help with the school and nursery drop-offs and with the baby. Together, we’ll find a rhythm that allows us to both work part-time, from home, while being around for the kids. It feels so different to a couple of years ago when I was preparing for the birth of my second baby and felt completely overwhelmed.
Mothers are burning out because they’re trying to do - and be - everything. We need more help from our partners. We need to be able to earn money around looking after our kids (if we want to). Most freelance mums need to double their day rate so they can earn more but work less. There’s lots of talk about work-life balance in the media but we need to really be looking at what’s working, what’s not - and to make changes. It shouldn’t be getting to a point where every day is a struggle and we’re walking around feeling manic and muttering swearwords to ourselves. If that’s where you’re at right now, I’d really recommend talking to someone: your partner, mum, sister, friend or a therapist. It can be so hard to get out of that funk on your own; you need support and a fresh perspective on it all.
Author credit: Annie Ridout