Before I was a freelance writer, I was the pregnant woman that most people love to hate. You know the kind: when you ask how she feels, the answer is always “great.” She never complains about the lack of sleep, weight gain, or the never-ending trips to the bathroom. I even loved the swell of my belly and the kicks and the jabs of my growing baby. However, not all aspects of pregnancy were sunshine and unicorns. I was employed by a small startup, without the FMLA protection available to larger companies, and I wasn’t sure my job would be protected if I took a maternity leave of absence.
I still remember how anxious I was to tell my former bosses I was pregnant. This isn’t because they were difficult to approach—far from it. They were kindhearted and encouraging employers. But would they be supportive of my taking 12 weeks away from the office to care for my baby when I played an integral role in their company? Fortunately, my bosses were supportive, and I worked ahead to cover my responsibilities for the majority of my absence so that they wouldn’t be left in a bind. Everything worked out well, but the fear I felt about the possibility I’d be let go all because I was expecting was real and terrifying for the weeks before I made my announcement.
Freelancers approach their parental leaves with different anxieties. They no longer need to ask approval from a boss or file an FMLA request with human resources. Instead, they need to inform their clients they’ll be unavailable to work for a set amount of time. And, depending on their business setup, the length of their leave may be determined solely on finances—more specifically, what they can frontload and complete while pregnant.
When freelance writer Becky Mollenkamp was expecting, she knew she wanted to take a full-length maternity leave, and also time off before the baby was born to wind down. “To prepare for leave I took on a lot of extra work so I could bank enough money to afford time off. I also let my clients know about three months before my due date that I’d be unavailable and when I’d be returning to work. I emailed each client personally and explained the situation; everyone was very supportive.”
Julienne DesJardins, a virtual assistant who specializes in digital marketing services handled her leave similarly. “I told my clients about five months prior to the leave. I gave them an initial heads up, and then another email about three months in advance with a full plan. The plan had information about how we would work ahead, and how long I’d be off with rough dates, etc. I tried to take as much guess work out of it for them as possible. I didn’t want to ask for their flexibility, and then also put the creation of the ‘plan’ on them.”
You know you need to tell your clients that you’ll be taking time off, but don’t rush to contact them. To leave your clients feeling confident about how their business needs will be handled during your parental leave, it’s up to you to create a plan. First, think about how long you’d like your leave of absence to be, and don’t forget to consider downtime before your due date. Will you be able to keep up with your busy schedule in the last few weeks before your baby is due? Remember that a due date is an estimated arrival. Your baby may come early, so don’t save all your extra work until the end.
Mollenkamp understands that situation all too well. She had originally scheduled a month off before her son was due to unwind and prepare for her birth, and she’s lucky she built in that buffer. “My water broke Memorial Day weekend, exactly one month before my due date. I let most clients know right away about his arrival so I could get some extensions on a few projects. I didn’t tell everyone though, because some of the work wasn’t really affected by his early arrival. I had my laptop at the hospital and worked. Instead of kicking my feet up for a month as planned, I had my baby and zero time to get work done for the first month of his life.” Because she had worked ahead her entire pregnancy, she was able to finish her assignments while recovering in the hospital and dedicate the next ten weeks (mostly) away from work.
Once you’ve determined the amount of time you’d like to take off before and after your child is born, assess your current and expected finances to see if that timeline is feasible. If you can’t afford the time away from work, you may not be able to take it.
But I’m not here to spread doom and gloom. You do have time to prepare. You may have to hustle more than you ever did before, but if you work hard and save even harder now, you’ll be able to spend time with your baby. Just remember to be realistic about the inventory of time available to you. If you’re already maxed out with work, lose some of your lower-paying gigs and take on work that pays better. If you do have free time in excess, pay someone to come set up your nursery (you shouldn’t be ingesting those paint fumes or lifting heavy furniture anyway) and utilize those extra hours to actively market your services.
Finally, don’t forget to think about how you’ll ramp back into work when you’re planning for how you’ll take time off. “It can be overwhelming to figure out maternity leave without ‘structure’ (i.e. no HR person telling you how much time you get off) but this uniquely positions freelance writers to take advantage of what I call ‘transition time.’ No need to go from zero work hours to 40 from one day to the next. Figure out a transition framework (based on your health and emotional needs, as well as financial) to develop your working-mama identity.” says maternal health consultant, Arianna Taboada. It may even be helpful to share this ramp-up plan with your clients. For example, if you choose to transition back to work slowly, you might suggest completing two assignments instead of four during your first two months back; if possible, you can frontload your leave with those missing assignments before the baby is born.
The communications you have with your current clients while pregnant will make or break your maternity leave. Be honest and direct, and have a plan when approaching clients.
My suggestion is to do a two-email approach. First, send a quick note announcing your pregnancy, and next, follow up with detailed plans of how you’ll handle their content needs while pregnant and after your baby is born. Here are two templates you can use if you are pregnant (congratulations!) and unsure what to say to your clients. Just remember to change the details to match your individual situation.
Good morning, John,
I hope you’re enjoying the fresh start of the new year! I’m writing to you with some exciting personal news. I’m incredibly happy to announce that I’m expecting my first child who is due to arrive in July. My plan is to continue with my current workload until the end of June and then take the next eight weeks off to rest, recuperate, and bond with my baby.
To prepare for this transition, I would love to work ahead of schedule and produce July and August’s content packages before my leave begins. I will put together a proposal with details of my planned approach and delivery dates (excuse the pun!), but before I do so, I wanted to personally touch base with you to see if you had any concerns or particular questions about how your company’s needs will be addressed while I’m away.
I’m so appreciative of our working relationship, and I want to assure you that I’ll be available and prepared to complete all work before my leave is ready to begin.
Thank for the quick response and your congratulatory words. I’m excited to start this new journey, and I appreciate all your support.
I’ve taken the time to plot out my approach to your content needs for the upcoming months. As you can see from my attached spreadsheet, I’ve created a detailed guide we can both follow to ensure work is getting completed—ahead of time—as well as outlining any action items that need to be addressed or approved.
The content that would normally be delivered on July 15, July 31, August 15, and August 31 will be sent ahead of time to you on April 15, April 30, May 15, and May 31 respectfully. Can you please assign the topics by March 30? To assist, I’ve also included a list of possible topics and suggested keywords. I’m happy to write on those or any other subjects you’d like. I will resume our regular schedule beginning in September, and content will be delivered per usual beginning on September 15.
I’d love to schedule a phone call with you so I can go over the details in depth. I’m confident that I’ve covered all the bases, and I want to make sure you’re pleased with the proposal. Please let me know when you’re available to meet, and I’ll work my schedule around your availability.
Have a great day,
Have you taken maternity leave as a freelance writer? What was the process like for you? How did you handle communications with your clients before your leave began? Let me know in the comments section.