Friday, 10 June 2016

Maternity-Leaving Self-Employment

(the fabulous children's Geranium dress pattern is the last class I'm scheduled to teach at The Village Haberdashery on 25th June. image source: Made By Rae)

A few years back one of the topics I occasionally wrote about was self-employment, both specifically about mine which is in the field of sewing, and a bit more generally. A number of people that I've taught over the last four-ish years have found the idea of making money from your passion to be an interesting one, so I felt the reality of that was a topic worth discussing on this blog whilst I outlined how I made my income. I haven't written specifically about sewing-related self-employment for ages, mainly because my situation hasn't changed very much in the last two years. However, I'm currently staring down the barrel of my second maternity leave, so lots of thoughts, feelings and questions have come up for me that I'd like to air here.

For the last two and a half years, I've been the primary caregiver for our daughter Dolores. She has yet to attend nursery or any other form of childcare so it's a pretty full on task. I've also been bringing in a part-time income, the majority of this has been through teaching sewing and dressmaking classes at the weekends (when her dad can take care of her). I also make a small amount from blogging, sample making, blog sponsorship and sewing pattern sales, which I work on after Dolores has gone to bed and during her naps times. There's been times that all of these activities have left me really busy, and times when it's been less so and I've been able to do more sewing for myself and stuff. The most tiring aspect has been the travelling to and from classes, especially the ones that take place in London. On bad weekends, the journey can take up to four hours each way. When I haven't had a good nights sleep, and now that I'm pregnant again, it can really take it out of me for a couple of days after. So because of that, I'm really looking forward to my maternity leave to avoid the travelling part (although I know that there is a whole different world of tiredness just round the corner!). But on the other hand, I'm really lamenting having to step away from my working life.

(the beautiful and inspiring sewing space at MIY Workshop
image source: MIY Workshop/Wendy Ward)

As far as I can figure out from my internal enquiries, there's a couple of reasons for this. Partly it's because I've managed to get myself some really great gigs, which has mainly been through working hard at what I do to get good at it. I genuinely LOVE the four companies I currently teach at (Tilly and the Buttons, The Village Haberdashery, MIY Workshop and Fabric Godmother), and getting to help people improve their sewing skills and confidence is a really lovely way to spend time, however tiring projecting a super-positive energy whilst being on your feet all day can be. Plus, getting great feedback from my students about how much they've enjoyed a class and how much more confident they now feel with sewing is so rewarding, and it just feels great to be good at something! There are MANY days that have been spent 'mumming' where I just don't feel like I'm doing a very good job. I'm not sure how my general self-esteem will be effected when I can't intersperse those days with the odd one spent teaching someone to successfully insert an invisible zip or get their head round bias binding. (By the way, you can see what remaining classes I'm scheduled to teach on my Sewing Classes page.) I spoke very frankly about motherhood and the ways in which sewing offers some relief and escape towards the end of this Seamwork magazine article, and some of what I talked about needing sewing for could also be said for my paid employment.

You may be thinking, 'But this is your second child, you've been through this before, right? Why are you freaking out?'. I guess there are two main differences this time round. Firstly, I have a much clearer idea of how absorbing and exhausting life with a tiny baby is; I know how little time will be left over for any kind of work or creative endeavour when you're the primary caregiver. I was very naive about that when I first entered motherhood. Secondly, on top of the whole tiny baby situation, this time I'll have a lively toddler to care for and entertain as well, which will surely leave me with even less time and energy to direct towards anything else I might like to pursue. Thinking I could still achieve quite a bit, on top of keeping a little baby alive and happy, lead me to come unstuck last time and definitely contributed to me experiencing post-natal depression. Therefore, I'm trying to be as realistic as possible about the stresses and strains coming my way over the next year or two.  

(your last chance to let me help you to sew with jersey will be at the Fabric Godmother HQ in Hove on 17th July! image source: Fabric Godmother)

So I don't really know what the future holds for my self-employment after my maternity leave. I don't know exactly how different life will be with two tiny children rather than one, and I don't know exactly how Pat's employment will change over the next couple of years either. His situation will have a major effect on both my availability to work and how much my financial input will be needed. But I know that I will need to do some kind of work, however infrequent, for my sanity if nothing else once the mini-dude is old enough to eat solids and breast-feeding calms down.

What I guess I need to remember is that their infancy only lasts a relatively short time, although when you're in the trenches it feels like an age! They'll be at school in the blink of an eye, and I'll be wondering where this period went. At that point I will have more time to concentrate on creative ways to earn money. But I know I'm not the only woman to have felt a bit uneasy about an approaching maternity leave, and what that will mean for your sense of self. Likewise, being somewhat lost in motherhood, no matter how much you love your kids and how carefully they were planned, is not a unique experience either. If anyone else felt a bit weird about this stage of life, it'd be great to hear how you dealt with it.


Seamstress Erin said...

I don't have any words of wisdom, just commiseration. I just had my first baby but had to go on maternity leave from the moment I got pregnant because I had a rough pregnancy. So baby is only 1 month old but I've been not working for 10 months now and I'm itching to get back to some work for the mental stimulation and sense of productivity and accomplishment.

Tanit-Isis said...

I think your perspective is great. Babies are terribly all-absorbing---the only comparable experience I've found is grad school thesis work. You have to put yourself on hold for a while and it's exhausting!

When I had my second, I was both amazed at how much more work two was, and amazed at how quickly I adapted to it. With my first, I couldn't do anything but feed myself and baby for at least a month. With the second, I felt like I adapted much more quickly. Of course I also wasn't struggling with depression, which can make a hard time many many times harder. I think being prepared (and prepared to be kind to yourself!) is the best anyone can do, and it sounds like you are---and they do eventually grow and become amazingly self sufficient and sometimes even helpful!

Congratulations and good luck!!!

Knitlass said...

It's normal to feel apprehensive about this I reckon. The adjustment from one child to two is a big one - I remember it well.

Some things will be easier because you already have a routine - and because you have to do things for Dolores (eg have lunch!)

Definitely be gentle with yourself and don't expect to do too much at first. Take all offers of help - whether that means letting Dolores play with someone else while you have time with the baby, or putting the baby down (or leaving with someone else) while you play with Dolores. And get lots of sleep :-)

Sounds like you have some lovely sewing work set up - I'm sure that will all come back after the baby has grown. You made it happen before now right?

Anonymous said...

I think your approach to it is just right. The beginning will be tough, but time will fly. Some things will be so much easier second time round.
Take every help you can get and prioritise your tasks. (I personally really neglect the household). You need to find a couple of hours just for you. If there is a time where they both nap, DO NOT use this time to quickly tidy up or cook!!!! Put your feet up and drink a coup of tea.
But I understand, it is also about feeling good about working. Is any of your classes fairly local (sorry, I forgot where you actually live)? You will fairly quickly be able to express and then you could do short classes. Have you ever thought about running a course in a local children centre? They have a creche so you could even take yours. But you might prefer having a baby sitter for that time. SEwing and knitting were very popular in our centre and have a big impact on the mothers. The centre might not have sewing machines, think of a class or maybe workshop about mending clothes? Hand stitching? Maybe a little easy upcycling that does not require a sewing machine? There are small things that you will be able to do fairly quickly. I started teaching knitting in the local children centres when the second one was little and I found it so important for myself to have those few hours were I felt needed not just as a mother.
Now, I still have a knitting class or rather knitting group in a charity. I do it as a volunteer as I didn't know if I would be able to do it properly with a newborn. I actually had to bring him along until he was old enough to stay with someone else and it was no problem. There was always someone who was happy to hold him and I was happy to have my hands free for a couple of hours.
And don't forget, you have your blog and lots of followers who are always waiting to be inspired. So you will be able to keep your brand going even if you need to take a little break from income generating teaching.

anne82 said...

Like the others, I think your perspective is good. For me the change from 0 to 1 was a lot bigger then from 1 to 2 children. But that was partially because I expected to have no time at all.
My daughter is 3 and I have a 1 year old son. With my daughter it took me 7 moths to start sewing again. Last year I was having (and making) time to be creative after 2 weeks.
So I would advice you to be kind and realistic to your self, but it will probably be easier to get into a new routine!

Angela Coceancig said...

I have had 5. No one can look after children 24/7 and remain sane. You loose your identity as a person. You become a mum. That is why I loved going back to work. I spent 7 years at university and I am so much more than a mum. I love my kids and they are growing up fine (5,7,9,11 and 17). I don't try to be super mum. I limit extracurricular activities to a manageable level (1 each) and have a house cleaner. Meals are often thrown together and maybe not always nutritious. I make no attempt with keeping up with anyone's expectations. Failure would otherwise be inevitable and I don't want to go there. I tell everyone that I have no intention of being a super mum. It's amazing what you can achieve when there is no pressure.

Emily said...

This really chimed with me. I had PPD after baby one and much of it was to do with loss of self and having had a false idea about what would/could happen whilst caring for a tiny baby.

After baby 2 it was very different, despite premature birth, time in SCBU and trouble establishing breastfeeding I hit my groove much more readily, had no depression and felt happy (if exhausted).

Your approach sounds bang on. I'd suggest grabbing the 15 free hours of nursery for Dolores as soon as you can (January next year?) and being ruthless in accepting all offers of help!

Martha said...

Your post certainly takes me back to my second pregnancy. I did not deal with it as well as I would have liked. In fact, I never faced up to it the way you are doing. So you're miles ahead of me already with your introspective and realistic thought process. Wishing you and the wee ones (and the husband) wonderful times ahead.

brooke said...

So much of this post and what you said in your seamwork interview resonated with me. The repetition, the feeling that everything you do is immediately undone, the loss of self... motherhood is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. But we love these little beings so fiercely that we just keep going!
Personally, I found going from 1 to 2 so, so much easier than 0 to 1. There's probably a number of reasons for this - I was certainly expecting the worst after my first child, but I think knowing what to expect really eased the hardship the second time around (naive first time mum right here that imagined taking her newborn for walks and coffees and to the gym!!), actually knowing what sleep deprivation feels like and expecting it actually made it easier, and perhaps my body has now learnt to live with a LOT less sleep and I don't fight it as much as I used to. I also had a hard time in my second pregnancy, it was such a relief when the baby came and I could suddenly do so much more (do the grocery shopping without needing to rest every 5 minutes!), which was the opposite to my first (I wanted to put the baby back inside!).
My biggest tip is to fully utilise any time they are both napping or occupied for yourself, I became really selfish about that. I would sew, or sleep, or veg on the couch. We need that mental time for ourselves more than we need a clean house (for some little tornado to then destroy). As someone who also hasn't used Childcare and doesn't have much support around me (my kids are 4 and 2), I really need that time to myself. Now my kids are older my husband takes them out on Saturdays (today, yay!!) and I have time to myself. Without it I think I would be a wreck and a very grumpy whiney mum.
All the best and please feel free to post as many baby pics as you want!

Becky said...

It sounds like you've got a great perspective. My situation is a little similar-- my son is approaching his first birthday, and I teach music lessons part time to a handful of students while my mom babysits him. My teaching base is closer to where I lived before I got married anyway, so there's commuting involved, both to my parents' house and sometimes to the places I teach outside of their house. My "maternity leave" worked out well in that he's a June baby and my teaching is less in the summer anyway, so I just took the summer off and picked it up again with the school year. Teaching works out well as a mental break, and it's nice to be able to make a small contribution to our family income. What I struggle with now is finding time to practice (or sew) myself, because my kid won't nap unless someone is holding him. And often, by the time I get him to bed, especially on nights where he fights that too, I'm too tired to try. Now that he's getting older, I'm experimenting more with practicing while he's awake and playing nearby. Still trying to sort out the sewing, because Mommy's sanity and wardrobe need it. :)

Michelle Fuller said...

Baby #2 is scary and easy all at the same time. I was really depressed all through my maternity leave with my first baby (3.5 yo now) and absolutely loved my second go around (6 months old now). It was hard, and still kinda is really, going from one to two, but soon enough it will be routine and you will forget the little extra work it takes. And just think this time you know what to do and what to expect which makes your transition less stressful. Good luck and you can and will do it!

Miriam said...

Zoe, I love your thoughtful honesty. Two is a change from 1 but as others said it felt a lot easier the second time in terms of recovery and the ability to cope with the demands and changes. Before you know it there will be 2 little friends playing together too. As a mum of a 10 and 7 year old now I can attest it gets easier, you get your creative mojo back and today I'm sitting here in front of a fire reading blogs while they play a strategy game with daddy. All the best for a wonderful delivery and babymoon days xxxx

Beth Byrge said...

I'm a few weeks away from having #3 and I'm feeling very apprehensive (#2 is only 12 months old). We almost didn't have more kids after #1 because I was so scared of losing even more of myself. But the truth is that as a second time mom you know WAY WAY more than you did as a first time mom, and you have more confidence in what you're doing as well. The first year of my first child's life was the hardest year of my life. The first year of my second child's life went by in a blink. Even if you aren't teaching or working, make time for yourself (in other words, DEMAND it if those around you). Just remember that this life of sleeplessness and barely getting to think your own thoughts is temporary, you will not have to endure it forever. I'm not saying you have to enjoy it, I don't think that's fair to moms who are working so hard in a life that's sometimes lonely and unpleasant. Just saying that it will be over someday and life will give you more breathing room. Hope that helps!

Helen said...

Having read a few other commenters, I would agree that going from 1 to 2 is miles easier than going from 0 to 1. You have done it before, you are far less inclined to stress about the smallest thing, and you KNOW that it gets easier, they do eventually sleep/eat/stop crying (although don't make the mistake of assuming they will behave in the same way!!! Nature over nurture all the way! ). I can't remember how old Dolores is, and she may well not be old enough, but I found having my older son in nursery in the mornings, while my youngest napped, gave me a couple of hours to nap/sew/browse IG with a cup of tea. That totally saved my sanity and gave me my me time that I really needed.

And don't stress. You figured it out he first time. You will find your way again, and before you know it the baby will be 2 and trying on your glasses!

emily said...

Oh Zoe, I love your honesty and it's so important to talk about this stuff otherwise we have a load of mums feeling the same way but feeling like they're the only one.
As the others have said, I have found that going from 1-2 kids is less of a shock to the system than from 0-1. I found my second pregnancy to be harder than my first (my first included pilates and swimming and napping, where as the second one was spent looking after a 3yo full time!) but I have felt so much more relaxed caring for little A. He's a chilled out little dude and that may be because we are more relaxed and confident this time round. This time round I realise the importance of eating/showering/looking after myself properly in order to be at my best to look after him (and the rest of the family!). We were lucky that his arrival coincided with F starting her 15 free hours at nursery, and my mum was in town for the first couple of months which helped the transition too.
Even though I'm feeling fairly confident in my mumming, I am also feeling a bit adrift regarding my sense of self. I identified myself through my interesting job, so who am I now that I'm not doing that work? It's all contrary though because it's really important to me that I'm with the kids in their first years of life, I want to give them the best start I can so why do I feel the need to be something other than 'just a mum'?! Gah! For now though, I want to make sure that I take time out to do things/make things that give me a sense of accomplishment within myself, and as the kids transition into new stages of life, I will too.
All the best to you, lady, you'll find your groove. xx

Nina Waters said...

I'd heartily echo all the comments about 1-2 being easier than 0-1. If go so far as to say that 2 was easier than 1! Everyone's experience of motherhood is different, but I found I was much more settled as a second time mum than I ever was with my first. Apart from anything else, I had my first daughter talk to, and remember I found myself quite lonely first time around, with no one to chat to. Also, I have a strong memory with my first daughter, about two months in with very little in the way of sleep, crying to my husband saying "It'll be 18 years!" In that sleep deprived moment, I really thought it would take that long before she'd let me rest. She's now a well adjusted teenager, with an enormous capacity for sleep. A sense of perspective is definitely something you'll find yourself armed with this time around! Good luck and enjoy it: it goes by so fast.

Marie said...

Hello Zoe,
I just wanted to tell you that having PPD once doesn't mean you'll have it again.
I had it for my first and it felt awful, and I was quite certain I would have it for my second as well. My second child is now 4 months old, and there is no sign of a PPD, and I now understand what people mean when they say it all Goes by so fast.
I hope you'll have the chance to skip it this time, but if not, just remember that in the end, when the PPD goes away, you're left with two adorable children of your own.

Anonymous said...

Hi Zoe,

My 2nd time being a mom was actually easier than my first, even though I have to take care of 2 kids! I had learned so much from being a mom to my first so I knew what to expect and let go a lot of the ridiculous expectation that I had when I had my first one. I was more relaxed about it all. I also bought a very good baby carrier that allowed me to strap the little baby on my chest while I go to various activities with my toddler. It does get easier, believe it or not. I'm sure you will get the hang of it really quickly. As you said, they are only little for a short time. Remember to enjoy it and not try to live up to other people's expectations. I knew I wasn't the best mom in the world but I felt that being a 'good enough mom' and having good intentions was good enough for me. Good luck and best wishes!


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