Having a Baby When You and Your Partner are Both Self Employed
When I was pregnant I spent most of my days wondering about how our life was about to change. I read tons of blog posts and articles about different peoples experiences of life with a newborn, and although they were helpful and eye opening I couldn't find anything much on what it's like having a child when both you and your partner are self-employed. Through social media I can see that there are plenty of us out there (couples who run a business together) so I thought I'd write my own blog post about our experience in case it helps someone else.
The First Few Months
Okay so complete honesty - the first few months were without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever had to do. People tell you that you're going to be tired, and you casually laugh it off because you know you'll be tired right? That's always been part of the deal and you know it. Well you don't. The way I would describe it is if someone said to you 'if you get shot in the leg it's really gonna hurt', you would be able to process the thought that you would be in immense pain if you were shot in the leg. You could even try to recollect the most painful thing you've experienced and imagine that it would be like that but worse, but realistically you would never understand how painful it would be to be shot in the leg unless someone actually shot you in the leg (side note I really hope no one ever gets shot in the leg). There are just some things you can't imagine until you have been through them and the exhaustion of the first few months of having a baby is one of them.
For the first few months my schedule was pretty much Theo wakes up, we change his bum, breastfeed for 30 mins - 2 hours at a time, he would fall asleep, I would lie there trying to fall asleep and probably manage to catch about 1-2 hours of sleep before Theo woke up again for another bum change and feed. It was particularly intense for us because Theo was 5 weeks early, so spent the first 5 weeks of his life pretty much just sleeping and eating and pooping and not doing much more than he would have if he stayed in the womb. He very rarely opened his eyes and it was a truly exciting event for us when he did.
Basically there is no way in hell that you are going to be thinking about work. You will more likely be thinking 'I am so tired how do I get more sleep omg' 'how am I not dead yet I am so tired' 'this is so terrifying I hope to god I am doing this right' 'this feels so weird do people think I look normal right now?' 'ow my boob' 'Why the fuck did I choose to do this to myself' and if you're not going through PND that'll be interspersed with 'Heavens this baby is the most adorable perfect thing on the planet I love you so much'. This is why maternity leave exists, and also why paternity leave should be longer and more widely encouraged by employers because you really need each other. We thought about work the bare minimum for the first few months. We stopped completely for a month, and then after that Harry worked 1 day a week (and occasionally more if necessary) for another month.
It was well worth it for us that we had savings so we could relax about supporting ourselves during this low-working time. And I do recognise that we are very fortunate that we could get our working hours down so low and still support ourselves to an extent. Part of this is due to the nature of our business which is super busy at Christmas (so we save money from this time to supplement throughout the year if needs be) and experiences a lull from April - August, and part was due to luck that Theo was born on April 13th. The way I see it though is that we are only ever going to have this experience once or twice in our lives and we may as well give ourselves over to it completely for as long as you can afford to. Relax, you spent many years building a business and it will still be there in a few months. Most likely no one will even notice that you've gone on maternity, and the people who do will 99% of the time be happy for you and willing to wait.
6 Months - 1 Year
This is where it started to get easier for us incrementally. Things start to slowly drop away, you find yourself sleeping for longer, feeding less often, changing less nappies, and getting more smiles. It was the point where we stopped feeling so much like baby slaves, and started feeling more like ourselves again.
One of the hardest things about this time was forcing ourselves to work. It can be hard to self motivate at the best of times, but when there is a newly giggling baby in the next room it gets very hard to switch off and concentrate. It is wonderful though because it means that you both get to experience all the milestones. If the baby does something new you can just shout upstairs for the person working to come see.
Because I was breastfeeding and Theo was a ridiculous milk addict I couldn't be far from him for the first 8 months so inevitably I didn't do much work at all and the burden fell on Harry. But there was constant communication between us and I was always in the loop and part of the decision making process. At 6 months we started weaning and then I could be away from him for longer, and by 8 months we had switched him to bottled milk and I was free. Personally I found breastfeeding to be utterly exhausting, and I was almost useless while I was doing it because it left me feeling so knackered (Although he was born at 5lb 13oz he quickly rose up to the 98th centile through constant feeding). Part of me wishes now that I had given it up sooner because stopping was so good for me, but it is so hard as a new mum to make those big decisions and not feel the guilt. It takes time to get the confidence to say 'actually it's my kid and I want to do this so I will'.
After that we got into a steady routine of working in half days. I usually watch Theo in the morning and work in the afternoon, and Harry has him in the afternoon and works in the morning. We both get to parent, and we both get to work. It allows both of us to nurture both sides of ourselves.
After the first tough months, I would say that having a baby hasn't slowed us down. You realise quickly how much time you spent procrastinating pre-baby because you still get a very similar amount of stuff done in half the amount of time because you're much more focused in the time you do have. This year we were pushed to our limits when, over the busiest Christmas we have ever had as a business, we also took on an amazing book commission (we only take book work over Christmas if we adore the project). But, and this is partly down to having the most amazing and accommodating art director ever, we smashed it all, and did some of our best work. We even managed to do our first successful Kickstarter and raise £10,000 for our new embroidered beanies, that was a lot of hats to send out and we had to rally the troupes of friends and family to help us. It makes you think that you spend most of your life working at sort of 50% capacity, but actually every now and then you can ask yourself to reach 100% and its totally doable if you don't pressure yourself to do it for too long. We definitely took a nice big break when things quietened down.
The Things That Got us Through it
Okay so I know you get a million people telling you a million things as a new parent so please feel free not to read this next bit. If you are interested in reading our tips, please disregard bits that don't suit you and just take the bits that resonate with you. If you find they don't work for you in the future, let them go.
Constant communication - As I'm sure many of you couples who work together do, Harry and I talk pretty much all day about anything we need to/whatever pops into our head. We are always open and honest and offer each other support and encouragement whenever needed. This all intensified when we had a baby. It can be quite hard to share your struggles with parenthood with anyone because it feels like you should be enjoying it all - but realistically most people don't enjoy it all, I would wager that everyone struggles with it, and your experience is totally normal. Please share it with your partner, and more importantly, even though you are extremely tired and stressed to, listen and support your partner when they are sharing their struggles with you.
Reassess and switch up your schedule on the regs - this leads on from the last point about communicating all the time. Your baby will change constantly. It is so annoying and also amazing. You are just into a schedule that works perfectly and then they decide to drop a feed or a nap or something that throws your whole carefully planned day off. Don't keep forcing yourself and your baby to stick to the same schedule as it will only make you frustrated and miserable, talk to each other and notice what's happening so you can change and accommodate the structure of the day. This applies more to self employed people because it might mean you have to adjust the hours you or your partner can work in the day, so make sure you're always talking about it, and trying hard to be on the same page about expectations for the day. There is nothing more disappointing than thinking it's your turn to paint when the other person had no idea you expected that.
Don't count - Obviously I would say if responsibilities ended up being split completely differently to what you agreed on then bring it up and ask for change. What I mean by this mostly is just don't count how many poopy nappies you've changed, how many night feeds, or how many times you've done the washing or chores etc and hold it over your partners head. It isn't a competition, you are a partnership. Some days you might change all the nappies, some days it might work out that you do none. If you run a business together/a home together chances are you are good at dividing the workload and hopefully child rearing will be no different. Trust that it will all even out. Harry and I were comfortable with playing to our strengths with Theo as we do with the business - I did the night feeds and he gave me a lie in and a daytime nap, and actually because I did the breastfeeding he changed most of the nappies etc. (I mean I would never call him away from working to change a nappy or anything, but for the most part we had an agreement on how it would all work)
Have rules - When you work from home the boundaries can become a bit wobbly. We sometimes put rules into place to even it all out. Don't interrupt the person working unless it's an emergency is one that we regularly use when we are on a tight deadline or have a lot of work.
Being willing to have times where you give yourself over to the child - Sometimes babies just don't play ball. They can have really awful days when they are hitting a developmental milestone or teething and you just can't get anything done. On the really really difficult days we decided to use our self-employedness to our advantage and blow work off so we could double team it. It can be hard to give up working when you were excited about a project or just felt like you needed the adult downtime, but days like that can be brutal for the one solo parenting and we always figured it was better to help each other than come home to someone completely broken. Of course I don't advocate this if you have a deadline or if it's just not possible, it's rare that we do this, but good to know that you can if you have to.
Give each other mental health days as well as work days - It is hard to find enough time to work and look after the baby let alone find time for yourself, but please please do it. You and your partner are not machines and you will both need to create some time and space for yourself. Through my whole life I have always felt guilty about doing nothing, and always feel like I should be drawing or something, and working from home only exacerbates that as there is little to no separation between my work and home life. Since having a baby I have had to teach myself to just be still and to rest, and to make sure I am using some of my time for my mental health. We both also make sure that we encourage each other to take time when we can. Giving each other mental health breaks is one of the best gifts you can give in a really exhausting and stressful time.
It Is Worth It
Although lots of this post has been about practicalities and the difficult times, I would like to add that it is all worth it. Being a parent is one of the most amazing things you will do, and nothing compares to the fierce joy, pride and love you feel for your little one. The bad times are pretty darn bad, but the good times are pretty flippin incredible. And I have noticed that as Theo grows the ratio of bad to good times definitely changes for the better. The last few months with him have been heavenly, and I have enjoyed every moment (which I am trying to hold onto as we head into another developmental milestone).
You will get it back
I see a lot of worry and concern from new mums about whether they will ever get their creative energy and space back. I can understand this totally because those first few months are so all encompassing. The truth of it is that you will get it back, but it will be different. Partly because you are different now, and partly because your needs are very rarely going to be first from now on. But, to an extent, you are in control, and you get to choose how much time you spend working and how much time you spend being a parent, and there is literally no right answer to that other than what works for you. Having Theo in daycare a few days a week has been absolutely amazing, and it makes me a better mum because when he comes home I am truly happy to see him and enjoy my time with him more. Even when he is in daycare though, there is still the possibility I might get called away from work to pick him up if he develops a temperature or something.
Basically you get your time back, but even when they're being cared for by someone else, as 'Mum' you're always on call and that's the difference. There are always so many feelings to process that are so new; guilt for going back to work, extra guilt that your job is creative and feeds you/you enjoy it so is it even more selfish to spend time away from your child to do it, frustration that you have to finish early because your child needs you, sadness when you're too tired to be able to work and you just need a bloody nap. Make sure you are paying attention to your feelings and talking about them & processing them in a safe space whenever you can. I have talked Harry & my own mums ears off over the last year about these things (and I love how that also shows how as a mum your job just keeps on going, because even though she's 65 my own mum has still had to drop what she was doing more than once to save me over the last year).
Obviously as a mother and business owner I have a lot on my plate, but if any new parent ever needs to ask any questions about what the future might look like for them then please drop me a message and I will do my best to answer and help if I can. I also want to add that I only know my own experience, which I'm aware has been easier in lots of ways than what a lot of parents experienced. I'm truly not trying to preach or act like I know what I'm talking about and am 100% right about everything, I'm just writing what I would have liked to read in those first months, and what might have comforted and helped me. If it helps you then I am so happy, and if it doesn't then please just disregard everything I said and give yourself a high five for being a great parent.