Last time I shared how I prepped to keep running my business with a newborn and this time I’m sharing the reality. So how did it all pan out eh? As the bible says, it’s good to make plans but we have to be prepared for them to change and shift in line with God’s will rather than our own. You can’t really predict these things, only prepare as far as you can. It turned out I didn’t really take much of a break from work at all but then perhaps that isn’t surprising knowing what I’m like. I had my ‘out of office’ email on for the first two weeks, while Nick was on paternity leave but I must confess I did check them most days and replied to some that seemed most urgent. I chuckled to myself the other day when I remembered even chatting to Nick about strategies to promote my workshops whilst recovering in the birth centre, a mere day after Maggie’s arrival. I’m not entirely sure what planet I was on but I would love to have been a fly on the wall for how that conversation went when we’d both barely slept for 48 hours! I’m such a joker. Anyway any Mum’s out there can testify that you’re sort of floating in some bizarre outer body state for the first week at least and I had no real clue what day of the week it was or even the time of day to be honest.
It was nice to just enjoy Maggie in the first two weeks which mainly involved watching her sleep when she wasn’t feeding and taking a million and one photos. Recovery was physically harder than I thought in that I didn’t just bounce back to my regular, fit self the next day. Some of you will probably be thinking that was pretty darn obvious! Ridiculously I didn’t realise it would be a slow process but man, those stitches really tighten in a less than comfortable healing dance and there was no forgetting those pelvic floor exercises when my womb literally felt like it was going to drop out of me every time I stood up. Oh and the piles! Sorry to verge on being a little too real but two hours of pushing hadn’t left my little derrière in the best of states and that along with the stitches made sitting really painful for quite a while. When the midwife told me I couldn’t do any exercise bar pelvic floor clenches and walking for 6 weeks my jaw dropped. Before I could voice my naive question she cut in with, ‘not even swimming or pilates’. Of course it makes sense though. A real life human has just come out of you and your body had been changing for a whole nine months to get to that stage!
I was worried about Nick going back to work as I felt so reliant on him with feed timing, putting washing on, heating up meals and rocking her when she needed soothing, even helping me out of bed (healing stitches), navigating the bed nest. I was wondering how on earth I would even consider getting work done!
The month to follow was thankfully unseasonably quiet on the work front however. It was possibly my most low key October since starting my own business and whilst I was tempted to panic about what on earth was going on, I could also see even at the time it was part of God’s kindness to me. I’m a ‘yes’ girl and so my temptation would have been to try and do everything and then end up a quivering wreck with not even an ounce of sanity left and barely a moment to enjoy our sweet Magda. I was definitely working already by that stage but it was nowhere near the usual pace for October and I’m very thankful that God knows what I need much better than I do myself. As I said, I was getting a bit of help with some of the work that was coming in and Granny and Grandma’s days were invaluable. Part of the day’s they were here I would work and then try and get a solid nap in too because I needed to catch some zzzz’s each day in those early weeks. I could skip a nap one day but anymore and I wasn’t coherent or good for anything.
I started expressing my milk when she was just over a month old and Granny tried her on her first bottle which she made look like a total piece of cake. It was such a relief that she was so willing to go freely between bottle and me, which has literally opened up a whole world of opportunities, even beyond the workshops I had scheduled in. For the first month of trying her on my express bottles we tried to make one of her feeds each day from a bottle, even if it wasn’t really necessary. That way it felt pretty normal to her and she didn’t lose the hang of it. I have also been very blessed with an abundance of milk and was able to fill up a bottle from one side in about 5 minutes flat which made it much more of an appealing prospect. I know some women say it can take them ages and I totally get why that wouldn’t feel like a productive solution when you’re sat there for half an hour or more like a cow being milked. The expressing success meant that I could work other events, go to meetings and even just get a bit more work done in the studio with the option of someone else being able to feed the little cub! It’s been a huge blessing that I don’t take for granted but without it getting back into work might have looked quite different and been more challenging.
People have asked how on earth I seemed so productive with a newborn and it has to be said that it’s partly down to Maggie being a bit of a dreamboat in general. She adapts to things quickly, is generally very contented, not sicky, windy or overly clingy and has been a pro-sleeper. However, as a little encouragement to any first time Mum’s worried about the newborn phase whilst attempting to run your own business, in the beginning babies pretty much just eat and sleep on repeat with some nappy changes thrown in for good measure. In my limited experience (which is only just over 5 months so not a great deal) the first few months are the easiest for work because there are many windows of opportunity to get things done and I’ve actually heard the same from other Mum’s too. I would be on my laptop replying to emails and sometimes even designing and photo editing whilst Maggie was feeding. She could take an hour to have a full feed in those early days, mainly as she was learning to feed but also she was so darn sleepy and we had to keep on waking her up to carry on and change her nappy halfway through to get her spritely again. Then there’s the naps which are frequent for any newborn but for Maggie those could frequently be an hour or 2 with 4 hours early afternoon. No joke, that little critter slept 6 hours once while I was zooming around press days with her which is totally not what a health visitor would advise but she was putting on weight like a sumo champ so I wasn’t worried.
She started sleeping through ‘our’ night from 6 weeks old and by that I mean her last feed was at 9pm and then she’d sleep through until between 7 and 9am. As soon as she started doing that I felt so much more human and suddenly I didn’t need those naps in the day to keep me going, hence more time to get some work done. I couldn’t remember feeling so awake in so long as I was exhausted throughout the whole of pregnancy too! I realise this isn’t everyone’s experience and doesn’t account for complications with the birth or post natal depression and all of those challenges but if you’re worried about time windows themselves, I would say there are plenty at the newborn stage, it’s more a question of whether your heads in a good place for getting anything done.
Work really picked up from November time and suddenly I found myself attempting to work at almost full capacity. Things seemed in much more of a rhythm with Maggie and I felt quite excited to take on more commissions. With the help I was getting from our Mum’s I knew there would be two days in each week that I could count on getting work done and the rest of the time I was grabbing moments when I could but things didn’t work out with the girl who’d been working for me which was one of those twists in the plan that had been a great idea originally but didn’t end up working. It wasn’t part of ‘my plan’ but as I said I had to be open to that plan changing because I’m not God and therefore ultimately not in control. This obviously meant I had to fill those gaps myself and I was essentially back to being a one woman band. The thing I’ve come to realise in this juggle of being a working Mum is to be really clear about your limitations with clients you’re working with. It doesn’t make everything smooth sailing but when I’ve been firmer in explaining from the start of a job, that I only have certain windows to work with a baby and need plenty of notice and time to complete jobs, things have been much more straightforward. Ultimately you can do your best to be organised but you can’t control what your baby does, whether that’s not fancying such long naps one day, or getting poorly or teething at an alarmingly early age (hand up right here). This means that you need to keep things straightforward with whoever you’re working with and give realistic lead times as well as ask what you need from them and when you need it by. I had a minor head explosion come December when a series of four projects I’d taken on at very different times collided because the brands had been so disorganised in getting what I needed to do the project over to me. I felt helpless as I had tried to stagger the work but I was waiting on other people to be able to get things moving which resulted in one of the most intense working weeks of my life and some sleepless night’s that were nothing to do with Maggie. Instead, it was all to do with manically finishing work in the early hours and lying awake anxious when I actually did get to bed, reeling over my to-do list. It was not my finest hour but I resolved to do everything in my power to be as firm with clients as I could be in future to avoid such meltdowns!
In the new year I took on a PR pal to just do half a day, every second week to deal with some of the twitter / Facebook scheduling and newsletter prep that had landed on my plate. I’m very vocal these days about outsourcing the things that chew up time when you could be spending that time on parts of the business that have to be worked on by you. Social scheduling and newsletters do not need my expertise and in fact I don’t have any in those areas, where as Jess does! I’ve also been learning to say no to the jobs that aren’t going to bring me maximum return. I’m much more confident with going in strong with my fees now as my time is even more valuable with a baby and I have to factor in someone to take care of her if it involves leaving the house. After preparing for a season of decline in business with having a newborn bubba, I can report that business has been better than ever which seems beyond mad! I so often find when I face seasons that seem worrying on a financial level and don’t make any sense on paper, somehow God shows you that he supersedes your expectations and does what doesn’t make sense. Sure, I’ve worked hard but he’s the one that has brought all things together for me to be able to say that business was good in the newborn phase.
Since the new year started things have definitely become more challenging, something I expect for every new season and phase of Maggie’s life. There are always going to be new challenges that develop as she develops and it’s going to be a case of adapting with the business. When Maggie hit three months, suddenly she was so much more awake and alert. The naps decreased and periods of awake time were so much longer. Here’s where the ‘Mum guilt’ seeps in. I’ve chatted a lot about the logistics of working with a newborn but not much of the emotions. That’s partly because up to about three months she slept and fed for so much of the time that I was able to crack on with work without worrying that I wasn’t present enough. Come January this little person was chatting and smiling away, wanting to be entertained and all I really wanted to do was to play with her and give her eye contact. It was fine to let her play on her mat for a while or sit in her rocking chair, chewing on a toy for a bit but a reassuring nod and smile from me just didn’t seem enough anymore. I didn’t want her to remember her mum’s eyes more fixed on a screen than her growing up and mastering new tricks. All of a sudden the days that Granny and Grandma were coming seemed even more important for me to get work done. It was either that or guilt!
Naps got a whole lot less predictable as she was harder to settle and obviously she needed less sleep in the day. She also became incredibly efficient at feeding which is fab but also takes away any time I wold usually have done a bit of work. Nowadays I settle down on the sofa and before I know it she’s done 5 minutes later and she’s onto the other side. All those newborn windows were kind of disappearing so that’s where my challenge really began but then again it wasn’t a surprise that she changed and I needed to adapt, I mean that’s likely going to be what parenthood looks like right?
So how am I dealing with it all? Am I just going out on a high and throwing in the towel? Nope, don’t be silly although if you’d asked me two weeks ago it would have been tempting to say, ‘yes!’ First off I decided to set aside a working day of each week that was exclusively for Maggie. This would be a day where I don’t look at emails or work on commissions etc but put some dedicated time into hanging out and playing with Maggie or going on ‘play dates’ (how American do I sound?) This day is mobile at the moment, depending on what’s happening through the week but I know I get that time dedicated to her without any guilt about not working on that day. To my mind I now have a four day working week and so that will mean I need to take on work accordingly. So what about the two days I have without child care? Basically I realised that Maggie needed a whole lot more routine and some sleep training as her growing issue with not settling and nap irregularity was down to over tiredness. She’d been such a great sleeper all round in the first 3 months that I hadn’t really had to think too much about a particular routine but all of a sudden I was in desperate need of something to help her chronic over tiredness and to install a bit of structure to my working days too. Waiting and wondering if and when she might nap was becoming pretty tiresome and meant I never knew if I had a window to get some work done or not. Since moving to some semblance of routine with her and essentially sleep training her has made a world of difference and part of me wishes I’d just done it sooner. People have been asking my approach to all that jazz but I’ll leave that for another post because otherwise this post will be even more epic in length! The point is there was a shift in Maggie’s behaviour and development and so we needed to adapt. I’m sure that’s the way it will continue to be every couple of months but don’t give up.
Now Maggie is having regular naps in her cot (mostly) I can work in my studio office rather than being nestled on the sofa with my laptop. This feels like a total novelty having found it such a struggle to migrate up here unless Granny or Grandma were looking after her. Yet, at the same time that was just the newborn season I was in and that’s fine because it’s not forever. I think that’s how you need to look at it all and not lament the point you’re at as it will pass before you know it and then with total irony, you’ll miss it! As I’ve said I wasn’t sure if I’d even want to work once having a baby. I knew I had to earn something but some dough but was fully prepared to keep it to a bare minimum. She came along and my priorities were turned upside down but I didn’t lose the desire to create and to put effort into growing or at least sustaining my business. Now I just have to prioritise so I can make the most of each stage of her growing up, whilst also getting the work done. The two can function alongside each other which is something I didn’t fully believe before having her! It takes some navigating for sure but it’s well worth it and gives me more balance in my life as I really enjoy Maggie so much but I’m not consumed by her and I love running my business and yet I can’t be consumed by that either anymore (something I really struggled with before).
So here’s a summary of my tips…
Make the most of time windows
You will have them in the early months believe it or not. Naps and feeding may well give you some great opportunities to get into work throughout the day, as long as you’re prepared for that work to be a little broken up and ‘bitty’ then you’re onto a winner. If bubs isn’t sleeping well through the night then you’re probably going to need to use at least one of those nap times for your own nap to catch up on sleep, not to mention your sanity. If you’re brain can’t function at all to get work done in these windows then that’s ok too. Adjust your plan accordingly and if things change you can reassess. There’s no point piling on the pressure when you already have a lot on your plate.
Lay out what your priorities are
This is helpful for pretty much everything in life but one of my main priorities is Maggie so I work back from that and therefore she features heavily in my decisions about what work to take on or whether I even take any more on at all. Structure your week to suit your priorities and then you don’t need to be ridden with guilt. You may need to give up having such a clean and tidy home for a while too. I have a cleaner every second week (three cheers for outsourcing again) but things get messy pretty quickly and I’ve had to just let some of that go. If I’m cleaning and tidying in those time windows then I’m not going to be getting work done. I’ve had to care a bit less about what people think when they come round as ultimately it doesn’t matter.
Embrace your creativity with realism
Lots of Mum’s say they feel a surge of creativity when they have a baby but the funny thing is that extra creativity seems to come along at a time when you’re less capable of doing one of those things. Create because it’s fun and you don’t necessarily know where it will lead but it could become part of your business. Sometimes I involve Maggie and talk her through what I’m making so she can learn about creativity too. Know that you won’t be able to realise everything in your head and that’s fine because you have a baby! I have so many ideas for new products and even a new business (because obviously I’m twiddling my thumbs) but I can’t do everything now and that’s just a part of where I’m at. I wouldn’t exchange Maggie in order to execute those things so really who cares. I’ve found keeping up with my blog which is now at one post a week rather than my former two, helps me to create even when I’m not getting paid for it.
Don’t be too proud for help
I mentioned ‘help’ in my last post and honestly if you have any available to you then take it. Did you know children used to be raised by whole communities and that’s not to shirk responsibility. I always want to be Maggie’s primary carer but I don’t need to be a hero and a martyr in the place of getting help. If you can find a means of having your baby fed by someone else, whether that’s expressing or formula then at least try, as that will provide you with so much freedom moving forward. Sure, you may have to embrace the awkward question, ‘Can I have a room to express my full to bursting breasts?’ when it comes to that all day event you want to attend but people understand. Then take stock of your finances and see if you can afford to outsource some of the jobs you don’t need to spend your own time on, even if it’s just a little portion. Every little helps.
Healthy body, healthy mind
This is similar to a post I wrote a while back on staying motivated but it hasn’t changed since having Maggie, it just looks different. the way I treat my body has a direct impact on my motivation to do work and stay focused. Eat well and plenty during this period, particularly if you’re breast feeding. Don’t ride the sugar or caffeine rollercoaster to get you through each day as this will surely lead to a foggy head. Instead make sure you’re getting plenty of good quality protein and fats to sustain you and feed your mind. This along with staying hydrated is so key in this period when you’re actually still recovering anyway. Stressing out about losing baby weight and getting on a diet or going to the opposite extreme and living on crap as you just can’t be bothered, isn’t going to put a spring in your step when it comes to life in general, let alone work. Obviously you can’t do full blown exercise for at least the first six weeks which is good as you’re body needs that rest but even so you can be going out for walks to stretch your legs and get some fresh air into those lungs. It always helped me feel less tired and even gets my creative juices flowing. Now that I can exercise I’ve worked out a way to still swim and go to my pilates class as well as doing a couple of pilates and tabata workouts during the week with some help from Youtube. It’s nothing crazy but I know how these seemingly small things impact my overall motivation.
You’ll surprise yourself
It’s good to not have crazy expectations going into running a business alongside having a newborn but I think you may well also be surprised at what you can achieve and let’s be honest it’s an achievement in itself that you’re keeping a human alive! Anything on top of that is a huge bonus! I never thought I would do as much as I did but with God’s help somehow it happened. Suddenly I’m much more productive with the time I do have because I know it’s in shorter supply. I so often here the same from other Mum’s and I already used to see that even before baby being ten times more fruitful when I was up against tight deadlines.
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