A little over nine months ago, I saw two lines on a pregnancy test. If I worked a traditional 9-to-5 job, I’d get the standard short-term disability and a few months of leave. But I’m a freelancer, which means my future rested entirely in my hands.
What will my clients say?
Will I be discriminated against?
Will I have enough money to get by?
These questions kicked off an anxiety spiral that lasted, well, nine months. I’d been freelancing full-time for three years, generating a modest income with a free schedule to meet clients whenever, wherever. Pregnancy—let alone raising a child—would change all that.
It’s true—my world did turn upside down. But I learned that, by setting and following some rules for myself, I was able to successfully manage pregnancy, the early days of motherhood, and my freelance career.
Here are a few crucial (and creative) steps I’d recommend from my own experience.
Take care of yourself
As a freelancer, it’s normal to burn the midnight oil and work until your fingers cramp. Health, however, should be a priority while pregnant and postnatal. For me, that meant catnaps, not client calls, took precedence.
Factor in doctor’s appointments and rest into your schedule. Paychecks may take a hit due to reduced hours, but the wellness of you and your baby is more important. If you’re worried about how clients will react to your pregnancy, be candid and realistic. If you let them know early on, they’ll be able to plan for your new schedule and reset expectations.
That said, if you’re feeling good during pregnancy but want to take time off after the baby arrives, consider working ahead on some projects. You’ll have less to return to when you come back, and it’s a good way to make some extra dough before you take off.
Research short-term disability insurance
Short-term disability insurance is an option for freelancers looking to cushion the costs of pre- and postpartum time. Check out Freelancers Union, which has recommendations for several private insurance companies offering disability insurance from $8 to $50 per month.
Beware, though, because there are strings attached to short-term disability insurance for freelancers. For instance, if you’re already pregnant, insurers will consider your pregnancy a preexisting condition, which means no part of your maternity-related leave will be covered. However, if you are currently a freelancer thinking about motherhood down the line, it’s worth reviewing policy options.
Turn work down
Changing professional habits is never simple. Turning down work may go against all of your instincts, but at some point, it will be necessary. I was much more selective with the projects I took. I decided to only maintain contracts that either came with high pay or low stress.
If you set up the right business structure, you can pull monthly payroll checks from your business so the income stream keeps flowing. Caitlin Pearce, executive director at the Freelancers Union, recommends stashing three-to-six-months’ worth of income as a safety net.
If you need to generate new income, and it’s within the bounds of your contract, consider outsourcing work to other freelancers or set up a referral network. I did both, outsourcing to junior talent so I can make money on the gig, and working with other freelancers to retain a commission for clients I sent their way.
Prepare for (some) disappointment
Unfortunately, freelancers are not as protected as they would be in a more stable role. When I disclosed my pregnancy to my clients, one company ghosted me. It’s unfortunate, but this type of behavior probably happens more often than you think. If you expect a client to respond this way, line up coverage for any outstanding projects before you reveal the big news. Doing so will save you some grief if a skittish client disappears.
Keeping your freelance business afloat during pregnancy and postpartum can be tricky, but it’s possible. How you approach this time depends on you and your baby’s health conditions and your relationships with your existing clients. But by implementing a few rules for yourself, you can maintain your freelance career with a baby in tow.