Why I Didn’t Tell My Clients I Was Taking Maternity Leave

Nine days after my c-section, I took on a new client.

In the final days of my pregnancy — in excruciating pain from my ribs being pushed out from the inside, like some horror-movie reverse corset — I read an article suggesting that after you have a baby, you should wear nursing pajamas all day as a visual reminder that you are still recovering and should not be expected to cook or make your guests a cup of tea.

I might have been wearing those nursing pajamas when the email came in. A new client wanted to get started right away. I called her back. We made plans to meet a few days later.

Maternity leave — what’s that? As a business owner, GRE tutor and author of educational books, I knew my maternity leave would be anything but typical.

We live, of course, in the only wealthy nation that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) “entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons” for up to 12 weeks — emphasis on “unpaid.” In New York State, some women may qualify for pregnancy disability benefits — which max out at $170 per week.

But none of that applies when you work for yourself, as I do.

If you’re an entrepreneur, freelancer, working artist, etc. and you want to have a baby your choices are some variation of the following:

  • Take an actual maternity leave in which you do not work and make no money. Save up beforehand or have a partner with a really good job.
  • Cut back on work and make less money, indefinitely.
  • Cut back on work for awhile and ramp back up over a few months (or years).
  • Full-time child care, keep working as before (good luck if you’re breastfeeding).
  • Give up completely

Given every option, ideally I’d have preferred my partner to stay home while I ran a variety of companies, working an action-packed but flexible schedule. And in fact, my partner said the thought of caring for a baby everyday was “dreamy.”

Then, however, I actually became pregnant and was immediately unable to work more than sporadically. It was like having the flu for eight months. I needed two hours to recover after a shower. Having to stand and wait for a subway train for 20 minutes could wreck me for the entire day following. And then there were the skin, joint and digestive complaints. The inability to catch my breath, even when sitting. Did you know that “frequent nosebleeds” are a perfectly normal symptom of pregnancy? Suffice it to say, no one ever once told me I was “glowing.” I did not glow.

I also lost tens of thousands of dollars in potential earnings because I was unable to continue my work as a freelancer.

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