Before I became a professional writer, a friend made a distressing prediction.
This month, my eldest turned five. His birthday was a huge day and he ended up falling asleep on the couch, his new Transformer clutched to his chest. I carried my curly headed little boy to bed, wondering how many more times I will do this for him.
Life has certainly been busy since I fell pregnant nearly six years ago. Back then, I was a Senior Product Manager at Yahoo!7 in Sydney. I was really happy in this role, having worked my way from current affairs radio producer to online editorial producer and finally to be in charge of the technical aspects of the 7News website.
I loved working for a big name, recognisable brand and wasn’t in a rush for this to change. While catching up with an older friend one day over lunch, she dropped a bombshell. “You know,” she said casually, “Having a baby is great, but it will kill your career.”
This comment, so frank and blunt, caught me off guard. I knew raising a child while working full time was going to be tricky but this was 2012. There were thousands of working mothers out there. Was it really still so black and white?
I responded with something like, “I guess we’ll see what happens,” but for the rest of my pregnancy her words rang in my ears. I’d worked hard for my career and it was my first baby. I didn’t want producing a human to erase fifteen years of hard work.
The statement scared me and I wondered; if my career was now condemned, would it be me or my employer who pulled the trigger?
As it turned out, my friend was right.
After a year off, I returned to work. My boss was incredibly supportive and allowed me to work from home two days a week. This gave me more time to spend with my son and reduced the stress of what had turned into a two-hour commute each way thanks to the whole drop-off / pick up process.
Still, life was hectic. Three days a week I’d be out of bed before 6, packing daycare lunches and nappies. By the time we got in the door at night it was close to 7pm, far too late for a one-year-old who needed dinner and a bath before bed. My husband was often at work till midnight so while he could take care of some morning drop offs, he was as exhausted from keeping up with it all as I was.
When she visited part way through the year, my mother couldn’t help but remark that I looked ill. “Oh no Mum,” I laughed, “This is just how I look all the time now.” Ha ha ha.
During that first year back at work, the opportunity to apply for a new role came up. I was keen to take it on but when the recruiter explained that it would involve being online sometimes until 10pm at night, I had to withdraw my application. Another role required regular 6:30am starts. I ruled myself out for that as well. There was just no way I could hack it.
I wanted a change but every position had a list of requirements that I couldn’t fit in with my new life as a mother.
Eventually, redundancy came knocking, as it does regularly in the online industry. My job was going away and the only opportunity to stay with the company was to apply for a role I knew I couldn’t do justice to.
So the prophecy had come true. Two years into motherhood and my career was lying dead in the water. I do think that if I didn’t live so far from work (thanks Sydney property prices) I may have worked out a way to stay on but the fact was something had to give.
I think a lot about this, about who is to blame and what could have been done to prevent me from becoming yet another mother who has kissed goodbye to her career after having a baby. The fact is my new life and my working life didn’t match up. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the needs of my child or my three bedroom home in the suburbs in order to take the next steps on the corporate ladder.
Fortunately, my friend was also wrong.
What my friend didn’t say (or perhaps didn’t realise) was that having a baby would give me the opportunity to create a new career out of the ashes of my corporate self. One that was even more fulfilling and more profitable.
And that’s precisely what I did. Becoming a professional writer gave me the freedom to choose my own hours, to work from home and to be there for my son when he needs me most. Life is still full on and there are many days when it all seems impossible but we’re getting by.
I’m so lucky because I love what I do and I have been able to form amazing relationships with many of my clients. On any given day, I’m on the phone to New York, Melbourne or even Hungary, discussing strategy and helping people leverage content to build their business. In 2017 I welcomed my second son.
While I didn’t get the perks of corporate paid maternity leave, I have relished being able to ease back into work at my own pace without having to negotiate or make sacrifices I wasn’t comfortable with.
This new life as a professional writer has many benefits: I can give my baby a bottle while going over email marketing campaigns with a new client. I can work on Saturday mornings while my oldest is at swimming lessons. I never have to ring anyone and apologise for being late and most importantly I am bringing in the income our family needs to stay afloat.
In 2018, the push continues to provide better support for working parents so they can contribute their valuable skills to the workforce. The world is taking baby steps by allowing flexible work hours and telecommuting. I hope that for ambitious mothers (and fathers) this means they can continue to stoke the fires of their careers.
I think back to my friend telling me my career’s time was nearly up and I now understand what she was trying to say – that the juggling act of parenting + work + major commute wasn’t going to work for me. While she was spot on, having a baby certainly didn’t snuff out my ability to have a fulfilling and rewarding professional life – in fact, things are better than ever.
Clea Sherman is an ‘I got this’ woman, a mum and professional writer. She delivers creative content for business blogs, website copy, email marketing, brochures and more. Get in touch to find out how she can help your business.