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Pregnancy FAQ Part 4: Determining & Handling your Maternity Leave

First of all – all of these decisions – how long you want to continue shooting when pregnant and how soon after you have a baby you want to go back to work – are decisions that are personal and up to you. This post is just intended to give you some tips from the perspective of someone who has gone through it personally and may have some insights.

 

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I will say that if you haven’t had kids before (and I mean this is no way to be insulting) – please know that your expectations for what life will look like after you have a baby are probably way off… especially in those first few months. haha. I’m sorry to say it that way – but it was true for us so I just wanted to say that here!!! 🙂 I really (for some crazy reason) thought labor and recovery wouldn’t be so bad and that I’d be more than ready to go back to work in a couple of months. I also didn’t anticipate how completely attached to these babies I would feel and how that would affect my readiness to return to work.

Given that we knew our doctor would not let us go past 38 weeks with the boys – we scheduled to go back to work 9 weeks postpartum from that date (partly because I figured I’d have them earlier than that – so any extra time would just be bonus weeks for us). However, I had them exactly at 38 weeks and in retrospect – heading back to work when we did was probably a tad early. While we had no problems physically with shooting or anything – and we certainly needed to return to work from a financial aspect – the babies were still ALL OVER the place with sleep and schedules (and of course this was amplified for us, because: TWINS). I think in those first few weeks back at work we were averaging like 3 hours of sleep the night before weddings! I swear the boys knew when we had to work the next day and went on sleep strikes! Ha! It didn’t affect how we shot or anything, because adrenaline on wedding days does some amazing things (and we were somewhat used to the lack of sleep by that point) – but in an ideal world I probably would have taken 12 weeks of maternity leave instead. (And this is coming from someone totally obsessed with their job who thought I’d want to get back to it ASAP!!)

How you determine when your maternity leave starts and ends will most likely be heavily influenced by when your baby is due and whether or not you’re having multiples or a singleton. Our due date was March 24th, but with twins that meant on average we could most likely have them anytime during mid-to-late February or early March. I talked to many other twin mamas to get their take on their pregnancies and determined that I definitely should not shoot any weddings during my 3rd trimester simply because I would be incredibly LARGE and not know how I would feel or if I’d have complications. Being too active during my 3rd trimester with twins could be dangerous as well. On top of that – the way the timing worked out was that my 3rd trimester (which started on December 31st) was during our off-season so we didn’t have to turn away weddings anyway. I did shoot a handful of sessions in January and a big commercial shoot (but the way those shoots work I am able to sit and take breaks throughout, unlike weddings).

My maternity leave officially began in early February so I could nest & prepare for the babies – and because let’s be real – by that point all I could wear was James’ giant sweatpants and robes! haha. We had the boys on March 10th (but were in the hospital from March 8th until March 13th. We officially went back to work for an engagement session out of town 8 weeks postpartum (but really only just over 7 weeks from our first day home with the boys) and returned to shooting weddings 9 weeks postpartum (just over 8 weeks from when we brought the boys home).

All that being said – here are a few tips & things to think about when determining the length of your maternity leave, how to handle prepping clients for your leave, and what to do with your business when on leave.

  1. How much leave can you afford to take? Depending on whether you are a full time or part time photographer, as well as whether or not your spouse has a separate job from photography may play a big role in when you can stop shooting and how soon after the baby is born you can return to work. In an ideal world you could time your pregnancy around off season so you aren’t losing any additional income during leave than you normally would during a quiet off season. For us – this is our sole income and we knew we’d be missing out on February/March/April wedding inquiries – which weirdly enough that year was a lot of inquiries! However, we made sure to have enough money saved to get us through all of our normal off-season (Jan – March) and an additional month on top of that to get us to May. My advice would be: as much as you can afford to take off – do it. This is a once in a lifetime moment in your life, you do not know how you will feel postpartum, and babies do not keep! They grow up so quickly and being there for those early days truly is priceless. Also, if you are feeling antsy when you get a couple of months into leave you can always start booking new inquiries coming in for regular sessions and things like that so you can slowly start getting back to work if you’re feeling the itch.
  2. How far along do you feel comfortable shooting? This really varies by pregnancy and by woman, but for most people I’ve talked to who had singleton babies – they wished they had not continued shooting weddings past 36 weeks. That last month starts to get very uncomfortable, and from your client’s perspective it would be cutting it close to have a photographer at their wedding who is ready to pop, or who has to find a back-up for them because they went into labor early.
  3. If you are having the baby yourself (i.e. not via surrogate or adoption) – remember this is a SERIOUS medical situation for your body to go through and it requires recovery time! I ended up needing an emergency c-section for the boys and oh my gosh – I did not anticipate how difficult recovery from a c-section would be! It is no joke! It was a slow process for me and on top of the physical recovery is the psychological and hormonal recovery as well. (Your body is all over the place postpartum so it is good to give yourself some time to BE.)
  4. Send an email out to all current clients who you would expect to contact you during your maternity leave to preemptively alert them about your leave and how you plan to handle their correspondence. I posted a large blog about my leave, and then reached out individually to any clients whose weddings were coming up shortly after leave. I let them know I would still be handling prep for their wedding as normal and that I’d be most easily reached via email during my leave.
  5. Set an away message while on leave for any incoming inquiries and messages. We don’t have employees or assistants here, so when we were on leave – our whole business was on leave. Certainly if you have a team you work with you could put someone in charge of handling your emails while you’re away – but in our case I set away messages and altered them as we went along. In general, I attempted to respond to emails every few days that were urgent (inquiries or current clients) so that I didn’t get horribly backed up. It was important to me that we were still able to book work for that current year and the following year – so I didn’t want to fall off the face of the earth completely. Also, when the boys were that tiny they slept at various times all throughout the day and I could reply to messages while they were nursing or sleeping (yay for breastfeeding pillows – hands free!).

Here were the variety of messages I used throughout (which are generally the same, just with a few things altered):

Nearing our due date:

Hi there!! 

Thanks so much for your email! This is just an automated confirmation that I received your message! 
We are currently out of the office, as we prepare to welcome two beautiful twin boys into our family any day now!! As such, email replies may be more delayed than normal. 
I plan to check email a few times a week, and will return any urgent emails when able. If you are inquiring about a 2016 or 2017 wedding or session, I will do my best to get back to you with our availability as soon as possible, since we are happily still booking work for this year and next! 🙂 
Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding! Have a beautiful day!! 
Best,
Christy

 

Immediately after they were born:

Hi there!!

Thanks so much for your email! This is just an automated confirmation that I received your message!

We are currently out of the office, as we just welcomed our two beautiful twin boys into our family on March 10th!! As such, email replies will be more delayed than normal.

When we return home from the hospital and get settled back into life, I plan to check email a few times a week and will return any urgent emails when able. If you are inquiring about a 2016 or 2017 wedding or session, I will do my best to get back to you with our availability as soon as  possible, since we are still happily booking work for this year and next!
🙂

Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding! Have a beautiful day!!

Best,
Christy 🙂

 

A couple weeks into our leave through the remainder:

Hi there!!

Thanks so much for your email! This is just an automated confirmation that I received your message!

We are currently out of the office, as we just welcomed two beautiful twin boys into our family on March 10th!! As such, email replies will be more delayed than normal.

We are on maternity/paternity leave through May 14th, and will not be taking any in-person meetings or sessions before then. However, I plan to check email a few times a week and will return any urgent emails when able. If you are inquiring about a wedding or session for after May 14th, I will get back to you with our availability as soon as possible, since we are still happily booking work for this year and next! 🙂

Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding! Have a beautiful day!!

Best,
Christy 🙂

 

I will note – that although I had these very thorough replies – some people apparently still don’t read them! haha. I had a client inquire about a wedding (while I was in the hospital having the boys!!) – got my reply saying that I had literally JUST had them a few days prior and was still in the hospital – and when I replied to them they said they wanted to meet me in person!! When I explained again that I was on leave but that we could schedule a phone call if they really wanted to talk – they apparently still didn’t fully understand it. It wasn’t until during the phone call when I thanked her for her patience with my limited availability because of being on leave – she asked how old our boys were and when I said 6 days old – she said, “SIX DAYS OLD?! AND YOU’RE HAVING A PHONE CALL WITH ME??? OH MY GOSH!” I wanted to say… “Well, you were pretty insistent upon and it apparently didn’t read any of my messages saying we had just had twin babies on March 10th!!!” haha. So anyway – you can certainly do all you can to alert people – but it doesn’t mean you can promise they’ll thoroughly read your emails. 😉

The perk of working for yourself is that you are able to determine your own leave for yourself and it doesn’t have to be based on some company’s policy. The downside, obviously, is that the leave is unpaid!

Anyway – I hope this was helpful to those of you trying to determine your leave! Just remember – you can always decide to shorten your leave if you’re feeling great and antsy to get back to work. It is more difficult, however, to lengthen your leave if you’ve already booked weddings. Please feel free to comment with any questions you have! I of course realize this is totally personal preference, but I hope my experiences helped give you some perspective if you’re trying to determine this for yourself right now! xoxo

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