Freelance writers and communications consultants have the best of both worlds, writes Justine McLeary. When I had my first child and found myself a mothers’ circle, I’d sit and listen to my new friends talking about how they missed work. They wouldn’t trade their babies for anything, but sometimes they’d give their right hands for a mental challenge and a bit of adult conversation, they’d say. And wasn’t it unfair how men could keep their careers once they had kids but women often had to give up theirs?
I always kept quiet, because for me it was different. As a freelance journalist and communications consultant, I could work and enjoy being at home with my boy. I had the best of both worlds. I was lucky, my friends said, and they were right. I got to spend my days watching him sleep and breathing in his delicious baby smell, all the while knowing I wouldn’t have to leave him to return to work after six or 12 months. I could lie on the floor with him while he kicked and smiled and gurgled to my heart’s content, without worrying about whether John or Jane in the office was using my absence to squeeze me out. And, if I needed mental stimulation, why, I just had to turn on my laptop and fire off a few story pitches.
But it wasn’t all rosy. I didn’t sleep when he slept, as mothers of newborns are advised to do. There were deadlines to meet, and sometimes that meant working all day on two hours’ sleep while feeding and changing my son between his sleeps. Sometimes it meant breastfeeding him with one hand while I edited magazines with the other, or trying to keep him from squawking while I threw barely-thought-out questions at Anika Moa during a phone interview because he’d woken up at the most inconvenient time. Sorry, Anika.
Once it meant not turning up for an interview because I’d gone into labour with number two four weeks early, and spending the next week working from my hospital room. I was back on the job less than 24 hours after giving birth, finishing projects the early labour had put a stop to.
I didn’t do any of this because I needed the money. My husband earned more than enough for both of us. But I’d spent years building my career and I didn’t see why I should risk losing that progress. Writing was part of who I am and I couldn’t not do it.
Eight years on that hasn’t changed. Things couldn’t be better on the work front; my days are full to the brim and I have the luxury of fitting projects around life. My children sometimes spend a bit too long in front of the TV while I write comms plans or schedule Facebook posts in bed on a Sunday morning, but they’re well-adjusted, happy, healthy, active and bright kids who don’t remember being left to gnaw on pizza crusts in office corners while I met with potential clients.
Yes, I am lucky.