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Shall I take maternity leave or not?
Thread poster: Els Hoefman

Els Hoefman  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:25
Member (2004)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Jan 29, 2007

I am considering taking maternity leave, but I am afraid I might lose clients.
When I gave birth to my first child, I did not take official maternity leave, I just let my clients know I would not be working for a week or two. I did not lose any clients and everybody was happy. Afterwards I just accepted (or sometimes declined) jobs on the basis of the baby's schedule. This time is different because I will have to take care of two young children: the baby and my eldest son, who will be 17 months old by then (in May). My son goes to daycare three mornings every week and I look after him the rest of the time. Sometimes I do not get much work done and I fear I might not get anything at all done in the first few weeks after the birth of my second child. The Belgian state offers the possibility for self-employed mothers to receive a sum on the condition that they do not work at all during six weeks. The sum offered is not much less than what I would earn if I worked during those six weeks. I also feel I will need the time to get used to my new life with two kids and since I will breastfeed the youngest, it will be hectic as it is. But I wonder if not working at all, i.e. not even being able to accept an emergency job from regular clients, is feasible.
Any advice?


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Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:25
French to English
+ ...
Give yourself a break Jan 29, 2007

I found that I could work quite easily when I had my first son, but when I had my second, even though there were three years between them, it was a completely different kettle of fish! The logistics of coping with a new baby and a toddler are quite taxing enough without worrying about fitting work in as well. I should think your clients would prefer you to be honest with them and say you're having six weeks off, than wondering whether you'll be able to finish work to deadline or at all..... It will also take a weight off your mind in that you can concentrate on adjusting to having two children without worrying about not upsetting your clients at the same time. If your clients are worth having, they will understand and come back to you when you're available again.

All the best!


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Alison Schwitzgebel
France
Local time: 16:25
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Tough decision Jan 29, 2007

Hi Els!

That's a tough decision to make, and it's one that nobody can make for you. All I can do is to tell you my experiences.

I have four kids, aged 8, 4, 2 and 9 months. I started freelancing just before number 1 was born, and freelanced my way through all of the rest of them.

With number 2, I worked up to my due date, she appeared three days late, and I started working again 4 days after she was born (I'm the breadwinner in our household). That was difficult. She was also (and still is) quite highly strung - sometimes I wonder if it's because of my stress levels both during the pregnancy and after she was born. Also, and I think it was due to stress, I had several bouts of mastitis with her. Not nice

Germany has a social fund for artists and translators (KSK), which I joined before numbers 3 and 4 came along. I got maternity benefits from the KSK, and I did take a break after they were born. It made SUCH a difference!!

It allowed me to take the time I needed with the new baby. The first few days and weeks are so important in a new baby's life. A relaxed environment is important to get breast feeding established (ok - as relaxed as you can with an 18-month old zapping around!) And also, you can never tell quite how the birth will go. I was lucky and only my first child was a difficult birth - the others all appeared in a matter of 2-3 hours. But what if I'd had a C-section and had to get back to work a week after the birth? I think not

If you are good at translating, I don't think you need to worry too much about your customers ditching you. In my experience - there are plenty of Mums among my clients who quite understood that I would be taking a few weeks off

FWIW

Alison


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Natacha DUPORT  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:25
Member (2005)
English to French
+ ...
possible but difficult Jan 29, 2007

my first girl was 15 months when I gave birth to my second girl, I only took 15 days off. It was quite difficult at the beginning but I haven't lost any client !!!!

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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 10:25
English to French
+ ...
Get a break Jan 29, 2007

And since it's only for six weeks and not six months, don't even tell your clients about it. Just get a break, keep checking your e-mail, and when a client wants to send you work, just tell them you are already busy at the moment, but you will be glad to take work from them soon.

Whatever you do, don't give them any dates. They will mentally auto-condition themselves to think you are unavailable, and when you will be available, they will have already forgotten about you. That is the riskiest.

Just take a break and keep it to yourself.

All the best!


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Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:25
English to Arabic
+ ...
Don't call it a maternity leave Jan 29, 2007

Agree with replies above - you need to give yourself a break of a month or two. But tell your clients that you're on holidays or that you're busy with a large project.
If you tell them you're on maternity leave, your clients will always have this idea at the back of their head that you're busy with a little child, and they may start not considering you for potential jobs. I have noticed myself how the tone of some clients' voices changed once I told them I have three little kids.


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French Foodie  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:25
French to English
+ ...
Take a break and be honest Jan 29, 2007

Els, I can only tell you what worked for me as a mother of 2 kids and a freelancer the entire time. In the end, it's up to you to do what feels best.
However, I would strongly recommend that you take a break - for you, for your kids, and for your clients! What focus will you be able to give your work when you're recovering from childbirth (and your body will need time to recover, even if the birth goes well!), trying to breastfeed a newborn, pay attention to a toddler and focus on a difficult terminology question? It's not fair to all parties involved.
You deserve a break, your baby deserves some time to establish nursing, you toddler will need some attention now that a new little one has entered the scene, and your client will appreciate your honesty and your desire to maintain the high quality of work you provide.
In both my pregnancies, I was fortunate to be able to work practically right up until delivery. I let my clients know well in advance that I was expecting and that once the child was born I would be taking a leave for 3 months (similar minimal coverage as to what you receive in Belgium), and I didn't lose a *single* client (you of course can decide how long you wish to take, 1 week, 6 weeks, 3 months - whatever!). I simply sent out a reminder a week or two prior to my return letting them know I would be available again on X day, and then another reminder on the day of, letting them know that I was at my desk and available. In both cases, my clients wished me well for my break and were overjoyed when I returned.
(If you're worried about not being available for emergencies, you can always agree to do the emergency job and invoice after the 6-week period is up...)
If there's one thing I learned in 7 years as a freelancing mom, it's is the importance of focus - focus on my kids when it's their time, and focus on my work when it's work time. When I tried to mix them up and do everything at once, everybody lost out, and I just felt frustrated. When I learned how to divide my time and focus individually on the things that mattered most, I felt like I was accomplishing much more
Good luck with your decision and all the best for your growing family!

Ps It's also up to you whether you want to call it a materniy leave or not, but I see no reason why you should hide the fact if you go about it in a professional manner. My clients know I have children, that I take maternity leaves **as is my right**, but they also know that I work regular office hours (and more for emergencies!) and am available for their translation needs. Obviously, when put this way, none of them have a problem with this.

[Edited at 2007-01-29 10:02]


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Carolin Haase  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:25
Member (2006)
English to German
+ ...
Take a break! Jan 29, 2007

Firstly, it's not taking maternity leave, since you're self-employed. I'd say, you're taking a break, and and an important one. Two small children AND working AND not getting enough sleep AND not having time for yourself AND doing housework - I think, this is just too much to handle.

I can imagine what you feel like...when I had my baby girl 2,5 years ago, I had just started out as a freelancer... I didn't have that many clients yet and I feared to lose all of them if I didn't get to work as soon as possible after the baby was born. I fact, I started again three weeks after, and still it was quite difficult because I felt so exhausted and my life had changed so much.

I wouldn't do that again.

So, I think if you informed your clients that you definitely take those 6 weeks off (and receive money from the government instead) and tell them that you'll take a break at least a couple of more months (and MAYBE only accept emergency jobs), you'll be fine. Everyone understands that, I believe.

You might run the risk of ruining your health if you exaggerate and work too much. At least, I did- I was ill most of the winter after my daughter was born; I worked (and breastfed) through the nights and felt like a zombie during the day.

While you're taking a break, you can still work on glossaries, answer Kudoz-questions, keep up to date with the world of translation, etc. It will be only for a short time and children grow so fast!

Not working for money doesn't mean you don't work. Raising children is the most demanding job I can imagine.

Just my 2 cents...

All the best,

Carolin


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Marie-Céline GEORG  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:25
English to French
+ ...
Find a "back-up" colleague for urgent work Jan 29, 2007

Hi,
I agree with most of the other opinions: take a leave - six weeks are not too much with two young children - and inform your clients that you won't be available during that time. Sending a message one or two weeks before your start again is a good idea.

I have two children aged 7 and 4 and I used the opportunity offered in France to get some money if you work part-time (i.e. not earning more than a percentage of the minimum wage) after maternity leave. That was a real blessing and I didn't lose my good customers. I simply explained that deadlines had to be extended a lot and refused work that I really couldn't fit in the schedule but that was quite rare. Sometimes emergencies turn out to be not so urgent after all!

It might also be interesting to make a deal with a colleague you can trust for urgent work - for your best clients it will be added value as they will get their jobs done and they will appreciate that you care about it. I haven't lost clients this way, they were all happy to give me work again once I came back from my two months leave.

As you probably have noticed with your first child, breastfeeding can be very demanding and there are special periods (about 15 days after birth, then around the third month for instance) when you have to be extra careful if you want to go on doing it. Maybe you will arrange your schedule and refuse some jobs at these times. I agree with Mara: take some time to focus on your children, after that you will be able to focus on your job and enjoy it!

I wish you good luck with your children
Marie-Céline


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Anne Marie B
Canada
Local time: 10:25
English to French
My word! Jan 29, 2007

There is a lot of wisdom in the comments posted.

Definitely enjoy your little ones while you can. I have two (7 and 4). If you project yourself in the future and look back, you will never regret that time. So, if financially you can do it and sustain the "potential" loss of clients (which in the end may only be temporary or may never occur), take the time.

As women, we have so many choices, thanks to our predecessors. The difficult thing is to make enlightened choices. We cannot have it all simultaneously and the key lies in a balanced life.

Good luck!


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Ruxi
German to Romanian
+ ...
Take it! Jan 29, 2007

You are a translator and not a slave. Take your rights. Serious clients will understand and respect you for this.
Do it for your children who need you, think of them.
And also make yourself a normal work-schedule so that you have enough time to take care of your children.
Your husband has an income too, so he supports you in any case.
If we don't respect ourselves, who should respect us ?


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Martine Etienne  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 16:25
Member (2003)
English to French
+ ...
Take a rest... Jan 29, 2007

Send a little note to your best clients telling them the happy event and that you will not be working during 6 weeks for instance but that you will be there to help if they were in a mess.....
Send them a picture of the baby as soon as you feel you want to work again.... so You get the opportunity to mention that you are there again.

You will perhaps loose some assignments but no clients... Being a caring mother will make you more human for them too...
Assignment and clients come back...

When childhood of your kids is over, it is for good.. Take a rest and enjoy...

Martine
Mother and translator for a long time now.. but always in that order


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Jeremy Smith  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:25
French to English
+ ...
Good clients will stay with you Jan 29, 2007

Although I'm far from the most qualified person to comment on this thread (I have no children...and I'm male), I would just like to say that any clients that never contact you again simply because you take time off that is essential for your own health as well as that of your newborn baby are not clients that you should be concerned about keeping anyway.

A freelance translator/client relationship is a business relationship of equals - not a boss/employee scenario. Good clients recognise this. Instead of dropping your services, they will congratulate you on the new arrival to your family, and will ask you to keep them informed as to your return to work.

In my opinion, you should take whatever self-employed maternity benefit you can get from the state, tell your clients you'll be on maternity leave (I don't understand why people recommend not telling them - if I were your client, I would accept that as perfectly natural - a six-week holiday would raise more eyebrows than a maternity leave) and then contact your clients shortly before you plan to take up work again, so you make sure you get back on their radar.

Finally - congratulations!


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Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:25
Spanish to English
+ ...
From a mother with a grown daughter ... Jan 29, 2007

I haven't read every word that's been posted (my! when you ask for advice around here, you really get it!!), and I am probably echoing the words of other mothers, but...

My BIGGEST regret in life is that I didn't spend more time with my daughter when she was small. In the 1970s here in the US, there was great fanfare about women's liberation and access to the workforce marketplace. On top of that, I came from a family that had always emphasized professional roles for its women. The pressure was on me to perform as a professional, not as a mother.

BAD MISTAKE...

Take your 6 weeks, get your government stipend, and then go back to working as best you can.

Your good clients won't abandon you, and you can always get more for any who might decamp. (Just because someone might need a job done during the six weeks, and have given it to another translator, doesn't mean they won't come back.

ENJOY YOUR FAMILY!


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Claire Titchmarsh  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:25
Italian to English
+ ...
They'll all be waiting for you when you're ready to come back Jan 29, 2007

I can only echo the excellent advice people have already given - but having been in exactly the same situation you describe, (2 kids under the age of 3) if I hadn't been the one paying the mortgage I would have had absolutely no hesitation in stopping work (indefinitely). I didn't lose any clients but I was never completely happy about the quality of my work for about 6 months after my son's birth, and I felt exhausted and stressed the whole time.

If you do decide to work, make sure you get LOADS of help (cleaner, babysitter.. your parents, mother in law, everybody). Otherwise you'll just be a nervous wreck.

New clients are ten a penny, unlike your little baby(ies).

All the best!


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