I still have this vivid image in my head: I’m sitting in a bathroom of the real-life Downton Abbey, pumping milk, while a bride is getting ready for her big day in the grand bedroom next door. My client is patient and understanding: I’ve explained that I’m a breastfeeding mother, and I’ve arranged for a second photographer to join me for a day to compensate for the time that I will be hiding in the bathroom, expressing milk, just like I’m doing right now.
The ridiculousness of the situations doesn’t escape me: I leave my own baby at home, so I can spend time with other families and document their happy moments, all the while back home I’m surrounded with half-finished DIY project of a house, piles of nappies and unwashed clothes, and a baby who just does.not.sleep and is attached to me all.the.time.
Almost 6 years on, and I’m still unsure how I survived those first 2 sleepless years. Yes you read that right, TWO sleepless years.
But not only did I survive, I also – somehow, miraculously – managed to keep running my business.
Before I became a mother, I had this naive and idealistic picture in my head: my sweet baby, happily cooing, content in his little baby swing, or playing happily with his toys by my feet, while I answer the phone, edit photographs, and generally rock at this running business from home thing.
Well, the reality couldn’t be further from it. The baby didn’t last in that lovingly bought swing for longer than 5 minutes. He didn’t want to play with any toys unless I was playing with him. And I didn’t get anything done unless he was asleep – that is, if I didn’t fall asleep with him, too.
Combining work and parenthood is hard. Combining parenthood and running a business is even harder. Running a business as a first-time mother with no family around to help is a different ball game altogether.
When I was in the thick of it, I just got through it, without any thought as to how. With a benefit of hindsight, I can now share some of the things I learned along the way so hopefully this becomes a little easier for you.
When my son was just 4 months old I jumped right back into work. Looking back, I wish I’d taken it easier and enjoyed those early months a little more.
So have a solid plan in place for how long you’re going to take off work (and if you can, plan for some passive income streams in advance, to tie you over while you’re on maternity leave). Talk to your clients and explain exactly how much time off you’ll be taking and when it starts, complete all outstanding orders well before your due date, and when you do get back to work, start slowly and don’t take too much on.
Your baby’s schedule will be changing constantly, and both of you will need the time to adjust and find your feet.
Ask for Help – or Hire Help
If you’re anything like me, you are probably too proud to ask for help. My life’s motto has always been “if you want something done, do it yourself”. It took me a long time to realize I simply cannot do everything, and I have to ask for help in order to stay sane.
So ask for help whenever you can. Tell your partner exactly what you need help with, and when. If you’re fortunate to have extended family or trusted friends nearby, recruit them, too. If you don’t trust them with your child for extended periods of time, ask for help in other ways – maybe they can run a couple of errands for you, or cook a meal, or pop in for 30 minutes just to allow you to take a shower, or play with your toddler downstairs while you’re making a couple of important phone calls.
If, like me, if you have no family around, you have to hire help (and factor it’s cost into your business, too). An obvious thing to do is to have a childminder or a nanny to look after your child(ren!) a couple of days a week. But look beyond it – can you hire a cleaner, pay them £50 a week to make your house sparkly clean while it frees up 5 hours of your time that you can spend on drumming up more business and make a lot more than £50? Same goes for ready-meal delivery (there are more and more gourmet options springing up everywhere), and hiring a virtual assistant to help with some tasks.
Have Clear Boundaries
When you run your business from home, it’s very easy to always be in a work mode, never shutting down. There’s always that urgent email that needs answering now, or that tweet that has to be retweeted. But if you’re always working, you’re never 100% present with your family, and I don’t need to tell you the dangers of that.
Ask yourself, is it really urgent? Can it wait? Is my client more important than my family? 99 times out of 100, it’s not.
So establish clear boundaries and your working hours. Put on email autoresponders on, switch off push notifications on your phone, and trust that if it is really urgent, they will probably call, not email.
Get a Bullet Journal
I have a confession to make: I’m obsessed with buying journals. Last year, I had several going on at the same time, only to abandon them a few months into the year. They just didn’t work for my hectic life and work schedule.
This year, I’ve discovered bullet journaling, and so far it’s going very well. Bullet journal is a scribble pad + a to-do list + diary + a chance to slow down and think all in one, and I actually get things done! All my appointments and meetings and photoshoots are still visible at a glance in Google Calendar, but a bullet journal lets me think a few weeks ahead, write out to do lists, and cross them out as I go – and if I run out of time, it’s easy to transfer them to the next day.
You can’t fill other’s glasses if your own glass is empty. So while I know it totally sounds counter-intuitive to take the time to rest, when you already don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything that needs doing, it’s something that will totally help you long-term. Think of it as an investment into your business, a time to clear your mind so that it can help you move further in your business.
It doesn’t have to be much, and it can take many different forms. 30 minutes in a bath while your partner takes the baby out for a stroll around the block. Escaping to a cafe on a weekend to drink your coffee in peace and read a book while your partner takes the baby to a sensory play group (see: ask for help). Even just driving around while the baby is asleep at the back of your car, listening to your favourite tracks or a new audiobook. Whatever works for you!
And finally, embrace chaos. This, too, shall pass. Let go of trying to be in control – you can’t, your baby is now in control. Laugh more. Laughter will bring you peace and contentedness and will help you get through those crazy first years.
I’m Antonina Mamzenko – a natural light newborn, baby and family photographer based between London and Surrey. I specialize in creating candid, natural family photographs with zero cheese and no posing. I work all over London and Surrey, including Cobham, Esher, Thames Ditton, Richmond upon Thames, St Margarets, Twickenham, Teddington, Hampton, Kingston upon Thames, Surbiton, Kew, Chiswick, Putney, Fulham, Wimbledon, Holland Park, Kensington, St John’s Wood and Hampstead. Find more information about my photography sessions or get in touch to check availability and book your family photoshoot.