What’s it like to go on maternity leave when you’re a founder

When I started my first business, Willow & Blake, I was 21. Maternity leave was not a concept that had occurred to me.

I was young and hungry. Literally, we lived off Redbull and Tuna in the beginning. We started Willow with a goal; give importance to words. And we grew rapidly. Through word of mouth and great referrals, we went from writing for our friends to writing for banks, airlines, fashion companies, and some amazing startups. We became a full-service creative agency and grew from a team of three to 13.

The brands we were building were taking off. So, we decided to build our own; a skin care brand called frank body. It was supposed to be a side hustle. A way to show what we could do when we had full creative control. It turned out to be a great case study.

Over 12 and 9 years, respectively, both companies have continued to grow. Not in a straight line or overnight. But bigger than I ever dared to dream. We had a team of over 40 people and satellite offices in New York and London. Global retailers, global customers.

Work was my life. My family. My identity.

Then a little human came into my life and shattered everything I knew about myself.

Go on maternity leave

For years, I defined myself by what I did. As a founder, my universe revolved around my career. And before becoming a mother, that suited me well.

I could stay late at the office, take calls at all hours of the day, have dinner late. Jump on a plane and work in two time zones, stroll through the business lounge any day or any time and feel no whisper of guilt. It wasn’t healthy, but the hustle and bustle was a big part of our success and a way for me to justify my worth.

Then my son came into my life, and with rising hormones and sleep deprivation, I realized I’d rather set my career on fire than quit, and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. not.

At the time of birth, my life was centered solely on this little human. A demanding little human who relied on me for love, food, and shelter.

It was both beautiful and terrifying. Boring and indescribably satisfying.

I kept abreast of the activity as best I could. I sat at home, buried under a baby, scrolling through Slack. I nursed during board meetings and tried to follow the updates my husband and CEO gave me when he came home buzzing from a day at the office.

But in the end, I let myself go. I stopped trying to be through everything and lent to motherhood. And I liked that. I had time to stop and talk to the neighbors. Watch my baby discover the world. Explore this new sense of perspective. It’s the new me.

But as my son grew up and started sleeping. I started yearning for something more. My brain was itching to be stimulated. A little voice inside me told me it was time to get back to work.

Back to your business

But it wasn’t that easy. Impostor Syndrome has always been a challenge, and after 9 months in my baby bubble, I felt completely underqualified to take on a leadership role at one of the companies I founded.

Guilt and anxiety followed me to the office. They sat on my shoulder. Linger in my coffee. I saw them as a question mark in the eyes of too many people. Or maybe it was my own eyes reflecting me in the mirror.

I went to meetings and interviews playing the role of founder but feeling so distant. I was hit hard by the roller coaster of child sickness and sleep deprivation. I thought I was failing at everything. As a business owner, as a mother, wife and friend. I still do sometimes. When there are a lot of balls in the air, it is inevitable that you will drop one from time to time.

I wish I could tell you that there is a magic trick to solve all problems, but there isn’t. The tension between home and work does not stop.

I love my career. I want days full of creativity, conversations and coffee breaks. The haste that accompanies the construction of something. The buzz of leading a team that works together. I want to see others succeed, and I know I played a part, however small. I want to build something bigger than me.

And I desperately love my home life. My son smiles when he sees me, his face buried in my neck, his hand catching mine. I want to be the one he turns to when he’s scared. Who strokes his hair when he’s sick? I want to be the voice in his head.

As a kid in the 80s, I was one of the first generation of women who were told you could have it all. And I really believe you can. Just not at the same time.

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Balance is a myth and limits are bullshit. But little by little, I find a rhythm. My co-founder told me the motto: be like water. And I try to live with that.

I lowered my expectations and outsourced. A lot. I count a lot on a village; both paid and not. Yes, I miss bedtime more often than I would like. But I can see my boy whenever I want.

Who I am is constantly changing. But I’d be scared if it wasn’t.

I’m not ashamed to want more. Expect more.

You create the life you lead. And I really like the one I’m building for me and my family.

Advice for founders going on maternity leave

Before you leave: Plan (if you can). I started planning two years before I started trying. This involved our commercial director buying out our creative agency; Willow & Blake, and setting aside a fund to pay for maternity leave.

During maternity leave: Find a level of involvement that works for you. For me, it was monthly board meetings and meetings with my fellow founders.

Come back: Be kind to yourself. It takes time. And finally, remember: you are the mother and you are the boss. Do what you want. You have this.

Read more: How Jessica Sepel Built JSHealth’s Women-Led Brand

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