Freelancing with baby: the first year

This is a guest post by Rachel Sinn, a Spanish to English medical and pharmaceutical translator based in Colorado. I asked Rachel to write a post on her experiences managing her freelance business since giving birth to her first baby eight months ago. Specifically, Rachel has managed to juggle motherhood and freelancing while using little to no non-family child care. I get lots of requests from freelancing moms looking for real-life information, so I think you’ll enjoy this!

“So what are you guys going to do about child care?”

My friend smiled politely as my husband and I gave conflicting and somewhat vague accounts of our child care plans, because we hadn’t thought about it much. I was about five months pregnant. Later that night, that well-meaning question from a friend making small talk became a sleep-killing monster. What were we going to do about child care?

Of all the language-related trades, I chose translation at the tender age of 22 because I wanted to stay home with my future kids. At 30, with my first child kicking me on a daily basis, and with five years of translation work under my belt, I suddenly realized that it wasn’t going to be that easy. Cue several days weeks of panicked googling and calling around, only to encounter the dreaded daycare waitlist over and over again (30 months???).

After discouraging searches through hundreds of profiles on, endless daycare calls, and long talks, we decided to wing it. And I’m happy to say that I am still at home with my now eight-month-old daughter, and working close to full time. It has required a little creativity, and a reexamination of how we do life, but it’s possible and even enjoyable. Here are a few ideas if you’re looking to do the same.

Take a maternity leave
Childbirth is hard. Sleep deprivation is harder. As full-time employees, many women have the option to take 12 weeks of FMLA leave. I decided to give myself that amount of time as well. I notified all of my clients several months ahead of time, periodically reminded them nearer to the due date, and did so again the month of the due date. I also stopped taking projects with long deadlines the month of the due date. I took same day or next-day turnaround projects only (the opposite of what I did after my daughter was born!). I have two kinds of clients: giant translation agencies with hundreds of project managers and smaller, independent companies where I’ve been working with the same people for years. The former didn’t notice I was gone, and I had a good enough rapport with the latter that they happily congratulated me and told me to email them when I returned.

Ease back into it
When I decided I was ready to start working again, almost exactly three months later, I had to strategize how to do it. What worked for me was to “go back to work” for my best clients, a select few with whom I had a great relationship. You could call them my “A” clients. Great deadlines, interesting work, on-time payment, etc. Great deadlines were the key to the whole thing. I knew my schedule would be completely erratic for the foreseeable future (teething, sleep regressions, growth spurts, colds, the list goes on), which meant no same-day or next-day deadlines. I stuck with deadlines of two days or more at all times, and tried not to take more than one job at a time. I did this for about a month before going further. I’m happy to report that I was able to resume work with my “A” clients at about three months, and the rest around four to five months after my daughter was born. I didn’t lose a single client from going on maternity leave.

Rethink your schedule
My husband works full-time, so finding the time to get work done was tricky. I ended up translating during naps (an hour here, an hour there), and then in the evenings as well, when he or my mother-in-law could take the baby. I also ended up rearranging my workweek so that I worked over the weekend and took days off during the week. Far from being a handicap, this practice actually enabled me to take work other translators often refuse, thereby expanding my earning potential, and when I wanted to take the baby to story time at the library on a Wednesday morning, I didn’t feel like I was skipping out on work.

Beware the Mom-brain
Sleep deprivation is hard, and mom brain is real. You will put your phone in the fridge. You will find that your jeans have been inside out literally all day (how is that even possible?). I am fully aware that I might miss a deadline or make a serious error at any moment, simply because the baby was up five times the night before. I combat this problem by making the most of my productivity software. I set multiple reminders on my phone for each deadline (two days before, one day before, 4 hours before), I use Translation Office 3000 to track my projects and invoicing, and maybe most importantly, I use Google Assistant as my short term memory (e.g. “Ok Google, remind me to check on the term “X” in 10 minutes). Another tactic that has served me well is setting aside my translation for a good period of time, even overnight, and coming back to it with fresh eyes to edit and proofread. This is a good practice at the best of times, but as a new parent, it’s vitally important. A quality assurance tool like Xbench or Verifika may also be useful to check for number errors and consistency issues.

Working from home with an infant is an exercise in flexibility, but then so is parenting. By giving myself the time to recuperate and get to know my little one, starting back to work slowly, and putting plenty of safeguards in place to ensure my clients still benefit from my best work, I’ve been successful. Best of all, I get to be with my daughter for most of the day, and we don’t pay for child care. We are at eight months now, and still going strong!