Being pregnant and running a business: the art of growing 2 babies

By Carly Overs, Creative Director at White Canvas Design

As I sit here on a snowy Friday afternoon, exactly 29 weeks and 1 day I can’t help but reflect on what a journey it’s been, and it’s just getting started. My husband and I found out we were pregnant on August 30th of last year and on August 31st I began frantically googling things like “how to be a good mom and run a business” wait, scratch that: “how to be pregnant and run a business”. Gulp.

I’ll admit none of the articles made me feel better. I still worried over everything – telling my clients about the pregnancy, handling the workload with the changing demands of my body, and what mat leave would look like for someone who was self-employed. Our pregnancy was planned and I was over the moon at the idea of being a mom. But I still couldn’t get past how I was supposed to grow this baby and my business at the same time, and do both well.

My deepest fear was that my pregnancy would set the company back or slow down our momentum we’ve worked so hard to gain these past few years. I would worry and then feel guilty for worrying, and then worry again that being stressed out was bad for the baby. It was a vicious cycle that had no end in site. I dealt with most of it internally, especially that first trimester when it was too early to tell people.

At 29 weeks I still have moments of worry, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. But through all the ups and downs (gotta love hormones), I’ve learned that it’s okay to be growing a baby and a business. You don’t have to choose one or the other. In fact, one will often inspire you to be better at the other.

Managing client expectations

The first thing that became apparent very quickly was that although I liked to think I could do it all, pregnancy was a whole other ball game. Maybe superwoman could be shielded from nausea, fatigue and insomnia – but not me. Luckily on my worst days in the first trimester I was able to hide behind a computer screen working from my home office. There are no words to express my gratitude for those days, how you moms out there do it in a traditional office setting is truly impressive!

I remember one instance of being on a conference call in my 7th week and feeling so nauseous I actually had to sprint to the bathroom as soon as I hung up the phone (thank goodness the video sharing was turned off). Plus countless times having dinner with clients or friends and having to pass off my absence from wine as a “cleanse” (if you know me, I never say no to wine). Even under the weather I still pushed myself during the first trimester – probably too much at times.

It all came to a head in the Fall when I hit complete burnout trying to maintain a 60+ hour work week. After I hit my breaking point (and a lot of mint-chocolate chip ice cream therapy) I made two decisions that were game-changers. First, that I needed to be better at scheduling projects and only taking on so many at one time. Second, that I 100% needed to hire someone ASAP if I wanted to keep things moving forward in a healthy way.

The first change was difficult in that I’m a “yes girl” through and through. It absolutely kills me to say no to helping people or new opportunities but I knew it was imperative to my well-being and the well-being of my baby. I committed to only taking on so many projects at one time and only so many retainer hours each month. Fully anticipating a sudden loss in business from my newly restricted schedule, I was surprised to learn that prospective clients were actually okay with waiting a few extra weeks (or months) to have their project scheduled in.

There was one branding client in particular who was very persistent, even after multiple attempts to kindly explain to him that our project pipeline was full until the new year. I was on the phone with him one afternoon and finally I cracked. “I’m pregnant”, I said. “And I need to be careful with taking care of myself these next few months”. Feeling like I had blown the call completely he replied “Congratulations! My wife and I are expecting our first too”. Mind. Blown. I wasn’t the only person in the business world who was pregnant, who knew?

The project moved forward a few months later and we continued to exchange laughs about building cribs and braving the Sunday crowds at Buy Buy Baby. Turns out the biggest limitation to managing my clients was actually me. From that moment on I decided it was time to be transparent and confident. I was going to tell all my clients I was pregnant.

Managing my expectations

Before announcing the pregnancy, I wanted to have a plan in place to present to clients. They were running a business too and my absence was likely going to cause some questions and concerns. Business is still business. This pushed me to fulfill the second commitment I made during pregnancy – to find someone to help with the workload. Not just on a project-to-project basis, but someone I could count on 100% pre and post-baby.

I knew this meant I’d have to let go and learn to trust someone with our client list for the first time. I wouldn’t call myself a micro-manager by any means but I definitely am a Curious George. My favourite part of my job is knowing each of my clients and their accounts inside and out. Bringing a new face to the mix I would have to do this at an arms-length and give them room to learn and grow. I would have to be patient with myself and let go of my obsession with “doing it all”. Challenge accepted.

I only had one person in mind who I knew would fit the part. Stefani was one of my closest friends and former teammates. We had coached together, survived university together and even won a national softball championship together. As serendipity would have it she was at the tail end of her maternity leave and also just completing her graphic design program at BCIT. I was so scared to ask her to leave her current job. I didn’t want it to have a negative impact on our friendship.

Then at Cactus Club one night, over some lettuce wraps, I mustered up the courage to tell her I was looking to hire someone in the new year. At this time she didn’t know I was pregnant. I decided not to tell her because I didn’t want it to influence her decision, it had to make sense for her and her family. This must be how guys feel when proposing, I thought to myself.

To my pure delight, she said yes! With this in hand I went to my clients and told them I was pregnant. I explained my plan was to take a short leave in May for 6 weeks when the baby arrives and that I’d be returning slowly in a part-time capacity as my schedule allowed it after that. I am still so thankful for their acceptance and support. Each person I told seemed more excited than the last and appreciative of the added support I had brought to keep things running smoothly for their business.

First month in, I can say hands down bringing someone else onboard was the best decision I ever made personally and professionally. Sharing my work baby with another person has been humbling, inspiring and a huge relief for the worry I had been feeling all this time.

Loving my body

Getting through the logistics of running a business while being pregnant has only been half the challenge. The other half has been dealing with my emotional, mental and physical well-being through it all. Truthfully, most of the time I haven’t felt beautiful like everyone says you should. It’s a hard thing to admit but it’s the truth. Between the stretch marks, the new bras that still never seem to fit, and a forever climbing number on the scale, it’s been tough at times to feel the “glow”. I’ve had moments of depression, low-self esteem and I definitely cry a lot (there’s those hormones again). I’ve been pretty quiet on social media about being pregnant, not ever feeling quite comfortable in my own skin these past months.

Finding out we’re having a little girl changed all that. It actually snapped me out of this selfish thinking and has kept me in check ever since. It’s reminded me that I need to be strong for her now and forever. To be a good mom is also to be a good role model and I want my baby girl to know she can have the world with enough perseverance and heart. She inspired me to write 3 pregnancy “mantras”. I posted them on my bulletin board in the office as daily reminders:

1. Perspective – pregnancy is another training event that requires hard work and dedication
2. Gratitude – it is a privilege to be able to have the power to produce another human
3. Focus – let go of what you cannot control and focus on what you can control

On the worst of work days I’ll suddenly feel her kick and I look up at my bulletin board. She is what’s truly important, she is my #1. Today’s blog is the first time I’ve mustered up the courage to post a photo of my pregnant self. I didn’t do it for likes. I didn’t even do it for me. I did it for her.

As for the business – well, we just had our best quarter to date. And it all happened in my second trimester. Take that, superwoman!

Whether you’re growing a baby, growing a business, or both – remember it’s a privilege. It’s selfless and tiring, and some days just downright hard (as I’m sure being a parent will be). But it’s still a privilege and one you must be grateful for. If you can focus on that, you’ll be just fine.