Finding Balance

A potential client mentioned yesterday that she just started following my Advokate blog and commented that I haven’t updated in a while. Perhaps it’s time to mention the reasons behind that. One of them is that Advokate is rocking and rolling right along and it’s been all I can do to stay on top of the work that comes my way. Since the moment Advokate opened up shop, new business hasn’t stopped knocking on my door. Which is awesome! But it sure keeps me busy.

Besides that, there’s some big news: Advokate, my first baby, has a little brother on the way.

Baby Austin-Avon is due on August 29, 2012, and while he’s been kind of a breeze compared to some of the horror stories I hear, being pregnant does take up some time. Through February I was hit every afternoon with intense fatigue like the sandman dumping the whole bag on me. It was like pulling an all-nighter, drinking too much coffee and coming to a crash on top of the kind of crazy tired you get after being in the sun all day. I fought it for weeks, slumping lower and lower in my chair around 3 p.m. and finally curling into a ball with my knees pushed against my desk for a few Z’s.

Eventually, Mad Men-style, I actually bought a cheap couch for the office so I could take a quick nap (not folded in a knot in my chair) without screwing up the whole workday. There were other adjustments, too – for a time I had to actually stop working around 7 p.m. because that’s when my body decided it wanted to shut down and go to sleep. And I had to set an alarm on my phone’s calendar so I’d remember to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. My Advokate tote bag not only sports a notebook, laptop and pen but also a banana, granola bar and water bottle (a snazzy glass Lifefactory one from Sterling & Co., I might add).

It’s an adjustment having to actually eat and sleep. I didn’t care before – stuff had to get done! But now, that has to happen – never mind making time to relax, get away from the computer and stretch so I don’t get blood clots or swelling and consciously de-stress so I don’t release toxic stress chemicals into baby’s brain (this is really hard), shop for baby stuff, go to doctor’s appointments and stop every now and again to journal or take a picture to remember life before kiddo. This wasn’t a normal part of my pre-pregnancy life and now it is, by necessity. So all this eating, sleeping and taking it easy is cutting into my normal workday, which used to start at a reasonable hour, plow through mealtimes and stretch into the wee hours of the night. Now that I’m into my second trimester, I’m off the naps and am still able to pull off some long evenings now and then but it takes a lot out of me. And don’t worry, I’m still eating.

Another adjustment has been trying to figure out what’s really important. Firstborn child Advokate and second-to-be-born Baby A-A have been feuding. There’s some serious sibling rivalry.

I had a really hard time accepting the mandatory nap thing. My clients need me!, I would think in the seconds between leaving my office chair and passing out. I’m never going to be able to catch up now. This is indulgent. I worried about new clients wanting to hire a one-woman operation when my baby bump started to show. I wouldn’t hire me, I thought. Clearly a mom doesn’t care about her business as much as someone without kids. When I’d have a day of back-to-back meetings, I’d think, I seriously just don’t have time for this. I really beat myself up over it, imagining trying to answer the phone professionally with a screaming baby in the background or missing a deadline if the thing gets sick.

Online pregnancy advice websites suggest taking a break from vacuuming or laundry and asking hubby to pitch in. My awesome husband does all the housework! — I’m more concerned about getting a design done on schedule or figuring out how to eat during a jampacked day than I am about the &$@ing DISHES! I was disgusted. So I actually bought a book called The Pregnant Entrepreneur and after a few pages when the woman reveals that she spends about four hours a week on her business, I threw the book across the room.

People keep saying to me how great it is that I work from home. Sure, the flexibility is nice, but it’s not like I don’t do anything all day. Feeding and changing a baby every couple hours is seriously going to screw with my workday! Never mind the no sleep thing. I’m not a stay-at-home-mom-to-be. I’m a business professional with a home office. I have work to do in here and it never ends! On days that my husband Cory comes home early (or actually, most days, come to think of it) the poor guy will come in to kiss me hello and ask about dinner plans and there’s usually a big pause and then I go a a what was that noise head shake and a WHAT? I’M IN THE MIDDLE OF SOMETHING! HI! HOW WAS YOUR DAY – HANG ON A SEC… <typetypetype> I mean, I make a point to have dinner together and spend some quality Cory time most nights, and try to keep the work to a minimum on weekends, but the interruption thing isn’t something I handle smoothly.

But I had some good advice float my way. My SCORE advisor said the best hire he ever made was a pregnant woman right before she needed to take her maternity leave. She was the best worker he ever had, he said – her being a mother didn’t make her some kind of horrible person. Art world colleagues pointed out the stigma about working moms as opposed to working dads. Nobody thinks that a man who has kids is going to put his family life above his job. I shudder to think I was being anti-feminist. That isn’t my flava.

Then, on a day I was helping out at LARAC and Pandora was providing the tunes for the gallery, Harry Chapin’s song Cat’s in the Cradle came through the playlist. Hormones surged and I was a bawling mess for a few minutes. I don’t want to be the mom that tells her kid to go watch TV because Mommy’s working. I mean, I realize that happens sometimes. But my schedule the way it is, that would be constant. “Go away, kiddo – I don’t care about whatever you are trying to tell me because I’m busy with something that’s more important than you are. I’ll see you on the weekend, maybe.” I’m busy, but that’s not how I want to raise my kid. In my ideal world I spend sunshiney days with my child baking bread, gardening, blowing bubbles, going for nature walks, making art, beading bracelets, going to storytimes at the library… not just constantly shooing them out of my office, yelling at them to shut the hell up so I can concentrate and shoving them on my in-laws.

So after that Cat’s in the Cradle moment (and the horrible fatigue passing helped!) and remembering this Saved by the Bell episode (Zack’s dad is always interrupted by his cell phone so finally Zack calls him on the phone to get through to him) and the beginning of the movie Hook (where Robin Williams is on his cell phone all the time and misses his son’s baseball game because of work) I’ve more come to accept things. To try harder not to bite off more than I can chew. To give realistic deadlines to my clients. To make the most efficient use of the time in between these incessant protein-jammed snack breaks I’m supposed to take. And my rates have gone up a little as my time is worth more to me these days. I’m not sure yet how I can take maternity leave with a business like this, but I have an intern coming on board from June to August and may hire an assistant or another intern to help with emergencies and ongoing work after then, though I’ll certainly have to taper it off toward the end of summer.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a healthy go of it so far. No morning sickness, no severe nausea, no mandatory bed rest, nothing wrong at all. I’ve got a healthy baby boy on the way, a supportive and wonderful husband, a great family and clients who are absolutely fantastic! I’m blessed to have a customer base who not only continues to need me for business but who also ask me how I’m doing and offer friendly advice on life with baby. My fears are quelled. People understand.

Business is important, sure – but having a baby is also really important. Having a business doesn’t make having a baby not important.

There are no promises that it’s going to be easy, but it’s going to be okay. I trust now that I’ll figure it out.

Bear with me! I’m starting to catch my balance.

Kate Austin-Avon

Kate E. Austin is known for her creative advocacy. She is a regular speaker on branding and social media with educational institutions and Chambers of Commerce. She owns and operates Advokate, LLC. Currently she serves on the boards of the Glens Falls Business Improvement District, the Jackson Heights Elementary School PTA, Lower Adirondack Pride, and is on the World Awareness Children’s Museum’s Advisory Council. Originally from Killington, Vermont, she studied art at Hartwick College and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Art from Empire State College. She is a mother of three.