by Rachel Dawn Hayes, guest contributor
I’ve had three seasons of freelancing during my career—the first was in 2007. That’s when I thought I would soon relocate to a cabin, drive a Grand Wagoneer, wear oversized sweaters, and quickly endear myself to the motley cast of characters inhabiting my mountain town. Instead, I continued living in my parents’ house and barely paid my bills. I had a sweet VW Jetta, though.
Fast forward to 2015. In preparation for starting our family, my husband and I made the decision for me to begin working for myself so I could stay home with our children. (Other mothers/parents, hold your laughter, please.)
It went so well the second time around. I tapped into the network I’d built over my nine-year career in communications—a network that included editors, agency folk, and business owners—and, amazingly, built a profitable business. The difference between 2015 and 2007? EXPERIENCE—experience that bred confidence and connections.
At the end of my first year, my husband and I took a celebratory trip to Ireland—paid for out of my earnings. I got pregnant a few months after that and somehow met my deadlines while spending enormous chunks of time with my head in the toilet or curled up on the couch clutching a box of saltines. My daughter was born in December 2016. She was two weeks early, which meant I filed my final story of the year in the middle of the night while leaking amniotic fluid and forwarded revisions from a source to my editor the next day from my hospital bed. I took a glorious three months of maternity leave and then jumped back into writing in the spring of 2017. “Jumped” is a generous term, though. My return to working while juggling the care of a three-month-old infant was more like the awkward stumbling of a newborn fawn.
Some days it went well, and others, not so much. To my surprise, Lily did not consult my Outlook calendar when planning her nap schedule. She woke up early and upset one afternoon ahead of a phone interview with a source who had proven to be elusive—I wasn’t rescheduling. I placed Lily in her battery-operated bouncer, put in my earbuds, and opened a new document on my laptop for notes. I switched on the bouncer and nothing happened. Its batteries were toast. Then my phone rang—that elusive source was punctual! I took a deep breath, put my computer on my lap, started bouncing Lily with my foot, and answered the phone. Afterwards, I felt a sisterhood with my pioneering ancestors. I had accomplished the modern equivalent of rocking a cradle while darning socks or churning butter.
As Lily grew older and slept less, it was evident that our setup wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t get through story time at the library without thinking about my deadlines, and I couldn’t write or conduct phone interviews without worrying about Lily waking up too soon or remembering that I didn’t thaw meat for dinner. We’re going out, honey! I wasn’t doing either job well, in my opinion, and I wasn’t earning enough money to justify bringing in help. Thankfully, our family’s financial security was not dependent on my writing income and, after a few months of debate and struggle with myself, I decided to take my leave from freelancing and focus on my family.
I have now entered my third season of freelancing—writing for the purpose of building a platform to hopefully publish a book. I wrote my memoir last year while my daughter was at preschool two mornings a week. Since COVID and school closures, I now write at five in the morning. Our coffee budget reflects this. I am writing for free—something I had never done before because it was a cardinal rule of career writing that you “never write for free.” I don’t know who made that rule, but they weren’t trying to get a book published. The absence of invoices has been liberating, though. By nature of promoting my book I am writing about topics I’m passionate and enthusiastic about—there’s no way I’d be up at this hour if that weren’t so—and I am getting to share my story more than I tell the stories of others. Writing has always brought me joy, but in this particular phase it is feeding my soul in a new way. I crave it and choose “putting my butt in the chair” over reading, watching TV, or sleeping in.
I like this season best, even it means I go to bed with the chickens to make it happen.
Rachel Dawn Hayes is a mom, wife, writer, speaker, and Native Texan, who is passionate about sharing her story of pregnancy and fertility loss to encourage and edify other women. She has completed a memoir about her experiences and hopes to publish in 2021. Rachel is also an EPA associate member.