On becoming a WAHM…

I finally put together an about me page for the Modern Sugar website.  People have been asking for it since I started the website in 2005, back when it was The Maine Baby and later TMBDesigns.  Somehow it never got written.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, where I started…why I started.  You can read the story on the website – it is brief but hits the major points.  I think some of what’s missing is how desperate I felt in those early days.

I knew, even before I was pregnant that I wanted to work from home.  I searched around for something that I could do.  I was certainly competent and educated with administrative skills.  I typed 80+ words a minute and had worked as a legal secretary.  I worked as a teacher and knew all about teaching, lesson planning, pedagogy.  I had been paid to publish articles, so freelance writing was an option.  But, none of this seemed like the answer.  Freelance work is hard to come by and often you have to be well connected to break in.  All my skills from being an educator didn’t really seem to translate into making money from home.  My secretarial and administrative skills were in demand, but the field was cluttered with people who had the same skills.  Even back then, around 2001, I spent a lot of time on the Internet.  And the only thing I knew for sure, was that the answer would be found online.  I took an intro to web design course online and then, before I had any sort of plan or future as a WAHM I was pregnant.

Unfortunately for me, I was sick for most of my pregnancy.  I was still suffering from morning sickness and throwing up into my 8th month.  Looking for WAHM options was put on the back burner as I struggled to go to work everyday, prepare for life with a new baby and buy a house.  We moved into our new house at the end of June, with a baby due the end of July.  Late in my pregnancy I woke one morning with no feeling on one side of my face, which quickly deteriorated into complete paralysis on the left side of my face.  I was 9 months pregnant and had Bell’s Palsy.  A couple of days later they induced me and little Delia Kendall was born.

Those first weeks were a mix of overwhelming joy and sadness at the same time.  We decided to pull all of our retirement savings so my husband could stay home and start a web design business while I went back to work.  Because my work had better benefits and insurance, we thought it made sense for me to continue working while he stayed home.  We knew we didn’t want to send Delia to daycare, and this choice seemed like the best fit.  But, I was filled with grief at the thought of leaving Delia every day and suffering from depression over the Bell’s Palsy, which was not getting better.  I wanted to be happy and smiling in pictures, but I couldn’t bear to look at my crooked and lopsided face.  Delia hit a colicky streak at about 4 weeks and I can remember rocking her as she cried, starting to cry myself and then sobbing because I couldn’t even cry properly – my face would contort and ache and my left eye would stay wide open even as I tried to squeeze my eyes shut.

I went back to work in October, with Delia just 3 months old.  I can remember crying daily, pumping in a bathroom at work and taking naps on a couch while the kids went to lunch.  My face was still not functioning on one side, despite medication and shock therapy, and it has never completely recovered.  We were burning through our savings quickly as my husband tried unsuccessfully to launch his web design business.  Clearly our thinking was flawed.  We had no real business plan and just a couple of courses in web design.  My husband had no business experience and although is a fabulous creative mind, didn’t have a burning passion to make it work at home.  After a year we were broke and unsure what to do next.  Work was hard to find where we live, and everywhere my husband went he was told he was over qualified.  We still didn’t want to put Delia in daycare so he only applied to second and third shift positions, typically warehouse and labor type work.  Our finances grew more dire, our stress level rose and we were soon faced with losing our dream house.

At some point during this, Shane was finally hired for a second shift position at LLBean.  This was a seasonal warehouse job, his third interview with LLBean (the first two times he was not hired because he was over-qualified) and the interviewer made it clear to him that he was not a good candidate because  his skill level was too high.  He says he looked her square in the face and said “you’re going to let me go at the end of the season anyway, so what difference does it make?  I need a job so please give me this chance.”  For whatever reason, this is what worked and he was hired. Finally…he had a decent job with benefits.  The pay was low to be sure, but for us it was a life-saver.

Unfortunately at that point we were in a hole and I was desperate to get us out.  I guess what they say is true – desperation is the necessity of invention.  I got back online and started looking for ways to make money.  I discovered eBay and realized that I had tons of baby gear Delia was growing out of that would either sit gathering dust or go to Goodwill.  The first thing I sold made twice what I paid for it…I was hooked.  I sold everything that wasn’t nailed down.  Baby clothes, duvet covers, wooden shutters…really everything.  Many of the baby clothes I sold, I had bought at our local Gap for next to nothing.  Even used, they were selling for the same or more than what I paid for them.  I was amazed, so I started buying clothes just to resell.  I was paying for an auction service at the time so I could have pretty templates for my auctions.  I quickly realized that I had the background from my online web design classes to make my own templates.  There were only a handful of people at the time who sold templates on eBay, and I thought, why not, so I listed some templates for sale.  They did very well and within 3 months I had a job designing a website for an acquaintenance I met in an online chat group.  Soon after that, I had my own website and a small, but steady stream of work…from custom boutique graphics to boutique websites and all things in between.

In 2006, I was working full-time teaching and full-time on the web design business.  I discovered that I loved being in business for myself.  The idea that the more I worked, the more money I made and the more successful the business became was thrilling.  As a teacher, I was NEVER compensated for how well I did or how hard and long I worked.  Your pay scale is based on how long you have been a teacher.  I often worked from 7 in the morning until 7 at night, and brought home work on the weekends, and money wise it made no difference.  To find that all of the sudden I was in the position to make more money because I worked all day Saturday…I hate to say that money is such a motivator for me…but it was.  My husband was still working at LLBean and his 3rd shift schedule was a challenge.  But, we were making it work, we had kept our house and we were caught up financially.  In April of 2006 he applied for and got his present position in the graphics department at LLBean.  It meant no more third shift, more money and he could actually do something he enjoyed.  It also meant putting Delia in daycare.  I did it for 6 weeks, until the end of the school year.  She cried most mornings when I dropped her off and it was heart breaking for me.  She was only there for half days, grandpa picked her up at noon…but still, this wasn’t what I wanted.

We knew that if I quit my job, we were risking being back in that scary place.  We also knew, that this time were better prepared.  My business was bringing in money and the only thing that seemed to hold me back was the time I could spend working.  We went through the numbers, knowing it would be a stretch, but in the end, I knew it was worth the sacrifices, so I didn’t renew my teaching contract and in July of 2006 I  began my life as a full-time WAHM.

Things have not always been easy.  I could go on and on about the pitfalls and problems (like the lie we tell ourselves about how much TIME we will have to work when we are a WAHM, when in fact, you still have 2 jobs, one as a mom and the other as whatever it is you are doing for work – there is no extra time so it’s still a constant juggling act) but in reality I would not trade this for anything.  I have not renewed my teaching certificate because I don’t plan on going back…ever.  I LOVE what I am doing now – it is my passion, the thing I dream about and make plans for.  I would never have guessed that I had the entrepreneurial spirit, but here I am.

I really do believe that anyone can do this.  It does not take special skills only a special spirit.  Literally, all the knowledge I use for my work today, I learned online.  From online classes to tutorials to blogs – it’s all right here just waiting to be used and discovered.  It is not an easy journey, but for sure, the things that are worthwhile tend to be the difficult ones.  Good luck in all you do and remember:

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our
aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim
too low and achieving our mark.”
— Michelangelo

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  1. […] to do, but really stumbled into web design by accident.  You can read more about my start in my WAHM journey blog post.  It’s certainly been a wild, exhausting ride.  The last several years have been much more […]

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