It’s two weeks before I’m due to give birth.

The baby could come early of course, “A royal wedding baby?” my great-granny in law in her cream jacket, joked on FaceTime yesterday. It took me a minute to register… Does that mean I might get a post-birth lemon and elderflower sponge cake with my tea and toast? I think I’m currently more concerned about the due date being my son’s birthday. But due dates, right?

My approach is think French, think: due month.

Anyway, I’ve been late for my previous two babies, so I envisage more pacing up and down street curbs at sundown, sleepless nights and folklore tales (including eating crab, x40 pineapples, curry… I’ve done them all). The thing I’m struggling most with at this stage of the game however, is being unable to locate the OFF button.

Why is it not shiny and flashing?

Excuses for shutting up shop include: I’m awaiting HMRC’s decision on maternity allowance; I’m trying to ‘bank’ as much work as possible now; I need to stay on top of everything; social media is never off!; I’m always late anyway; I’ve just got this one thing…

I love what I do, but I wonder if it’s not just me who struggles to turn OFF? And in the case of having a baby, for months?!

It’s not as if on my daycare days, evenings and weekends I wouldn’t like to be exclusively drinking alcohol-free pina coladas in the garden, reading novels and quoting midwife Ina May Gaskin. It’s just there’s always that something that keeps me ON. Interviews, features, new ideas hastily written on my phone, post office runs, promotions, sales. I love what I do, but I wonder if it’s not just me who struggles to turn OFF? And in the case of having a baby, for months?!

When do you shut up shop?

When I was pregnant with my first baby I worked in an office and had a very precise end date. The OFF button was illuminated, sparkling, a voucher-wrapped-in-a-muslin-with-a-tray-bake-of-millionaire-shortbreads. I simply left the building. Several months after my daughter was born I gradually started working again on my own projects, ones I had previously set up on the side of my job. These grew and I found myself feeling fulfilled in an area of my life that I’d put in a drawer. After the motherhood newcomer blast, it was quite liberating to be back communicating, learning and creating again. I felt very much like a team; me and my baby. I still didn’t know what I was doing, but we were both happy.

I also found flexible freelance working meant being able to work early mornings and evenings — the times when I worked best. As well as small things like being able to have a candle burning, sit wrapped in an enormous blanket, a 1kg bag of chocolate raisins close by, poached eggs for lunch, the cat! And actual joy at no air con. I could open windows with abandon. I could monitor the possible wilting of leaves on my plants. And most importantly, I could be back with my child at a moment’s notice.

But still, I wasn’t sure about it (and we needed a mortgage), so I returned to a new employer soon after maternity leave ended. A new part-time job, one that it turned out had absolutely no clear end point to the working day and required huge amounts of extra hours pretty much seven days a week. Luckily I’d seen the freelance light and with the house purchased, a plan was drawn out — I knew a life of self-employment beckoned.

How brilliant I thought, to work to your own beat.

I find myself furiously cleaning with one hand, typing with the other, batch cooking lasagnes while composing a brief.

I think, maybe, 90% of the time, it really is ideal. The beat is consistent, fun and very enjoyable. I feel lucky to have this and absolutely don’t take it for granted. The other 10% probably centres around that OFF switch. We all know how bad the self-employed can be at closing that laptop. I definitely find it tough sometimes to pick up my bag and stroll out of the revolving doors, *beep*.

And maternity leave is no exception. In fact with nesting and all, I wonder if it’s worse. I find myself furiously cleaning with one hand, typing with the other, batch cooking lasagnes while composing a brief. Will it end? Well, it obviously has to. This baby and me — we must become the project. A project for the heart, that amazingly clever thing that can double and treble in size in an instant.

Turning OFF doesn’t mean you’re invisible of course, it just means you’ve got something else going on and it’s time to devote yourself to that; to being present somewhere else in your life. I’m excited to turn the open sign around next week. I’m resolute in this. It’ll be fine Hels. You’re doing great. Now just beep yourself out will you?!

Plus, it’s true that turning OFF, leaving one part of your world for a bit and throwing yourself into another, can lead to and create the greatest ideas and moments of our lives.

So with that, I’m off to bake a lemon and elderflower sponge cake. I’ll probably pop it on Lionheart Mag later.

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