I was seven months pregnant when I realised that expecting a baby while working freelance put me at something of a disadvantage to my female peers. I'd trekked in the rain from a contract in Pimlico to Homerton Hospital only to find out my appointment had been cancelled, but the message had failed to reach me.
Not exactly a big deal. Cancellations happen.
Only, it was a big deal – not only had the journey been wasted, it had also cost me around £150 in loss of earnings.
Employers are legally required to release full time employees for hospital appointments. Had I been on payroll, at worse this cancelled appointment would have been my cue to pitch up in Costa for half an hour, with my employer none the wiser. As it was, I hobbled back on the tube feeling disgruntled, aiming to snatch back a few hour inviolable time in the office to make up for the 3 hour round trip that would otherwise leave me empty pocketed for half a day.
Today, the government announced plans to enhance legal protection and support for new and expectant mums to counter the rising number of women being made unfairly redundant. 54,000 women are reported to have been forced out of their jobs owing to pregnancy or new motherhood since 2005. Ask any woman you know who works in an office if she has experienced first hand, or witnessed a pregnant colleague on the receiving end of discrimination and you'll have stories as long as your arm in minutes. So, clearly, this is a necessary, if somewhat long overdue pledge.
But what about the estimated 1.2 million self employed people looking to start or already supporting families?
Under current legislation, the maximum financial entitlement for self employed mothers is £136 per week, the same amount awarded under the government's statutory pay scheme for those in traditional full time employment. So far, so fair. However, freelancers are strictly prohibited from engaging in any additional paid work while receiving Maternity Allowance. Whereas those on Statutory Pay, can by law top up earnings by freelancing 'on the side' should they wish, (just so long as freelance work is agreed with an employer and income is of course declared to the tax man in due course).
So freelancers not only need to swallow the loss of earnings for hospital appointments, but they can't freelance to top up the (meagre) allocated allowance once baby arrives.
And frustratingly, it gets worse. Those on maternity leave from companies have a legal right to 10 keeping in touch days – allowing you to, well, stay in touch with what's going on at work without forfeiting your paid leave. Freelancers? Nope.
And when, as a freelancer, you do plan on going back to work, childcare becomes a further bugbear – with nursery registration structures, waiting lists and contracts designed to cater to those in secure full time work, not those who may or may not need to put the urchin in daycare should the work roll in.
So, while today's announcement comes as a welcome step, there is clearly so much more work to be done to ensure ALL working mothers have fair and equal rights.