Excerpt: 'The Comeback'

In Emma Keller's new book, she examines seven women who led fulfilling lives with high-powered careers. Then they decided to step back to have a family.

Then they were faced with a question that thousands of women have struggled with: As far as careers go, is there career after birth?

Each chose to try to get back into the working world they left behind despite the many extra challenges that a family brings. They all succeeded and Keller's book tells how.

Read an excerpt from the book below, and also read other excerpts featured on "Good Morning America" by clicking here.


You can have it all, but not all at once. - Arlene Cadozo

I was thirty-two when my first book was published in 1993. This is my second book. I haven't been working on it for fifteen years, but it does contain much of my experience from that time. To put it another way, if it weren't for those fifteen years, this book wouldn't exist.

My first book?a biography of Winnie Mandela?took me three years to write. During that time I did nothing but work on the book. No vacations, no romances, not much social life. My work was my world, and when it was published I felt a sense of loss as well as achievement. I used to tell people that handing in a book was my version of having a baby. I now had something concrete to show for all that gestation, but I was suffering from a little postpartum depression. I forced the metaphor still further by describing my book party as the equivalent of a wedding celebration. I remember getting dressed for it in a little black dress, black tights, and black heels and joking that it was cool to wear black instead of white. Instead of being married with children, I was celebrating being a successful single career woman. And that was fine. When you're thirty-two years old, that is absolutely fine.

I had always taken my work seriously, but until the book I had managed to have a vigorous social life as well. My first job in journalism was in the eighties at Roll Call newspaper in Washington, D.C., staffed mainly by twenty-somethings who didn't take themselves very seriously. The mandate of our weekly paper was to cover the Congress for the Congress. The mandate of our newsroom was to joke about the Congress for our own pleasure. My beat was to cover women members and wives of members. It was my idea. I wanted to explore the role of the wife in the changing world of late-twentiethcentury Washington.

That same idea lay behind the appeal of covering Winnie Mandela's trial in South Africa in 1990. I had long left Roll Call, first to a brief stint in the press office of Al Gore's 1988 presidential campaign and then to ABC News's Washington bureau. By the time I got to South Africa at the end of 1989, I had decided to become a freelance journalist. I only wanted to write about what I was interested in. And Winnie Mandela's life incorporated everything I liked to cover? women, politics, and crime. Writing a book about her at the end of her trial was a logical next step.

When your work is your world and you fall in love, things have to change a little, sometimes a lot. When I fell in love with Bill Keller, who at the time was the foreign news editor of the New York Times, I had to learn how to make room. By then the book had been published and I was in demand as a feature writer. I lived alone in a small, very pretty, cottage in Sag Harbor, New York. I had an enormous view of the Long Island Sound from most windows, a fireplace, a cat, and a television. I still didn't have much of a social life. My assignments took me around the United States doing magazine pieces and stories for the Sunday Times of London, then the Sunday Telegraph. I could shut up my little house and go anywhere at a moment's notice. But when I came home again, it was me, the cat, and (more often than not) a bowl of ramen noodles.

Over the years I have continuously thanked Bill for rescuing me from what I call "certain spinsterhood." He thinks I'm joking. I'm not.

How do you make room for a relationship? How do you make room for a child? Every woman does it her own way. My way, my allor- nothing way, was to ditch work completely and concentrate all my energy on my family. I gave up the cottage. The cat made the altruistic move of running away by itself. I sold my convertible and moved into the city to a large family-size apartment a block from the park. Molly was born two weeks after we moved in.

Some decisions make themselves, and some decisions aren't even decisions. You turn down one piece of work because you don't want to travel, another because you're tired, then another because your brain feels rusty?and before you know it, three years have gone by and you can list every child's activity in your neighborhood, every kids TV show, every baby food product and clothing label, and you're telling people you are thinking of writing for Sesame Street. You weigh about twenty pounds more than you ever imagined, and people who are put next to you at dinner parties ask you for your husband's opinions.

This became my life?and I loved it. It was cozy. I loved my baby and loved the novelty of being a mother. I loved staying in one place. I actually loved not having to think. But I had a friend once who after a few years of motherhood asked how it was possible that so much love and so much boredom could coexist in the same breast. And some days on the playground I knew exactly what she was talking about.

To offset the ennui of dealing solely with small children, some women live vicariously in their husband's world during their years at home. This is particularly easy when your husband's world is one you used to inhabit yourself. If you worked in finance and your husband is at a merchant bank, or you are both used to affecting government policy, or you were a journalist and your husband is now the managing editor of the New York Times, the dinnertime conversation has somewhere to go besides baby's first steps. My husband was promoted to managing editor at about the time Molly was born. We talked about news stories all the time. I didn't lose my brain, but I was losing my identity. I'm not joking when I tell you that people used to come up to me and ask me what Bill thought about X, Y or Z. Nor am I joking when I used to answer, "He thinks that . . ." before telling them what I thought.

Did I feel "invisible"? I felt too fat to be invisible!

When Peggy Orenstein interviewed women about their life choices in 2000 for her book Flux, she came to the conclusion that the women she surveyed who decided to leave the workforce when they had their children "[a]lmost universally . . . were married to men who worked long hours, earning far more money than they ever could. That allowed them the luxury of 'choosing' to quit their jobs, but it also created a situation in which they felt they had to. The demands of their husbands' jobs, which they felt were inviolable, left them solely responsible for childcare and household management. Layering those tasks over full-time work quickly became overwhelming."

As far as my situation was concerned, Orenstein had it exactly right. Bill worked long hours and earned a lot more money than I could. Someone had to run the household. I did feel that the demands of his job were inviolable, but his job wasn't a burden to our lifestyle; to me it was an exciting reminder of the world I had decided to leave for the time being.

The home I was creating for our family had many similarities to the one I had grown up in. I was born and raised in London into a world where women of my background didn't attend college. Instead?even in the 1980s?they got married. The year I went to King's College London only a handful of the other girls who were leaving my convent boarding school were doing the same thing. Today, thirty years later, almost every girl who leaves the same school goes on to a place at a decent college.

I was brought up to be more now than then. My American mother, who had gone to college in New York, had met my English father while they were both working journalists in Paris. I was a dual national, and my mother never stopped telling me that I was only "half English," just as much an American as a Brit. She was trying to give me a sense of my options, but as a young child who only wanted to fit in, I hated the reminders. Anyway, she was as keen to fit in as I was. On having her children (three in all), she did as the other London mothers she knew did and stayed home in her large white house with her family, a live-in au pair, and a nanny. But this was not the world she was used to, and she was never comfortable in it. Once we were at school, she left my father and returned to journalism. She had previously been a successful feature writer for the New York Herald- Tribune. Now she went back to the same career at the same paper, though in her second incarnation she was a freelancer, fitting in her pieces around her family. She still got quality assignments, though. I remember her trying to explain to us in the late 1960s why interviewing the Beatles was exciting.

Unlike my mother, I had never thought I would stop working when I had children. My career had been so consuming and such a part of my identity I didn't think I could exist without it. Well, that's not entirely true. I knew I could exist without it; I just didn't know who I would be.

The effect that staying at home has on a marriage really depends on your confidence. Everything about staying at home depends on your confidence, as you will see throughout this book. The biggest adjustment women face when they give up work?more even than losing an income?is that their confidence starts to decline. Being in the outside world, getting paid, and communicating with adults is healthy and energizing. Giving that up is tough on an ego. Some women feel diminished and inadequate. Some get lonely and depressed. They can be very, very busy and very, very bored. They can become hard to live with.

I'll give you my own example. Before I stayed at home I had been confident enough to move from country to country, go out on my own, basically do whatever I wanted to do. After I'd been home fulltime for a few months, I rarely went out socially in New York without Bill. It became harder and harder to walk into a room by myself. If we were invited to something as a couple and Bill couldn't make it, I didn't go. Having people ask me for Bill's opinions rather than my own definitely had something to do with it. I only started accepting invitations by myself once I was working on this book, and the first few times that I told people Bill couldn't come, I apologized for being "just me."

During this period of my life I never thought about what would happen in the future, just as I had never thought about getting married and having children?or even having a boyfriend?while I was writing my Winnie Mandela book. I lived entirely in the present. If you had asked me when I was a new mother what I thought I would be doing in ten years' time, I would have stared at you blankly. It never occurred to me that there was an end to this period. I wonder now, if I had known that I was merely at home for a few years, whether I would have been able to remain a more confident woman. There's no question that staying at home made me a more confident mother. Why, then, did I feel like such a wimp out in the world?

When Molly was two I became pregnant again, but we lost the baby late in the pregnancy. The following year I turned forty, Bill became a columnist at the New York Times, and I began to think about going back to work. Yet I didn't think of going back to the professional life I had had before. Instead I did a few things that fit in with my family. I did some?but not many?freelance pieces for magazines, newspapers, and Web sites. These were brief little pieces, tiny sound bites of writing that took no time at all. I'd write paragraphs reviewing a restaurant or a book, or previewing a movie. Occasionally I'd fill in for a London columnist who happened to be on vacation. I also read and edited a few manuscripts for friends, and I continued to live vicariously through Bill's job, acting as his editor when he wrote.

After 9/11 I became pregnant with Alice. I remember feeling relief in knowing that having another baby meant I wouldn't be expected to work. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever work again. By now I was so lacking in professional confidence (I'd been home for five years), I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to hire me. Having Alice meant I could concentrate on my new baby and continue being a fulltime mother. I would have found this a difficult choice to justify without her, as Molly was now in kindergarten and didn't need me there between the hours of 8:30 and 3:00. We no longer had any babysitting help, apart from the occasional college girl on the rare evenings when we went out. A lot of the time it was just my girls and me. And their dad. Bill was around a lot in those days, too. Writers usually are. He'd get home in the late afternoon, easily in time to tell the girls bedtime stories. He'd play with them and he'd cook for them. I look back on those years as a golden time for our family. Of course it couldn't last.

In the early summer of 2003, Bill called home from the office to say he had been asked if he was interested in being considered for the job of executive editor of the Times. As we discussed whether he should say yes, I pictured the future of our family. I saw a life where the phone rang incessantly, where there was little privacy and not much downtime. I imagined attention that was both fawning and critical. I could see Bill's children being the recipients of unwanted interest because of their father. I realized our home would be an oasis in the middle of all of this, precious but more difficult to preserve and protect.

On the other hand, what a great opportunity for us as parents! Imagine a childhood where the newsroom's your schoolroom. Imagine the opportunities for travel and the exciting exposure to the world and its people. If your goal as a parent is to raise children with compassionate, engaged, inquiring minds, there could be no better environment than this.

What would my role be in this new life? To the outside world I would probably become simultaneously more and less visible. Should I be feminine or a feminist? Ironically, having spent years writing about the complications of being a public or semipublic wife, I couldn't figure out how to be one myself. I knew there was a role to be played as Mrs. New York Times (a role not a job). I knew it was mine to define as I chose, but I had no idea how to do it.

I asked my predecessor and good friend Carolyn Lelyveld for advice. Carolyn also had two daughters, but they were grown by the time her husband, Joe, was made executive editor. Carolyn had been a maternal figure to many families at the paper, including ours. She spent most of her life working with children, and while Joe was editor she was a constant presence at PS 111 Adolph S. Ochs School, a local school with an affiliation with the New York Times Company Foundation. Carolyn was very sick when I talked to her and would die from complications from breast cancer within the year. Her advice was always punchy. She told me to be myself. Easy for her to say! Which self was that? I now had as many identities as Sybil.

There comes a time as the mother of daughters when you begin to see the value of yourself as their role model. Here's the conundrum: you want to be around to take care of them, and you want to be there when they need you, yet you want them to see you as an independent woman so that they grow up to be independent women, too. You don't want them to think their independence will only last until they have their own children, at which point they will retire into the care of their loving and patriarchal husbands. You are exposing them to a world where women are in positions of power, yet you are still cocooned at home. If being independent means becoming less available, what's the best thing to do? This dilemma began percolating in my head just after Alice turned two. She had recently started in a playgroup across the street, and now even she was gone for three mornings a week. One morning we got into the elevator with the girls to go about our days when Alice looked up and said, "I go to school. Molly goes to school. Daddy goes to work. And Mommy goes to . . . gym." And that was that. Instant devastation! I was now a gym-goer. With that remark I knew it was time to move on. I could no longer be "just" a mother or "just" a wife, or just a gym-goer. I wanted to use my brain for my own interests. I had to get back out there again. It became clear that the way to make all of these identities cohesive was to haul the old professional identity out of storage, dust it off, and take it back on the road. But how?

During my last couple of years at home a number of feature stories had appeared in newspapers, magazines, and on television about the difficulties facing women who had left careers to return to work. Many of these stories were based on work done by the author Sylvia Ann Hewlett and her associates at the Center for Work-Life Policy. The CWLP focuses on improving working conditions for parents, and at about the time I was thinking about going back to work it was shining a spotlight on the needs of women like me. In my case their good intentions had a debilitating effect. The stories they generated were about off-ramps and on-ramps. As they tried to convince companies to make it easier for women to clamber back up onto an onramp (and they have had some valuable success in achieving this), they talked about how it was practically impossible to do so.

You know when you're pregnant and you get told about all the diseases and disabilities your baby could be born with? At some point you begin to wonder if it's possible to have a healthy child. This is how I felt as I heard about all the obstacles that stood between my next job and me. I learned that I could never make the same money as I had before, that I would have to take a demotion, that 66 percent of the "highly qualified women at home with their children" who had been interviewed by Hewlett "wanted to be back at work full-time and were finding reentry extremely difficult." How depressing is that? What should I do? I was already feeling inadequate and insecure after seven years at home. This news didn't exactly make me feel like racing out of the house clutching my résumé.

After a while I did what you do in the face of any bad diagnosis: I chose to ignore the larger numbers and instead concentrated on the 33 percent who had been successful. This is where the reporting that turned into this book began. I looked for stories from women who had managed to reclaim a career after several years at home. At that stage my aim was solely to hear about how and what they had done and to learn from their experience. Most of the stories I had read about women returning to work were set in a corporate environment. But few of the women I know work in the business world. I wanted to broaden the base, find a variety of careers, and see what the similarities or differences might be.

A reporter's instinct when she hears an interesting story is to retell it, and that's what happened with me. I identified with the women I talked to, and I began to think about telling their stories for the benefit of other women in the same situation. At the same time, I began to find out what women had done historically. Certainly my mother's story loomed large: if she had managed to start writing again in the 1960s, the idea that you could restart a career after children couldn't be new or impossible.

I was born in 1961. In October of that year, Barnard College began a pilot program under a grant from the Carnegie Corporation to stem the "waste of talent and abilities among educated women." This was essentially a job-hunting program for married, middleclass and middle-aged women. The average attendee had married young and was the mother of several children, ranging in age from college to grade school. Money was not an issue to her; she wanted paid employment for her own self-esteem. As she prepared to reenter the job market, both her husband and her children stood behind her. "Employees are beginning to appreciate that maturity and judgment are dandy," said Anne Cronin, the director of the program, in an interview at the time. "And that stability is worth its weight in pearls."

The idea that women with school- or college-age children can be a valuable asset to the labor market isn't new now, and it wasn't particularly new then. But back then it didn't sound revolutionary for a mother who had been at home for some time to think about returning to work. In 1960 the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study was established to help married housewives resume and progress in their professional development. (This is not to be confused with the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the remaining segment of Radcliffe College, whose dean, Drew Faust, was named first female president of Harvard University in 2007.) A New York Times story from February 1962 claimed, "Seven million additional women are expected to enter the labor market in the next decade, a majority of whom are in their forties." The story further noted, "Increasing numbers of educated women are seeking work after marriage and child-bearing."

In 1967 Smith College chose the theme "The Spread of My Life" for its twenty-five-year reunion, and it is an apt theme for this book. That year each member of the class of 1942 from all the Seven Sisters colleges was sent a questionnaire. Most of the women who answered it were married with children. Yet they expected to charge off in different directions during the next twenty-five years, many of them seeking further education and new careers. "We don't feel left out. We feel we have a whole new life ahead of us," said Mrs. Allen Howland of Warwick, Rhode Island, who had majored in music at college, taught it for several years before marriage and children, and at that time was looking to get a master's degree before resuming her career.

A whole slew of articles describing mature (over twenty-six years old) women returning to college to finish degrees or study for further degrees appeared in local papers across the country from the 1960s on. I was eight years old when the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern ran a photograph of a group of well-groomed middle-aged wives, who were studying for new degrees, on the same page as its wedding and engagement announcements.

In 1977 I turned sixteen, and Janet Copley wrote a nationally published column under the headline "Why Do Women Return to Work?" She specifically mentioned women whose children had grown. "If they didn't work," she pointed out, "they wouldn't have much to do."

In 1984, the year I began my career, a branch of the YWCA in Pittsburgh held a series of workshops for mothers with children who were planning on returning to the workforce. The advice on offer ranged from balancing family and work, examining skills to see whether new training would be appropriate, and a discussion of wardrobe needs.

You get the point. The idea that women return to work having spent several years being full-time mothers is not new and has never been impossible.

Here is a historical context for the lives you will read about in The Comeback so that you keep a sense of perspective for what the women in this book have accomplished. In addition to a variety of careers, I also wanted to look at a range in age and geographical locations so that you didn't feel (as one of my friends put it) that you were just reading about the women in my building. The ages of the women in The Comeback range from the mid-forties to the midsixties. They are middle-aged and middle-class. They all went to college. They all had careers?not jobs?that they gave up for their children. Under that umbrella, though, you will find a lawyer, a venture capitalist, a photographer, a teacher, a furniture designer, a human rights activist, and a doctor. Each story examines a different career but also looks at the different issues facing wives, mothers, and working women. Mothers with careers have a certain amount of choice. The women in this book were no exception. Some of the decisions they faced are universal, not unique to their particular career. For example, you might not be a furniture designer, but you might be married to a man who is now retired and wants you to quit your second career to travel with him. You might not work in finance, but you might have a child with chronic health issues. You might not be a doctor, but you might be getting divorced.

Because this book is called The Comeback I have often been asked whether the women who are featured in it came back to the exact jobs they left. The answer is no. They have come back to the workforce, and in one case (briefly) to the same employer, but in terms of where they resumed their work, they haven't so much come back as moved on. This is by choice. Would you want to return to the exact job you held several years ago? Aren't you a different person with different needs and interests?

However, let's think about the whole nature of coming back and success. Is it enough to say that you have successfully come back simply because you have managed to get a job? Shouldn't you be doing at least as well as you were before? The answer becomes complicated when mothers decide that they want and need different things from their work experience. If you think of life in terms of a jigsaw puzzle, when you have children suddenly there are many more pieces to fit together. More pieces get added as the family grows older. Different issues crop up once women have settled back into work the second time around. As her children become increasingly independent, a woman's parents become less so. Health problems move around inside a family. Husbands retire, and with time on their hands they look for companionship that might no longer be available. Money is an issue, too, of course. Not only the affluent take advantage of the choice to stay at home. In more than one case in this book, the wife outearned her husband before she quit and after she returned. Those salaries are vital to the financial health of a family. What sacrifices are made in the pursuit of these choices?

You already know how insecure I felt facing my own comeback. Insecurity is an isolating experience?everyone else seems so much more capable of taking on the world than you. But as I found out, there was nothing new or unusual here, either. In 1973 Caroline Bird wrote Everything a Woman Needs to Know to Get Paid What She's Worth, which she updated a few years later in a version called Everything a Woman Needs to Know to Get Paid What She's Worth . . . in the 1980s. In her book she answered questions such as "I want to stop working for a few years until my children are older. What can I do to be sure I can get back in?" "How do you hunt for a job the second time around?" and "Can you ever go back to the job you would have had if you had never stopped working?"2

As she sensibly pointed out, there are many ways to ease back into a career. Some women reeducate themselves into reentry. Others try for part-time jobs. Some get paid work as a logical development of their volunteerism. Bird made a point of mentioning volunteer work, because "Volunteer work builds confidence in itself." She described the industry of consultants, workshops, manuals, and counselors ready to help women identify the value of their non-job experiences to employers. That same industry thrives today, particularly on the Internet, where women are encouraged to sign up with networking organizations that will (for a fee) shape a résumé or post a job opening. Bird felt the same way as I do, which is, if you think you need help of this kind, then go ahead and take it. "The principal value of this advice, as its purveyors are the first to admit, is to build a woman's confidence. If she thinks she needs it. She probably does."

Cynthia Leivie, the editor of Glamour, once pointed out that women don't want to have it all, they want to do it all, and I think she is closer to the mark of what drives us. From the vantage point of sitting and writing this introduction two years after Alice defined me as a gym-going mother, I think it is possible to do it all, or have it all, if you want to. Just not over the course of one working day or a week. Start to think in terms of your whole life. Here you are in your twenties, energetic and a dedicated careerist, working hard and probably traveling for your job. Now you are a mother with babies and small children. If you want to stay at home and take care of them full-time (and not every mother does), then do it. It doesn't mean you will never get another job. It's a finite stage.

Eventually those children will start kindergarten and you'll have some hours to yourself during the day. Perhaps you'll volunteer with those hours or find part-time work. You won't want to disappear completely as a mother. Children still come home from school, want help with homework, and have games and practices that they have to get to. Their needs change, but they don't disappear. They'll still cry and need to be comforted. They'll want your praise. They'll look for your answers to their questions. During this period of your life, you'll need some flexibility. You won't be alone.

Today nearly 30 percent of the entire workforce in the United States (both male and female) have a flexible work schedule that allows them to vary the time they begin or end work, according to the latest study released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A breakdown of the study shows that flexible schedules are most common among what the bureau calls "management, business and related occupations"?that is, career workers.

A desire for flexibility has always led many women to try to work part-time. Some of the women in this book eased back into work on a part-time basis either by working shorter working weeks or by taking temporary projects. Others are looking to ease back down to parttime from full-time as they get older. These days a shortened schedule is a definite choice. But there are pros and cons, and you should remember that the cons can be hefty. As other books have shown, most notably Arlie Hochschild's The Second Shift, women who work still have primary responsibility for both child and home care.3 Somewhere lies a balance between having too much time and too much to do. The idea?or maybe the ideal?of working part-time is that you have enough time during the day or the week to do it all. In order to chase that ideal you should be able to define what parttime is. What's your definition? Actually, what's your definition of full-time? Are you still thinking in terms of the traditional fortyhour week spread from 9:00 to 5:00 over five days? I bet if you are working full-time in a competitive career, you're working longer hours and possibly more days than that. In December 2006 an article titled "Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek" ran in the Harvard Business Review, and the title alone tells you everything you need to know.4 One of the women profiled in this book considered asking her employers if she could go to a "reduced schedule" of leaving the office at 5:00 instead of 7:00 p.m. This at the end of a day that begins at about 8:30 in the morning.

Even in Europe, where countries like France have strictly regulated hours and the thirty-five-hour basic week remains the standard, many employees work well in excess of forty hours a week. The U.S. government doesn't define full-time, believing it to be a matter for individual employers. But at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where some kind of breakdown has to exist, workers are classified as fulltime if they work thirty-five hours or more in a week; part-time if they work up to thirty-four. If that's the case, what qualifies for parttime work can actually be more like full-time work for part-time pay?with little or no benefits.

While part-time and what is now commonly referred to as "flextime" both have their own elastic definitions ranging from a day or two less a week, to an hour or two less a day, to working a few intensive months a year and then being at home full-time, one aspect of this kind of employment is pretty constant: the compensation isn't as good. If you work full-time, you are four times more likely to get health insurance than if you work part-time and three times as likely to be given some kind of a retirement package.5

I know from my own experience?and from the experiences of the women in this book?how hard it can be to be your own advocate, especially when you are coming back to work after a long time away. Mothers who have accomplished the impossible in finding places to live, or getting their children the right medical care or into a decent school, have faltered as they described their own negotiations about pay or benefits. The tone and substance of their conversation was admirably powerful when they talked about what they did on behalf of their families. Yet they sounded insecure and uncertain as they considered their own professional prospects.

I didn't end up getting a job as such, I ended up with the assignment that is this book. I worked for several months on spec (without pay) putting together a proposal that I eventually felt confident enough to show to agents and publishers. As the proposal took shape, my confidence grew. I noticed that as I became more confident, I relaxed more as a wife and mother. Previously I had felt I had to be there for the girls, come what may. Now I don't feel guilty if Bill takes the kids to school instead of me. And since I've had my own projects to work on, I don't spend much time thinking about how to be Mrs. New York Times. I go to events I am interested in (even without Bill!) and don't show up to those I don't care about. Contrary to what my friends may believe, I don't edit the paper each day. But I feel comfortable in telling my husband my opinions as well as acting as his sounding board. I have finally found a way of taking Carolyn's advice and becoming myself.

Once you have children, you will never go back to the old way of doing things, but I have found that I've been able to regain more of my old life than I'd thought possible. I'd been freelancing for a long time before I became a mother, so I was used to setting my own hours. I've always worked hardest and fastest in the first part of the day. That kind of rhythm has meant that I've been able to leave my work and pick up my children from school without any guilt. I always liked to travel for a story and I still do. The brief trips to see the women profiled here (usually about two days at a time) have been welcome breaks from my family routine. And it's been nice to tell my daughters that I'm going to work as I pack a suitcase, not a gym bag.

It is so hard to give someone confidence. When Harvard president Drew Faust was a girl, her mother constantly told her, "It's a man's world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that, the better off you'll be." Change just one tiny part of that sentence and it becomes an empowering mantra for a comeback: "It's your world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that, the better off you'll be."