THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Rugrat race: Sometimes, your career needs a rest

My ex-husband and I always thought he'd be the stay-at-home parent, so I was shocked when I became the one changing diapers all day.

When we were dating, I was making a solid, six-figure salary in the software industry. I had already founded two companies and cashed out of one. He was a video artist and traveled to festivals all over the world showing arcane art on activist topics. He planned offbeat things to do on our dates; I would pay for them.

I was rising so fast in my corporate career that a business magazine paid me to write about my ascent, and I ended up making as much money writing as my husband made at his day job.

People asked me if I resented having two jobs and subsidizing my husband's career as an artist. Actually, I didn't mind at all. I loved to work, and he agreed to stay home when we had kids. I thought I was one of the lucky women who could have kids and still blast through the glass ceiling because I had a husband who would take care of our home life.

We planned to get pregnant at a time when it would not disrupt my career, but in September 2001, our designated family start-date, the planes hit, and both my husband and I got laid off. I got pregnant anyway.

As my belly grew, I continued my freelance writing career while he volunteered in nonprofits, and we led a bohemian life with corporate savings. But by the seventh month, I missed the structured, team-oriented atmosphere of work. I was editing my resume the morning I went into labor.

When the baby arrived, I planned to get a full-time, office job right away, but after only a few weeks of sleepless nights, my husband got a job offer. He wasn't even looking, really. But one of the people he met through volunteering got him an interview at a top-notch human rights organization. They offered him his dream job, so we decided he should try it.

Now I would be home with the baby, alone. For those of you who haven't had a baby, let's just say that going to an office is about a thousand times easier than dealing with a newborn. With a newborn there is no schedule, no break, and no performance review to let you know if you're screwing up. So naturally, I wanted to be the one with the job. I tried to be happy for my husband. I tried not to hope that he would hate his job and quit.

During my first week as a stay-at-home mom, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't write, and I couldn't figure out how any adult could stay home all day with a baby who can't talk. So I hired a baby sitter for a few days a week, and I went to an office to write and look for a full-time job.

But I never got around to the job hunt because I missed the baby while I was away. I missed his smile and the way he would stare at his hands like he wasn't sure they were his.

People often describe their family life in terms of earning power: The spouse who has the higher earning power is the one who works. This is logical, but it doesn't always work out that way.


Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more.