Children of the Good Life
Well-off couples face choices on issues from prenatal testing to child care
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Eilertsen, for example, felt pressured by her doctor to undergo one of those tests, amniocentesis. Because she has a sister with mental retardation, ``The decision was a very emotional one for me, very complex. But the bottom-line question was, If I found out I was carrying a mentally retarded child, would I terminate the pregnancy? No. Having grown up with Betsy, I know that retarded children do have a life that can be fulfilling in their own terms.''Skip to next paragraph
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After the birth, when parents take their newborn home, many face other hard choices involving work and child care. For the estimated 51 percent of mothers who now return to work before their baby's first birthday, the question is not whether to go back, but when - and how.
``Child care and fatigue - I hear so many people talking about those two things,'' says Sarah Gavin of St. Paul, Minn., whose third child, Ryan, was born in October.
``When you're pregnant and at work, people are really aware that you're pregnant because of how you look, and they're fairly solicitous,'' explains Ms. Gavin, the executive vice president of Mona, Meyer & McGrath, a public relations company. ``The day you come back, you're thin and you have a briefcase in your hand. It's like they forgot about the baby. You kind of go along with that, as if to indicate, `Oh, everything is fabulous, and I've got it all buttoned up at home and at work.' But it really creates a lot of stress and fatigue, because there are days when it falls apart.''
For a second group - those who stay home or cut back their work schedules drastically, as Eilertsen has done - there are other challenges, including tight budgets. Eilertsen's decision to work from home and limit herself to 20 hours a week has cut her own income by two-thirds.
``We're just barely making it,'' she says. ``At this point in my life, Sarah and my family are more important to me than making a lot of money and being a powerful corporate leader. But in making that choice, I feel sometimes like an alien from another planet. My friends and peers are all working full time - more than full time. I don't find many women like me. I'd be happy to have some company.''
That search for ``women like me'' has led to the growth of an '80s phenomenon, the new-mothers support group. Nancy Pipe, who teaches a New Moms group in Clearwater, Fla., notes that the 19 women in her current session are ``mostly upper middle class, very well educated, and very secure.'' Even so, many feel sadness at ``not having the support of an extended family near them. They also miss the richness that grandparents afford to a child, and the passing on of the knowledge, experience, and love that only a grandparent has to share with a child.''
Other changes are evident in the growing participation of men. ``There is a lot more co-parenting,'' Gavin observes. ``I see a lot of active fathers.''
Even so, total equality often remains theoretical. ``I don't think I know any women who say it's 50-50,'' Ms. Bjorhus says.
``What really makes me feel a little nervous is that life is already so fast-paced that I don't even have time to think,'' she continues. ``I fear racing through life without taking time to savor anything. I don't look out there and see anybody whose lifestyle I'd like to emulate, which is kind of a scary thought. No one seems to have been able to put it all together, to have a satisfying career, a happy family life, and time to enjoy it all.''
But even now, as they try for ever-more ingenious ways to ``put it all together,'' new mothers and fathers continue to find the same wonder, the same pleasure that has always rewarded parents.
Eilertsen says, ``Not a day goes by that I don't thank God for Sarah - for her health, her gifts, her brightness. She's just wonderful company.''
Then, giving her daughter one last hug as the baby settles into her crib for the night, she adds wistfully, ``I'd like to see a time when society values the raising of children so much that it wouldn't be a surprise to find a person like me staying home - that it would be as highly valued for a woman to stay home with a baby as to return to work.''