I finished reading this book this morning, and found it very interesting. It is basically short, first-person narratives from about 30 professional women scientists who are also mothers. Organized chronologically, this book provides an interesting historical perspective on how scientists who want to balance career and motherhood have progressed, or not, over the past several decades.
Each talks about how they manage the balance in their lives, over the days, months and over the lifetime of their careers. The similarities are striking – the wide-eyed innocence with which most entered the ranks, knowing that balance would be possible but not quite how, and the angst when they realized that there were no clear-cut right answers, but a just a series of difficult choices. Most went through stops and starts in their professional careers, trying different career paths and child care options until finding a balance that worked well for them.
It seemed to me that part-time and nontraditional work was used by women more in recent years, though that could just be that those women are easier to find now. I also found that the vignettes were more painful to read the further you got in the book. I suspect this is because the earlier stories are by older women, who have had time to come to terms with their choices and see their children grown and living fulfilling lives. Those later in the book are still in the middle of day care, career building, and the eternal struggle for more hours in the day.
I suppose I should find this encouraging – with the perspective of time, the women in this volume were overall happy with their choices, and had both satisfying professional careers and happy, healthy children. In science, as with raising children, it can take years of trail, error, and wondering until you finally achieve the results you have been looking for. You are never sure how things are going to turn out, and have to go with your best hypothesis and gut instinct. You do the best you can with the information you have at the time, watch closely, and stand ready to change course if things do not turn out as expected.
Science and motherhood are both difficult paths, requiring dedication and persistence, but the payoffs are big. The stories in this volume of how some women scientists have done both may serve as examples, and encourage others who choose to follow both paths.