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“Warm, laudatory, refreshingly nonjudgmental…Women contemplating their own re-entries into their careers or into new professions will relish this book for its frankness, encouragement and practical direction.”—Publishers Weekly
You tell me who has to leave the office when the kid bumps his head on a radiator or slips on a milk carton. Wendy Wasserstein, Isn't It Romantic (1983)
Meet the Feders. They could be the twenty-first-century Manhattan family of your dreams. Dad, Warren, is an investment banker. Every day you can see him walk from his Upper East Side co-op apartment to his Midtown office-right after he has cooked breakfast for the family and seen the twins off to school. Mom, Judith, a vice president at a venture capital company is described as "very, very pretty" by one of her daughters. With her long, thick brown hair hanging down her back and that sparkle in her large brown eyes, she looks much younger than her fifty-four years. She's the glue that holds this family together. She knows where everyone's meant to be at any given moment, and will drop everything to get them there if she needs to.
Beautiful older daughter, Julianne, is up at Williams College, where she gets straight A's. The teenage twins, Katie and Robbie, are both at prestigious New York City private schools. Robbie just failed to get on the tennis team by this much. He's really disappointed, but he'll still play-and jog and fence. When he's not doing homework, he likes to read history books, and he'd rather chat with you than with your kids. Katie's the captain of the cross-country team and works in a mentoring program, coaching some of the city's more disadvantaged kids in basketball. And maybe at some point the family will all manage to get together out at their beach house in Amagansett, Long Island. Here, they are a group, because that's how they like to be-together, not separate. They're one another's best friends; they all tell you that. Apart from the summertime, when they tend to head their own ways, they still arrange to vacation collectively. The Caribbean at Christmas, Hawaii for spring break. There, you'll see them out on the tennis courts playing against one another in the early morning; later they'll be snorkeling and swimming; they might have massages or trainers (booked by Judith); and in the evening, if they're not eating out at a restaurant (prebooked by Judith from New York), they'll enjoy a gourmet meal whipped up by Julianne, who loves to cook.
This is what you would see if you met the Feders today. A wonderful, blooming, affluent, happy family. Not a problem in sight. Mom's job could be a little more challenging, but she doesn't want the demands that might go with more excitement. She likes to be able to get out of the office on time, or even a little early to catch one of the kids' games. She has less energy than when she was younger, even if she seems buzzing with vitality.
Now let's roll the clock back.
There is nothing like a sick child to bring a mother to a screeching halt. Annual checkups have been reassuringly named "well-child visits" for a reason. The best trips to the doctor are those when you're told that it's only a virus, everyone has it, there's nothing to be done, just wait it out. You've spent your twenty dollars co-payment or your uninsured one hundred dollars for a pointless diagnosis, but it's been money well spent. The rash, the choking cough, or the high temperature are all "normal." You can go about your day. You stop in at the pharmacy for some over-the-counter medicine, throw in a coloring book or a cheap plastic toy, and you're done. You can even go back to work with a clear conscience. But what if it's not just a virus? What if your child is so sick, or is sick for so long, that you have to stay at home?
Not all decisions about staying at home are easy. Not all mothers who stay with their children choose to because they want to inhabit a cozy world of playgroups and playgrounds. And the only hard choice about quitting work doesn't have to be one involving money. You can have the best career in the world and be able to afford top-quality help, but your child may have problem after problem. Your child may really need you at home.
This is a story about those problems. So much goes wrong during the first part of this story that it's hard to believe anyone ends up actually surviving it, let alone flourishing. But what you should know about Judith Feder from the start is that she is a fighter. She's actually more than that.
Judith has long been something of a legend in her own family. She is more than up to handling a challenge, and she's one of those wives and mothers whose energy and enthusiasm galvanize her husband and three kids on a daily basis. "It's never dull with her. You can say that for sure," said Katie. They're proud of her feisty, larger-than-life personality even as they point out, "With my mom you can lose the fight even though she can be wrong." They take pride in listing what she's accomplished for them. And what she has done includes leaving her career and staying home for ten years as she took care of them all when they needed her most.
The Feders all talk about how as a mother Judith combines strength and gentleness, qualities that are obvious when you meet her. She is very tough, very direct, but cheerful and kind. You can imagine her just as easily at a corporate meeting or a parent-teacher conference. She comes across as an attractive, strong working mother. It was with that strength and confidence that she went in for an ultrasound and amniocentesis test in the second trimester of her second pregnancy, back in 1991, and announced to the nurse unequivocally that the only thing she wanted was "not twins!"
She already had a little girl, Julianne, who at three years old was a dream child. She didn't mind whether her second child would be a son or a second daughter, and it went without saying that she wanted a healthy baby. She hoped that her second experience would be as easy and as uncomplicated as her first.
Her first pregnancy was one that many of us can only dream about. A little sickness, not too much; little weight gain, not too much. Not tired, but blooming and easily able to spend nine months of going about her day, working her usual long hours at her investment job. Back then she was financing her own real estate development deals all over the country. In the decade since she had graduated from Tufts University, then Hofstra Law School, she had progressed from being a lawyer in the general counsel's office of Merrill Lynch's real estate group, to working for a large real estate development firm, to working for herself, making more money with each step. By the time she became pregnant, she specialized in financing developments in what she called "unappealing areas," in deals that were generally considered to be small-$1 million to $10 million.
It was 1988. She and her husband, Warren, had been married for three years. They had met when they were set up by Warren's mother, who had met Judith at a family wedding and in the tradition of mothers all over the world had urged her son to ask her out. Warren was a smart, mild-mannered, well-educated lawyer from New York, who had recently returned to the city from the London office of a New York law firm. Eventually he took his mother's advice and made the call. They chatted for a while, as Judith, whose bark is far worse than her bite, told him that he seemed very socially awkward.
She had "enormous reservations" about going out with him, she later said, though she wasn't exactly clear why. In the end she agreed to give it a try, and they booked a Sunday brunch together. And that was it. The brunch lasted five or six hours. By the third date they were seeing each other exclusively. It's a romantic story, one of instant attraction, but it also tells you a lot about the kind of people Warren and Judith are. In many ways they are alike. They know their own minds. They make decisions easily, and they stick with them. They are loyal and tenacious.
The late eighties were the heyday of the yuppie couple, and Warren and Judith fit right in. Here's a brief reminder of the stereotype from The 1980s: The Way We Lived.
Many of the middle-class young who came out of college in the late 1970s and early 1980s went into well-paid jobs in finance, the media, law, and property development. In the economic turmoil of the early Reagan presidency (1981-89), anyone who was young and ambitious could make a lot of money and make it fast. They became known as yuppies, which stood for young urban professionals. Their motto for life was "Whoever dies with the most toys wins."
Obsessed with their careers and their collections of gadgets, yuppies delayed marriage and children ... As more and more women went into well-paid jobs, yuppie couples found themselves with a lot of money and plenty of ways to spend it. Childless yuppie couples became known as "dinks" or "dinkys," because they had "dual incomes and no kids (yet)." Those with children hired nannies, housekeepers, and other servants so they could keep up with their careers and partying lifestyle. Putting a child through the "right" school became as important as taking holidays in the "right" resorts.
The Feders both loved their jobs and worked hard; two incomes were coming home, so there was plenty of money. Less in the fridge, though-maybe club soda, orange juice, coffee, and water was all there'd be most of the time. They ordered in meals, ate out, took nice vacations, spent summers in Amagansett, played tennis. Their life was settled and easy.
Becoming parents had been easy, too. They talked about it and, as Warren said, "The next day she was pregnant." There had been little for Judith to organize domestically before the baby was born. She didn't have to move to a bigger house-they'd already done that, having previously bought a family-sized co-op apartment on East Sixty-fourth Street. Never much of a shopper, Judith was fortunate that her sister Bonnie had had her second baby nine months earlier and could part with plenty of hand-me-downs.
With the domestic end taken care of, Judith was able to work right up until the last minute, and when her labor began she headed to the hospital. The delivery was a natural childbirth with no drugs. Not by choice. Judith had been adamant that she wanted an epidural. But the whole thing was so short, so easy-only three and a half hours from start to finish-that there just wasn't time for pain relief. There wasn't time for anything, really. Judith had been in the middle of closing a deal when her labor started, and one of the lawyers involved called back to finalize details forty-five minutes after the delivery. When Warren came back into the room, an hour after Julianne's birth, he found that not only was Judith up, but she had also already moved the furniture around and was busy on the phone. Was she already back at work or still at work? Did it matter? She felt fine, the baby was fine. The phone call wasn't a distraction. She was thirty-four years old.
She didn't take a maternity leave, but got up and returned to her office as soon as Julianne was organized at home. Partly this was because she had a good support system. She had family; Bonnie, who was fifteen months older and lived a few blocks away, already had her two boys, age two and nine months. Being involved with Bonnie's kids before having her own meant that Judith knew how to get started. She knew what Julianne needed, and if she had any questions or problems, she could call her sister. And she had full-time live-in help.
She got her first nanny through a woman who found work for women from the Philippines, charging prospective employers a small fee for making the introductions. "My sister and I were hooked into that network, and there were tons of young girls looking for work, so we just happened to hire two at the same time-they didn't know each other before." The two sisters made sure that their nannies were compatible and could overlap schedules where necessary. Eventually the cousins would go to the same schools.
There was another reason Judith felt able-or maybe it's more accurate to say she felt the need-to go back to work so quickly: she was her own boss. She had to run her company. The benefit of this was that to a large extent she could dictate her own schedule. There were heavy demands on her time, and she traveled, but she could come home unexpectedly, and she had arranged her life so that her office was in walking distance from her apartment. When you are trying to combine work and family life, it really helps to cut out the commute.
At this point she was earning as much as Warren, with the potential to out-earn him in a good year. Warren had left his own job at a Wall Street law firm to concentrate on running his family business of manufacturing hairbrushes. His work involved a fair amount of travel, too, but his was to suppliers in the Far East and was for longer periods of time. Over the course of a year he'd be gone for as much as two or three months, broken into trips that would last two or three weeks at a time.
Despite the pressures of work, the Feders wanted to have more children and started trying soon after Julianne was born. Judith was conscious of age-related fertility issues, but with Warren out of town so much it wasn't easy to get pregnant. Meanwhile, Julianne was such a good-natured child, "everyone wanted to take care of her." The family could and did still eat out; they would take Julianne along with them to restaurants. Having one child was easy, especially one as sunny as theirs.
It took three and a half years for Judith to get pregnant again. By the time she did, she was thirty-seven-not the oldest expectant mother you've heard of, but not that young, either. When she went into the hospital in 1991 to have an amniocentesis test at eighteen weeks, she had her first sonogram. Unusually, she hadn't had one earlier, but she hadn't thought anything of it. If the first pregnancy was any guide, she had nothing to worry about. It was during the course of this comparatively late first sonogram that the nurse discovered Judith was expecting twins. No one (including her ob-gyn) had suspected anything like this. Judith was so shaken that she started screaming in the exam room. Warren was ecstatic, although his excitement was slightly tempered when on his way out he was stopped and asked to pay an additional twelve hundred dollars-the charge for the second amnio procedure.
That twelve hundred dollars was like an entry fee into a new, much more difficult world. "I was so unprepared, I was working, I didn't have the room, the apartment wasn't big enough, I just wasn't ready to manage the situation," said Judith, describing all of her reactions at once.
Now it was a tough pregnancy. Suddenly problems popped up everywhere. In a number of these stories you'll see that ill health and death of parents often run concurrently with major incidences of birth or career changes. Judith's story is a case in point. Her mother, to whom she was very close, had had a bout of breast cancer when Judith was in college. Since then she had been in remission. A burst of pain when she was playing with her grandsons in the park led to the news that the cancer was back and had spread to her bones. At the same time that Judith found out about the twins, she was already coping with the fact that her mother didn't have long to live.
Judith moved her prenatal care to Cornell Medical Center, where the doctors had more experience with multiple births. Older mothers giving birth to multiples was a growing phenomenon in New York. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the twin birthrate has risen 55 percent since 1980, and is currently 29.3 per 1,000 live births. The rise in multiple births could partly be attributed to an increase in fertility treatments, which Judith hadn't had. But she was an older mother, and older mothers are more likely to have twins.
Her condition was now more precarious. She had to wear a monitor and check the two heartbeats twice a day. She was at high risk for preterm labor, which would bring its own list of dangers. At twenty-six weeks she went to the hospital because she was leaking amniotic fluid. A few hours later, when the leaking stopped, she was sent home. She was never put on bed rest, nor was she told to take any special precautions. Eventually she put herself to bed. But on December 10, 1991, at twenty-eight weeks, after their blood pressure and heart rates dropped, her twins were born by emergency C-section.
Excerpted from The Comeback by Emma Gilbey Keller Copyright © 2008 by Emma Gilbey Keller. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted September 26, 2008
I had really great expectations for this book. As my daughter is struggling with this very topic --she's on the other end -- debating whether or not she should take some time off to be with her newborn, I thought this would offer some great insights. To the contrary it merely celebrated the abilities of high income women to re-enter the work force. It didn't deal at all with the realities average women face, i.e. re-entry questions as a necessity of life, not a luxury of something to keep them fulfilled as they enjoy their second homes, etc. Very disappointing.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 27, 2009
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Posted January 9, 2010
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