(Originally published in Evie Magazine)

I arranged my 2, 4, 6, and 8-year-old in my tight minivan and set out for the three-hour trip from Seattle to Portland. Somewhere south of Olympia, my 4-year-old, seated directly behind me, began to vomit. Mom reflexes kicked in, and before the bulk of it was expelled, I had pulled over to the shoulder, thrown open the sliding door, and caught his puke in my hands. While I cleaned myself and my son with rapidly depleting baby wipes in the pouring rain as 60-miles-per-hour cars whizzed past, a question briefly flashed in my mind: “Was choosing motherhood over my career the right decision?”

In addition to visiting my mom in Portland, which always afforded me a few extra hours of sleep, I was going to be connecting with an old high school friend. She and her brainy husband had decided not to have children, both for environmental reasons and because they had powerful, satisfying careers. She had just posted pictures of herself in a chic dress sipping cocktails with colleagues at a bar in Denmark. I, on the other hand, was exhausted, wearing second-hand clothes, and catching vomit on I-5.

My husband and I married two weeks after our college graduation and spent our first year of marriage in Taiwan, courtesy of my Fulbright scholarship. The next four years, I worked at a Chinese adoption agency while he completed his Master’s degree. I realized that I loved working in an office, derived immense satisfaction from the agency’s mission, and delighted in my colleagues. I quickly ascended the internal office ladder and landed on the Assistant Director rung at age 26. Then I got pregnant.

The Split in the Road

I had never been one of those women who needed a baby. When we got married, my husband and I had simply decided to have children after five years. It had been five years. So, it was time to have children.

My mother was a stay-at-home mom for most of my childhood, and I credit her with much of my healthy physical and emotional development. I wanted to give the same advantages and connection to my kids. But I didn’t want to give up my career. I didn’t even want to work part-time. I wanted to be in the office 40 hours a week. But I also didn’t want to leave my baby. I wanted to be home and with her full-time. I couldn’t have both. I had to choose.

Despite the fact that I didn’t feel a particular attachment to the little girl who was partially responsible for my then-triple chin and size-and-a-half increased shoe size, I decided to quit my job. Once she was in my arms, my internal conflict evaporated. She deserved all of me.

After she was born, there were a couple of offers to work remotely and even start a local office in the state to which we had moved. I strongly considered them. But after the arrival of baby number two and three, there was simply no space for work. When our adopted son joined the family, he needed even more time and attention. I resigned myself to being “just” a mom and threw myself into church and ministry life.

The Consequences of My Choice

So, did I make the right decision? Surveys say: yes. Especially for women, prioritizing family is the pathway to max life satisfaction. As the Institute for Family Studies is oft to report, women who are not only married, but married with children, have the highest happiness scores. Further, when women have the choice, most (56%) want to stay home and care for their kids.

That’s not to say that mothers should never work. It is to say that your job shouldn’t trump or dictate whether or not you have, or stay home with, your children. These days, there are a variety of creative options that often allow women to do both, even if that infusion is gradual.

The space created by each new level of kid independence was steadily filled in with work.

That’s eventually how it worked out for me. The space created by each new level of kid independence – writing while they napped, their ability to play together during a video call, hourly work when my youngest attended half-day preschool, part-time work once they were in school full-time, the ability to leave my husband alone for short trips once the kids could pack their own lunches and manage their homework, bigger projects once they started driving themselves to after-school sports – was steadily filled in with work. Now they are 14, 16, 18, and 20, and while it’s sometimes a messy juggle, I am more than working full-time in a job that I love, and I am highly connected to each of my kids.

In those early years, when child rearing is so labor-intensive, money is so lean, and the sacrifice of a woman’s ambitions, body, and freedom are so obvious, prioritizing motherhood over career may appear to be the wrong choice. Especially because the DINKs have much more time to stage and edit their promo videos. But in family, as with anything else that matters in life, short-term sacrifice reaps long-term reward.

The Meaningful Life

My lovely high school friend and I are both nearing 50. Her career is winding down (she thinks she may retire next year), and mine is amping up. We both attend conferences, but I also attend my daughter’s raucous soccer matches. We both meet colleagues for coffee, but I also have a weekly coffee date with my son before school. We both hit the gym, but I laugh with my daughter while we watch videos on the stair stepper. We both have dinner with our husbands, but mine are followed by rounds of family Nerts matches while the Guardians of the Galaxy playlist blares in the background. When she talks of travel, it’s where they plan to vacation (again). When I talk of travel, it’s describing the competition among my kids over who will accompany me on a work trip to Sydney. When she talks about the next 10 years, it’s in which stocks they should invest. When I talk about the next 10 years, it’s that I may have a grandchild or two in whom I can invest.

The childlessness that seemed so liberating in our 20s and 30s has revealed itself as a meaningless void. She kept her figure, dined on the best food, and owned large, expensive homes. But she always seems to be searching for something else to satisfy – a new restaurant, the latest trendy diet, another gripping book, the next interesting work project.

I recovered my figure, learned to cook low-budget but high-quality food, and live in a plain home – but am overflowing with satisfaction. That satisfaction takes the form of a nearly 6ft tall, sleepy, blanket-wrapped 14-year-old son who rests his head on my back while I scramble eggs. It manifests on calls with my college-age daughter as we discuss whether or not she should switch majors. It’s delivered via Instagram messages of hilarious screaming goats and dessert recipes we need to bake together. I hear it a floor away when my son extends his sneezes into a “We Are the Champions” rendition. It fills the kitchen when we crank out three-foot homemade pasta while watching Nacho Libre. It is manifest as I see each child form and defend their convictions.

My husband is happy. My children are happy. I am happy. Not only did my children need me and me alone in those early years, but they are major factors in what feels like the most joyous life any woman could be living. The sleepless nights, temporary weight gain, years of coupon-clipping, drawers of thrift-store sweaters, and especially the career interruption were worth it. Now that it’s 10 years removed, I can tell you, even the vomit was worth it.