What does motherhood mean to you?
Jumping off the career ladder, or not even getting on the ladder in the first place? A new generation of women who have fully accepted and embraced that flexible, part-time work that can fit around their children is the way forward for them, and their family.
When your child is safely settled in a school, nursery or childminder (depending what you have decided - or can afford!) then you are ready to get out there and start finding suitable employment….. ’suitable employment’ firstly, what does that even mean, and secondly, how much of itis out there.
One thing is for certain - it’s not quite how it used to be. So you need to be prepared, to put the effort in, and equally get used to rejection - it’s not personal, hundreds of people apply for every job, so sometimes it is just that you are unlucky.
Make sure your previous employment, education and experience is used as well as it can be - everything you have done will provide some useful experience to potential employers. Maybe the work simply doesn't have the same interest for you that it did before you had your baby, or perhaps this is the first time you are looking to start a career, but either way you must make sure you find a job thats suits you, your child and your family.
You may settle into a practicable routine and not always miss your child. But, unless you're one of the few lucky enough to have a fascinating can't-imagine-not doing-it job and are paid enough to afford an enviable support structure, the arrival of any more children marks the point when working full-time stops making any financial, logistical or emotional sense.
What we women want is to be there for our children and still have a job that doesn't leave us in financial deficit after paying for child care and travel. We want a job that is interesting, challenging and gives us a sense of self separate from family life.
For an increasing number of women, that means a second-chance career with flexible hours, often in an area that wouldn't have occurred to them as an option before they had children.
Since 2003, the right to request flexible working (and have employers give this proper consideration) has been enshrined in law for parents of children under six, and is due to be extended to children under 16 next April, but worries over the survival of small businesses may cause a delay.
Nevertheless, seven million women currently work flexibly, whether part-time, from home or as freelances and, perhaps predictably, only six per cent of employed mothers actually want to work full-time.
In just five years, there's been a dramatic shift in women's perception of work and the realisation that they don't need to shoehorn their new selves into their old jobs. My children's former child minder, Ann Conroy, hasn't had a single request for full-time child care in the past three years.
"I used to look after three children from 8.30am until 6.30pm while their parents worked full-time," she says. Now she keeps a complicated rota of children coming to her for two, three or four days. "I don't know any nannies or minders who look after children full-time now."
Antonia Chitty, author of Family Friendly Working, says we're seeing a loosening of the stark either/or choice between full-time working or stay-at-home motherhood. "We've realised it doesn't have to be all or nothing, we can make choices and have flexibility," she says.
Chitty, 38, from Bexhill, East Sussex, is typical of this trend for a flexible approach. She relaunched her career after having two children (now aged six and three), but cheerfully calls herself "unemployable", in the traditional sense.
"I'm 19 weeks pregnant with my third child, so after a stint at the computer I like to sit in a comfy chair and have a cup of tea," she says. "Add in my ideal of a job that's 9-3, that works around school holidays and one that I can take time off for inset days, school plays and assemblies and, like a huge number of women, I'm basically unemployable."
Nevertheless, since leaving full-time work five years ago, Chitty has forged a career as an author and in public relations. She specialises in promoting the start-up businesses of women with children.
"I was doing that classic thing of spending all my money on child care while resenting someone else bringing up my daughter," she says. "I volunteered myself for a magazine article on women who were unhappy with their work/life balance and had a session with a life coach.
"She pointed out that I had all the skills to work from home and that people would pay for those skills. Now I get to choose the hours I work and spend time with my children.
"Having children does seem to spark creativity. Once you've had a baby, doing a job that you're not very passionate about and that keeps you away from your child just doesn't work any more."
But too often women trade flexibility for work that falls far below their skills and experience. If, pre-children, you've managed a sales team and had a 20-year career, are you really going to be fully stimulated as a classroom assistant?
The dilemma of how to start second-chance careers and reprioritise working life around children is aggravated if you've had a break of many years, never mind if it's been spent micro-managing children's diaries and running the Parent-Teacher Association. The title of New York novelist Meg Wolitzer's book, The Ten-Year Nap, may have made some bristle with its intentional irony, but the subject of four women at odds over what to do after 10 years out of the workplace is familiar to thousands of women.
"My husband is very keen for me to go back to work, obviously because it will help financially, but also because, as he puts it, 'Now you'll see what it's like for me,'" says Emma Symons, 45, a former IT consultant whose last child has now started in reception class.
But it won't be the same as it is for her husband. She'll face the double whammy of feeling like a dinosaur in an office with technology and jargon that's moved on, while knowing that her children will miss her.
"I'm torn, thinking of 101 excuses why no one else can do school pick-up like I can, and yet I can't devote the rest of my life to piano practice and swimming lessons," she says. "I'll go nuts."
Three years ago, Karen Mattison and Emma Stewart started Women Like Us (www.womenlikeus.org.uk), matching women who wanted to find part-time work after children with employers who wanted to tap into an experienced talent base of "lost women".
They were inspired by meeting so many others like themselves at the school gates - women at a career crossroads with experience and intelligence to offer, but without the confidence to find a job that suited them.
From a kitchen-table start, they now have two offices, employ 40 staff and cover the whole of London, with a recommendation for national expansion by the Government commission Women in Work. They recruit school-gate mothers from 120 locations, putting mailshots in children's school bags and holding regular coffee mornings. In addition to recruitment, they offer career coaching.
"Women might come for coaching to build up confidence, especially after a career gap or a bad interview experience, or for help with updating their CVs, but most often it's because they just don't know what they want to do and how to transfer the skills they already have," says Mattison, who has three children (10, seven, and two) and works three days a week in the office.
"It can be a very emotional moment, because for many women it's the first time they've had the opportunity and space to think about themselves, not just their children or their partner, and what they really want to do with their lives.
"We want to encourage women to realise their full potential within part-time work." Below, we talk to four women who are working to their full potential, but in careers that allow them the flexibility to see their children for more than the harassed bath, book and bed time.
Lucy Symons, 42
When Lucy Symons asked for time off work to attend an ultrasound scan on her forthcoming baby, her boss - a theatre director - was appalled. "He said: 'Can't your husband go instead?'" she recalls.
It may be funny-awful now, but at the time it marked the moment when Symons, now 42, realised that her career of 15 years as a film and theatre actress might be decidedly different with children. "The director said: 'Well, unofficially, I'll have to sack you.' So I said: 'Unofficially, I quit.'"
Insult was added to injury just weeks after her daughter's birth when a film she had worked on two years before finally had its premiere in London. Expecting to be reunited with cast members, she was unrecognisable to them.
"I was elbowed aside and told it was a cast-only affair," she says. "I sat in tears in the cinema, with my leaky breasts and fat tummy, watching myself on screen in all my former glory."
Fortunately, Symons found that her motherhood role launched her into a new career, as a doula (from the Greek word meaning care-giver or woman servant).
"I had a friend who kept banging on about how hypnotherapy helped in giving birth," says Symons, from Kingston, Surrey, who now has two daughters, aged 10 and eight. "I was so vastly pregnant I couldn't run away, so I let her hypnotise me - and I had a wonderful birth. I was so relaxed I went to sleep mid-labour, to the amazement of my midwife," she says.
"Afterwards, I did a hypnotherapy course myself, initially as a sceptic hoping to debunk the idea, but I gradually had to accept it worked."
Symons retrained as a clinical hypnotherapist, specialising in pregnancy and birth, and then became a registered doula (see www.doula.org.uk).
She provides support and reassurance to women through their pregnancy, during childbirth and for 10 days after the birth. As well as the "privilege" of attending hundreds of births, she has created an enviably flexible career that fits around her children.
"With my business partner, we make a commitment that one of us will always be there for the mothers," she says. "I'm able to attend a birth between Friday lunchtime and Sunday night, when my husband Jack can look after the girls.
"During the week, I cycle to a new mother's home after school drop-off and take her breakfast and do whatever needs to be done around the house, mothering the mother. I'm there to instil confidence in her own abilities and am home again in time for the girls."
"I loved my acting career," she concludes, "but there was no way I could have juggled work and family commitments like I can now. And that's not to mention the personal satisfaction of my job."
Lisa Tanner, 35
Lisa Tanner was a sister in charge of the gynaecology ward in a London hospital before starting her family and moving to Worcester. "After my first two children, I did twilight nursing, working 7pm to midnight, but that was very hard to organise with small children and I hated it," she says.
"I was offered a job at our local hospital, but I would have had to work a shift rota of mornings, afternoons or evenings, with just a month's notice to arrange child care each time. No nursery or child minder is that flexible."
Instead Tanner - mother to four girls, aged between six and 18 months - completed a diploma in counselling and now helps women suffering from emotional illnesses connected to birth and pregnancy.
"I went from having a very stressful job to being a stay-at-home mum, and I desperately wanted to regain some control of my life and my career," says Tanner.
"To have someone tell me 'Thank you so much, you've changed my life' is amazing. I would never get that simply being Lisa, mother-of-four."
Tanner works from a toy-free annexe next to her home when the children are at school or nursery and hopes she'll be able to extend her work - currently four clients a week - once all four children are at school and as recommendations from health visitors increase. In addition, she offers telephone counselling once her children are tucked up in bed.
Tanner also supplements her income working as a mystery shopper, reporting back on her experiences of customer service and shopping.
"I saw an online advert saying 'Get paid to shop' and thought 'Yes, please'," she says. "We've had a lot of meals out and visits to National Trust properties paid for. It's not a steady income, but it is good fun - although I do have to report back on the state of a lot of lavatories."
Maggie Howell, 40
Before starting her family, Maggie Howell from Headley Down, Hampshire, was a sales and marketing manager for an international events company. "I was very much a professional career woman and supremely uninterested in babies or alternative health therapies," she says.
"I felt devastated on my last day of work before starting my maternity leave."
Howell is now mother to three children, aged between eight and 16 months. She returned to work for the first year of Joseph, her eldest, but soon realised she wanted to stay with him while studying clinical hypnotherapy, an interest sparked by her own positive experience of childbirth.
In 2003, Howell launched Natal Hypnotherapy (www.natalhypnotherapy.co.uk), working with corporate businesses, midwives, antenatal classes and hospitals running workshops and classes. "I'm immensely proud that we've helped 20,000 women have a better birth experience," says Howell.
"We've already trained 250 midwives in natal hypnotherapy, giving them the tools and techniques to help women feel more confident and relaxed during their births.
"I often begin talks by saying that eight years ago, if someone told me I'd be doing this, I'd have thought they were mad. It is fascinating the path that life takes you down, although I do get cross when people say how lucky I am in being able to mix work and family. I'm not just lucky - I made it happen.
"I had a choice and I didn't want to leave my children to be brought up by someone else. Now I'm able to bring them with me to meetings, presentations and exhibitions.
"When I gave a maternity seminar for Harrods employees recently, Alex, my youngest, was asleep in a baby sling throughout the hour and a half presentation. I think that's a very strong visual image that life doesn't have to stop when you have a baby.
"I'm walking the talk: children are a wonderful addition to your life, but you can still have a career you're really passionate about."
Marie Bloss, 53
Marie Bloss's "nap" during her daughters' early years was brought to an abrupt halt when she became a single mother six years ago.
Bloss, from Sevenoaks, Kent, had to work at a succession of "mundane, not very glamorous jobs" to fit around the school times of 15-year-old Emily and nine-year-old Hannah. They included delivering Yellow Pages house-to-house and doing temporary secretarial work.
Her early plans to study law full-time had been shelved when she became a mother, but, in this new phase of her life, Bloss hit upon the compromise of taking distance courses and exams through the Institute of Legal Executives.
Then, three years ago, she saw an advertisement for will writers in a legal magazine and decided that this was the second-chance career for her, albeit one that definitely wouldn't pop up on a careers advisory option.
"I know the traditional image of a will writer is a man in a tweed jacket, but I'd already enjoyed my probate and succession courses and I've always been keen that things are done correctly," says Bloss. Following two years of part-time study, she is now a member of The Society of Will Writers.
"I meet so many different, fascinating people and I love providing a personal and essential service. I can fit appointments around my children and make phone calls in the evening. I've also shown my children that it's possible to relaunch your career. They're very proud, seeing our name on the company.
"I think I'm typical of many women. I don't aspire to masses of money, but all I've ever wanted was an interesting, satisfying career that was well-paid enough to live comfortably."