Ellen McCallister Clark and her husband Charles, both 33, had no doubt that their lives would change after little red-haired Elizabeth was born nine months ago. The couple just had no idea how much.
Married for 3 1/2 years, the Clarks planned for the baby. They had established careers. They saved money and bought a house in Alexandria. They read books on child care. And when they told Ellen's employer of the expected change in their lives, the Clarks found that Ellen could have three months of paid maternity leave and then an additional three months of part-time work before having to return to a full-time career.
Those days, when they had time to plan, when they had time to read, when they had time to relax, are a memory.
"I think it's the hardest thing I've ever done, but I'm also the happiest I've ever been. If I wasn't, I couldn't possibly keep up this pace. I feel all I do is work," said Ellen, a librarian at historic Mount Vernon.
"We're both exhausted," said Charles, an editor at the National Journal. "And neither of us can feel like we're martyrs because both of us are working hard. We keep thinking this can't go on forever."
Now Ellen and Charles are awake by 6:30 every morning, when Elizabeth opens her eyes. The next two hours are spent feeding the baby, dressing the baby, grabbing a quick breakfast themselves, dressing and getting ready for work.
Ellen leaves at 8:30; Charles takes the baby to a baby sitter a half-hour later. Ellen comes home by 5:30 and spends the next few hours playing and reacquainting herself with Elizabeth and tackling whatever chores she can do.
Charles ends his workday around 7 p.m. and is home a half-hour later -- in time to help take care of Elizabeth while Ellen prepares supper. On a good day, that means one of them has had time to stop at the grocery store and can whip up a home-cooked meal. On other days, it's time for Stouffer's Lean Cuisine.
Ellen smiles and shakes her head at what reality has done to her hopes of juggling motherhood and career. She admits that her ideal life now would be one that combines home with part-time work.
"It was a blow to me when I couldn't keep the house the same way. And we quickly found out -- if the house was at all going to look nice -- there had to be two people working at it. I'm more realistic now, but I'm still the type who would like to be able to make all the baby food. We're almost exclusively on Gerber's. And that breaks my heart."
Charles, who admits he never thought life would be so structured and centered around home, wonders when employers will realize that a large proportion of today's work force -- women with children -- is coping with daunting daily struggles. "There's more of a need for flexibility," he said. "Because if you have your career peaking at the same time as you have a baby, you better get ready for a huge collision."