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-by Susan Wise Bauer

I Don't Talk About My Children at Work and I don't talk about my work at church.

Fruitful: A Real Mother in the Modern World

By Anne Roiphe

Houghton Mifflin

260 pp, $22.95

When I was pregnant with my third son, I took a semester off from my teaching job at a small Southern university. Actually, I ran off campus and hid. I neglected the Women's Studies Brown Bag lunches. I sneaked into my office on weekends to collect my mail, hiding my bulging stomach from my colleagues.

Now that I'm back at school, my stomach safely flattened, I don't discuss my children with my university colleagues. I talk overdue articles and disputed readings. And when I'm with my community of faith, I don't speak of my work. It makes the other mothers shift uncomfortably. I can see it in their eyes: My three children bind me to be a keeper-at-home.

So I seized on Anne Roiphe's Fruitful, hoping to find another woman who held together a shared passion for work and for children. Roiphe--writer, feminist, mother of three and stepmother of two--does what few writers in either the feminist or evangelical community have done: She admits that women need to work, and that babies need their mothers, not well-paid stand-ins. Working, Roiphe concludes, is "good for a woman's self-esteem, good for her pocketbook, good for her marriage and its myriad balancing acts." Yet she sets this self-evident statement in the story of her own five children in the moving, infuriating, rewarding, draining, all-consuming context of motherhood.

I finished Fruitful convinced again that children are essential; that children are not enough. One day, talking with my father, I was predicting disaster for a professional venture, with my six-month-old in my arms. My father tried to comfort me. "Ben will still love you," he said. He was right. Ben's love was all-important, but at the moment there was something else at stake.

I'm relieved to find out that I'm not alone, but I feel sorry for all those women who share my predicament. We steal time from the children to work; we can't give up our work without denying who we ...

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