I was never one of those little girls who dreamed of the ideal wedding, the ideal husband, the single-family detached house in the suburbs complete with a white picket fence. I am the daughter of educational immigrants—two Filipinos who came to the United States for graduate school and ended up staying here where the opportunities are. My upbringing stressed hard work, striving for excellence, and the importance of education. My dreams were of being a successful scientist, although it was not until college that I settled on a specific discipline: biochemistry. Being Filipina, my upbringing also emphasized the importance of family and the joy of children. When my cousins came to visit from the Philippines I was always jealous that there were four or five children in their families whereas we were only three. Growing up, I always knew I’d go to college then graduate school, get a job, get married, have kids and keep working. It never occurred to me how difficult it would be to have it all, that I would initially choose family over career, or that I would not only find my way back to research but enjoy it so much more than I did before I stayed home with the kids. There may be some who believe that your brain decays when you are not doing science, but I know that the time I spent at home caring for my children has made me a much better scientist. I am more efficient with my time and better at planning and prioritizing; I am more pragmatic and goal-oriented; I am humbler and better at dealing with and overcoming my own shortcomings and those of others; I am better at negotiation and compromise; and I am much better able to tolerate the tedium and myriad little failures that accompany work at the bench.
It was during graduate school that I started to comprehend the realities of how hard it can be to combine a scientific career with motherhood.