Julie, Kate & Sarah
Julie Turaj, 32, New York City.
Mother of Samantha, 3, and Kaitlyn, 1<
The job she quit: Attorney at a large corporate law firm
Reason for leaving: I had a demanding job. In one year, I pulled 16 all-nighters and often worked entire weekends. It wasn't just the long hours that got to me-the pressure was enormous too. I was planning on going part-time after Kaitlyn was born, but I knew even that would be hard to manage.
Money matters: I was well compensated, but my husband, Rob, works in the financial industry and earns a good salary. We're very lucky: Money wasn't a significant issue.
Biggest challenge: Some people think I've done a disservice to women by having the opportunities I've had and then not going for the brass ring. I feel bad about that. It's also been tough having to redefine my self-image. It took me a while before I could say "I'm a full-time, stay-at-home mom" without feeling inadequate.
Greatest satisfaction: A job will always be there, but kids grow up in the blink of an eye. I really enjoy going to playgroups and birthday parties, and just being around for every one of my daughters' milestones.
Future plans: I know I'll go back to work eventually. I'd like to practice a more emotionally satisfying kind of law, such as being a victims' advocate or working at a nonprofit agency. My goal is to leave the world a better place-and I'm starting with my children.
Kate Ortega, 25, Port Orchard, Washington.
Mother of Caroline, 3 1/2
The job she quit: Retail salesclerk
Reason for leaving: My salary-barely above minimum wage-wasn't enough to cover the cost of child care. It didn't make sense for me to work.
Money matters: My husband, Dan, an electrical laboratory technician on a U.S. Navy submarine, earns about $45,000 a year-and that's what we live on.
Biggest challenge: I'm home with my daughter all the time, and frankly, I find my life can get a bit boring and mundane. I miss having a reason to put on makeup and get dressed in the morning. And I especially miss being around other people and having normal, adult conversations. I can't afford to go places with Caroline every day. Raising a kid is expensive: We don't have money for frivolous spending.
Greatest satisfaction: I get great joy out of seeing Caroline imitate me. She likes to put on her sparkly lip gloss when she sees me putting on lipstick. And recently, when a playmate fell, she ran over to her and said, "You've got to be more careful." That's just what I would've said to her! I really enjoy being her role model.
Future plans: My ideal job would be to work as a wedding planner. Once my daughter is in preschool, I'm going to try to start a business from home.
Sarah Rausch, 28, Chelsea, South Dakota.
Mother of twins Rachel and Andrea, 6, Cody, 2, and Logan, 4 months
The job she quit: Manager of a photo-print shop
Reason for leaving: For one thing, I worried that my kids were closer to my mother-in-law, who'd been watching them, than they were to me. When I'd pick them up, they clearly wanted to stay with her-and I don't blame them. Most evenings, I was too tired to play.
Money matters: My husband earns around $35,000 working for his family's fencing company. We calculated that we could survive financially if I helped him out with the business so he could cut his expenses. So now I work 15 hours a week at home doing the bookkeeping.
Biggest challenge: Right after I quit, I was really depressed. I'd been around people all the time, and I missed the companionship. It's gotten easier now that I've hooked up with a bunch of other moms. We've joined a bowling league together, and we meet at a cafÃ© once a week with our kids.
Greatest satisfaction: One of my daughters just came inside and handed me some flowers she'd picked. It's those little moments that I really treasure-and there are lots of them, day after day.
Future plans: I'd like to be a writer and hope to work toward that goal as my kids get older. But right now, I'm happy to be doing what I'm doing.