Never has trying to “have it all” felt as visceral as it does in The New Yorker writer Ariel Levy’s memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply. A member of the first generation of women told they could do anything, Levy, now 42, spent her 20s and 30s consumed by wanderlust, evading the claustrophobia of monogamy and motherhood: “To become a mother, I feared, was to relinquish your status as the protagonist of your own life.” As a result of her nomadic existence, she cheats on the woman she marries. But after watching a friend struggle to get pregnant, Levy realizes she could lose the opportunity to have a family she didn’t know she wanted. “My life had been an ugly, roiling mess, but I was going to pull it all together at the last minute.” Enamored with the idea of being a pregnant correspondent, she travels to Mongolia for work. In short order, she loses baby, spouse and house. Levy confronts a harsh truth for women with control and choice: we lay claim to everything, but the universe is often indifferent to our demands.
This appears in the March 27, 2017 issue of TIME.