Returning to the newsroom after crossing the border into ‘Mommy-land’

October 23, 2019 01:30

For most of my adult life I have been completely consumed by television news. I started in the business fresh out of school. I remember my first live shot like it was yesterday. The nerves and the adrenaline were followed by the intense realization that I was born to do this. My passion for television, my commitment to journalism, and my hunger for success drove me from unpaid internships to a low-paying job in a small Canadian market, then across the border to South Texas, then east to Orlando and next to the Miami market where I’m working now.
I poured all of me into storytelling, truth-finding, and fact-checking. For twelve solid years, I worked hard to get better. I fought to climb higher. I strived to really make it, and I loved everything about it, from the writing, to the interviewing, to the deadlines, to the exclusives, to the breaking news, to the features, to the edit bay, to the teleprompter, to the viewers who watched me. Bottom line: My greatest love was television news.
And then my son, Zane Emmanuel, was born. And now I’m confronted with two great loves, and two sets of priorities. Someone very close to me once said that when you really love something or someone you are afraid to lose it or them. That is exactly how I feel on any given day about both my child and my career. Being a working mom isn’t easy, and on the worst days it’s as if I am struggling to keep my head above water as I am trying to desperately navigate between two beautiful islands during a vicious thunderstorm.  
I was on maternity leave for the first six months of my baby boy’s life. Those months were nothing short of spectacular. I am part of the endless line of first-time mothers who will tell you that the love you feel for your child is like no other. I cherished the days, the seconds and the minutes. From his first little smile, to our first walk with the stroller, to his first photo shoot, everything was special. The difficult things like sleepless nights, the fear of doing something wrong, and the piles of diapers were greatly overshadowed by the joy.
I always knew that I wanted to be a mother. As a little girl, I remember studying how my mother took care of my baby sister, and then mimicking what I learned as I played with my dolls. But as I grew older, and became more seasoned as a journalist, I started to realize all the complexities. In my mid-20’s I started to be afraid. I feared that my career would get in the way of becoming a mother. Anxiety grew as my biological clock ticked away. What if I wait too long? What if I focus too much on television, and then I can’t have a child?
I watched and celebrated with my friends, in and out of the business, as they welcomed children into the world. With every baby shower, on-air birth announcement and milestone I witnessed, I found myself wondering more and more if a child would happen for me. At the same time, I also felt that I wasn’t ready to be a mother because as the women I knew crossed that magical border into ‘mommy-land,’ I was focused on climbing markets. In my late 20’s, I had a heart-to-heart with someone in the business who told me that if I became a mother my priorities would likely change.  
From then on, on top of fearing that I would miss the fertility window, I often found myself contemplating the career implications of becoming a mother. I wondered if it would affect my drive and my trajectory. I had plenty of examples around me of women who left the business or whose career growth slowed after they had children. I also worried a lot about being pregnant on-air. The logistics of the job were concerning to me. I would look at pregnant reporters working a breaking news scene or standing out in the scorching hot sun and feel awful for them.
In 2018, I became a pregnant reporter. Working in television is tough enough but working in the field when you’re carrying a child is extremely difficult, and I learned it has to do with a lot more than the elements or appearance. I battled fatigue, nausea, insecurities, and all the rest that comes with pregnancy while reporting every weeknight from across South Florida.
While I was pregnant, I felt so many different things. I was grateful for the opportunity to become a parent because by my early 30’s I was very aware of just how much of a blessing that really is.  I also felt afraid. I was afraid of the unknown. I was afraid of what would happen to my love for television news.  On one night, shortly before my due date, I left work after the 11 o’clock news. As I walked out of the station, I paused before exiting the front doors and looked around the empty front lobby. I thought to myself, “When the baby comes will you still be in love with TV?”
After Zane was born, it took no time at all for me to realize that the answer to that question was yes. But loving television and loving him is so hard. I came to that deep realization as soon as I returned to work. I had spent so much time worrying about being a childless journalist or a mother who lost her passion for the business and not enough time considering what my life would look like if I felt the same about my career after having a child. Now I’m stuck, trying to give 100 percent of me to both my child and my job. The problem is, that requires 200 percent of Stephanie each day, and that is impossible!
I am constantly fighting fatigue in order to fit in workouts or walks with my baby because being active will get me back to my pre-baby look a lot faster. I feel frustrated when I can’t give more to the work I love. Gone are the days when I could spend endless hours at home researching special reports to pitch for sweeps. Now I must fit that work into my time at work or lose more sleep. I feel awful when I have to go into work early for a special shoot or a meeting and I miss even more of my son’s day.  
I’m a nightside reporter but my day starts before 8 am. I wake up, exhausted from my late night, with my sweet baby boy who thankfully sleeps through the night. We spend the morning together. I multitask through breakfast, playtime and naptime to fit in checking emails, laundry and getting ready for the day. On days he misses his nap, I arrive at work looking like I just ran a marathon with no water break!
My workday starts at 2:30pm. By that time my son is with the babysitter, and I am focused on reporting but, again, I am multitasking. I send texts to check on him in between my live shots for the early shows. I spend time on my breaks looking online for things Zane might need. I prepare my 11 o’clock reports with his existence and wellbeing on my mind. He is always on my mind.
My first few weeks back to work were like a ride on a teeter-totter. I missed my baby but I was happy to be back in the news game. I wanted to be at home with him but I wanted that microphone in my hand too. I wanted to wear my mom uniform of tights and a t-shirt but had to try to squeeze back into those on-air clothes. I would arrive at work eager to feel like the version of myself from before, and drive home in tears because I knew that my child would be sleeping when I got home. I don’t drive home crying anymore but guilt, I have learned, is part of motherhood. I know I’m not the only one, but the truth is, I feel bad about being a mother who loves her career still, even though I always hoped that I would be this way.
In addition to guilt I feel fear. I am afraid that an emergency could happen with my son while I’m working a story far away from where he is. I fear missing his first steps because I’m at work. I also fear, for the first time ever, for my own safety. I think about the implications of something happening to me.
I am seasoned at covering crime, but during my third week back from maternity leave I was sent to cover a SWAT situation and a new fear set in. I knew what to do and went through the motions of walking up to the yellow tape, interviewing people from the neighborhood, scanning the area for visual content. As I clipped my microphone on and looked at the camera to standby for the breaking news live shot during the 5 o’clock newscast, I thought of my son and then a heightened sense of vigilance came over me. I scanned the location to make sure it looked safe, and instantly I realized that I will never be the same. My son is the difference.
Having a child raises the stakes and each day I realize more and more that everything is more intense.  I need to be better than I ever was for him. I need to be tougher, stronger, and more successful for him. Bettering society through good journalism now means bettering his world. Being ambitious now means teaching him about drive. Being a great reporter now means making him proud. Indeed, I always loved television news but now my son has given context to my passion.  He has enhanced my mission in so many ways.  He has also forced me to analyze my past, and reconsider my priorities.
I often find myself reflecting on all the things in my life leading up to my son’s birth. I think about the reporter I was before Zane. I think about that young lady fixated on making it in TV, and I think about that little girl playing with dolls.
Then I think about the future.  My career goals and my hunger to keep climbing are forcing me to now consider a child’s need for roots. As I hold onto how badly I want to succeed more in my profession, I find myself hoping my son won’t suffer because his mom works too much.
His birth is the division between then and now. There is no way to ever be the same after having a child. I have someone fueling my purpose in life, and at the same time requiring me to rise to the challenges of motherhood while I continue to pursue my passion. For me, that means I now have a tiny little viewer to impress more than all the rest.