Michelle Obama told me it would get easier. I confessed, during our photo-op at a White House Christmas party, how overwhelmed I’d been by my new role as a two-month-old’s mother. In fact, it reminded me of the most grueling parts of my job as a White House reporter for Bloomberg News—deadline pressure included.
For nearly four years, I traveled on Air Force One from Columbus, Miami, and Los Angeles to Lisbon, Warsaw, and Cartagena. Every trip required me to be at the top of my game and manage a surprising number of logistical details, from packing the right gear to making sure I didn’t miss the plane (a nightmare-inducing thought for every reporter). As a mom, there’s also no room for slacking, and planning prowess is a must. The surprising similarities hit me weeks after the birth of my first child, Graham, who was born on the auspicious date of 10/11/12.
Before every trip in my job, I’d go through this checklist in order of importance: BlackBerry/cell; laptop; credentials; digital tape recorder; earphones (for listening to the tape recorder); notebooks; pens; newspapers; kindle. Forgetting any of the first four would have been catastrophic. Now I go through a different kind of checklist: Diapers? Of course. Wipes? Check. Formula and empty bottles? Got it. Not to mention at least two pacifiers (in case one falls on the ground and gets dirty), a burp cloth, and a rattle for entertainment purposes. Forgetting any of these would exact an even higher price.
I see similarities in mealtimes, too, except that my role has changed. Reporters joke that food is used to distract us. And it usually works. On one trip last August, the lunch menu on the presidential plane was so heavy that it put members of the media to sleep: a half pound angus burger “smothered with a sweet and spicy Jack Daniels glaze,” onion rings, and pistachio mousse. I’m no longer the one getting tricked, I’m now the one using food as a diversionary tactic. And it works: when my baby cries, my first line of defense is to feed him, and a nap often follows shortly.
Typing rapid fire on my BlackBerry is one of those prized abilities developed in my job that I use everyday as a mom. Vice President Biden poked fun at me during a ten-day tour of Asia once, taking a picture with his personal camera of me and two other reporters typing furiously on our BlackBerries and missing an incredible cultural ceremony in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia as a result. Now, some of the only times Graham sleeps during the day are in his stroller, and I try to wheel it with one hand and respond to email with the other, my one-handed speed typing at work.
Beating the competition is a lot like trying to meet my son’s demands before he works himself up into a full froth. In Colombia, I remember sitting at a late-night tapas dinner and watching nervously as a friend from the Associated Press got up from the table repeatedly to make phone calls. Turns out she was breaking the Secret Service prostitution story. Now, instead of trying to beat other reporters I’m trying to stave off my baby’s unhappiness by looking for cues that he’s tired (rubbing his eyes and acting cranky) or hungry (jamming his fist into his mouth).
I do miss the excitement of the beat, but the rewards of motherhood far outlast any scoop. After all, who was my plus one to the White House Christmas party? My mom, of course.
Kate Andersen Brower lives with her husband Brooke, their son Graham, and their wheaten terrier Chance in Cleveland Park. During her maternity leave from Bloomberg News, where she serves as White House correspondent, she can be found tweeting at @katebrower.