Pregnant and Covering the Crisis in Haiti
As a journalist who'd covered war, I got a kick out of rushing into danger. But would reporting on the earthquake hurt my unborn baby? Could I be a mother and a journalist, too?
In Port-au-Prince, I worked 12-hour days, rising with the sun. My hotel, command central for media, served food and bottled water. There was no electricity or running water to bathe, but I figured that darkness and dirt wouldn't harm the baby. With those necessities taken care of, I threw myself into my reporting. Aside from my two-week honeymoon in 2008 and a short trip in 2007, I last visited Haiti with my parents in the 1970s, when I was 4 years old. I'm not sure if it was the pregnancy, or the urgency of the story, but even though I was born in the United States and my Kreyol is awkward, I felt closer to the Haitian culture and people than I ever had. And as I interviewed pregnant Haitian women, I felt another bond with them, that of bringing a child into the world.
One afternoon, in the outdoor maternity ward, I could feel my professional reserve starting to crack. The Haitian-American volunteer nurses reminded me of my own mother and cousins: the cadences of their accents, their dedication to the medical profession that mimicked what I had seen in my own family growing up. I felt palpably lonely. Among the harried atmosphere of life and death at the hospital, my notebook and pen felt like feeble tools.
Then came that kick from deep inside. It was the first time I felt the baby move. My baby! I had taken it into the earthquake zone and instead of withering under the strain, it stirred to life so vigorously I could feel it for the first time. The message was clear: It's OK, Mom. I'm fine. And I was glad to hear it.
That night over dinner with my colleagues I felt more kicks. It was undeniable to me now that I was both a journalist and a mother. Later, alone in my candlelit room, I lay flat on my back and pressed my hands deep into my stomach. A few seconds of stillness and then the baby rolled. I smiled and giggled in delight and relief. Maybe I had somehow managed to protect my child. Or perhaps I was just learning the first lessons of motherhood, that I'll never know what to expect from my own child, and these surprises are the best part of being a parent. I turned over to sleep, thinking that I couldn't wait to get home and tell my husband the latest news with our child.
Theola Labbé-DeBose, a local reporter at the Washington Post, is due in June.