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Breast pumping around Baghdad: How this NBC News correspondent and mom of 5 makes it all work

Courtney Kube, NBC News’ national security and Pentagon correspondent who is raising five boys, chats with Know Your Value about the motherhood-career juggle, dealing with mom guilt and more.
Courtney Kube, NBC News' national security and Pentagon correspondent.
Courtney Kube, NBC News' national security and Pentagon correspondent.Courtesy of Courtney Kube.

After giving birth to twin boys in 2014, NBC News’ national security and Pentagon correspondent Courtney Kube was determined to breastfeed them for a full year. That required some creativity because Kube travels regularly from her home in Washington D.C. to the Middle East.

For a year, Kube pumped in helicopters, cargo aircrafts and in offices at NATO gatherings. One time, her cameramen fashioned her a pumping station in the middle of a crowded Baghdad military mess hall. It was made of two upturned tables with a tablecloth tied around it.

“People were eating around me with no idea what was inside,” Kube told Know Your Value. “I’m always going to be known by these militaries as the person who’s always pumping. Whenever I needed to stop and pump, I would.”

Courtney Kube, pregnant with AJ, with her twins Ryan and Jake.Courtesy of Courtney Kube.

And six years later, she’s doing it all again.

Kube, 43, is currently breastfeeding her 8-month-old son, AJ. She ships or carries back some of the milk she pumps away from her child back home. In July, she found herself pumping in a small plane in front of everyone flying above Kabul.

“Most people are really supportive. I’ll go to the crew and say, ‘Look, I’m a nursing mom, I’ll sit behind the luggage.’ A lot of times they’ll say, ‘no no,’ and they’ll let me use these little areas where they sleep so I can close the curtain. They’ll find me a spot,” said Kube.

Kube's breast pump earlier this summer on a C17 going into Kabul.

AJ is Kube’s fifth son—two of them are grown stepsons from her husband’s previous marriage. In her 16-year tenure as a Pentagon correspondent, being a mom to small children is harder than many of her overseas assignments.

Since Covid-19, Kube is traveling less, but the stress is still palpable.

“I’m always running from place to place to place. There are people in the Pentagon who think of me as the person who is always running,” she said. “I run from the nursing room to the break room, to my kid’s soccer practice. I always have to run, do makeup, do a live shot, there’s always something I'm running to. I’m always driving too fast.”

Kube can’t always keep her work and personal worlds separate. In 2019, she went viral on the internet when her son Ryan ran onto the news set during a live report on Syria. She’d had no time to drop off the twins at daycare that morning, and they were restless after hanging around for five hours.

Later, Kube was in the middle of an Iraqi desert meeting with the Kurdish military when an official asked her, “How is your son?”

“He said ‘I see on Google that he comes on TV with you,’” said Kube. “Literally in the middle of the Iraqi desert. We were in the middle of nowhere.”

Kube interviewing an official in Baghdad.Courtesy of Courtney Kube.

Kube said that getting pregnant with AJ was a surprise. But thanks to nannies, her husband Eric, and her parents who live nearby, the family is staying afloat.

“The only way that we make it work is with a lot of support,” said Kube.

Still, she contends with mom guilt regularly. Kube said she had to miss her twins’ weekend soccer games recently, for example, because she was covering the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Kube's twin sons Ryan and Jake with their baby brother, AJ.

“I always feel like I’m failing in one place or another,” said Kube. “I tell myself that the boys will be better for it in some way. They know how badly I want to be at their events. When I told them that mommy can’t make it, they said ‘that’s OK, mommy, you can just watch it on TV.’”

For all the hardship, however, Kube wouldn’t trade any part of it.

“You’re always going to be struggling. But the truth is, I wouldn't give up either one. I obviously wouldn't give up my family or my kids, and I definitely wouldn't want to give up my job,” she said. “You have to accept that you’re always going to be struggling to make it work, and that you’re never going to be perfect.”