When you’re preparing for the arrival of a baby, in addition to figuring out your maternity leave, anxieties can be at an all-time high. It’s even more difficult if you work in the news industry when an election is just around the corner and the U.S. Senate is contemplating removing the president from office.
But if anyone can navigate the challenges of being pregnant and juggling motherhood while working a highly stressful job, it’s NBC News correspondent Julia Ainsley, who covers every aspect of Washington politics. She even had morning sickness on live television during her first trimester, which was emblematic of what women who are trying to straddle the worlds of being great at their job and growing a family have to deal with.
I recently spoke to Julia about all of this ahead of the birth of her little one, Mary Wells Knight Ainsley, who was born on Jan. 5, coming in at 7 pounds 11 ounces, and 19.5-inches long. She was named after her paternal, great-great grandmother, one of of the first women to win the Pulitzer Prize for a biography.
"Mary Wells comes from a long line of strong women and we can't wait to discover who she will become," Ainsley told Know Your Value.
It was an eye-opening conversation. I’m a mom of two young children, and whenever I talk to anyone about parental leave and balancing work and motherhood, I learn something new. Julia, for example, looked at the leave policy at NBC before accepting her job here, something I never even thought of but now find to be so important.
I’ve also realized through my own journey — and talking to others — that none of us are alone in the motherhood-work juggle (no matter where you are in your career). The fears and anxieties are the same, and it’s all about community.
Here are some highlight during my conversation with Julia:
Yasmin: How has being pregnant and continuing to report and chase stories been for you?
Julia: I think I have put more pressure on myself to break stories since being pregnant. I'm determined to make sure this part of my identity remains strong and that people don't "forget" me when I go on maternity leave. But that amount of pressure can be a little exhausting over nine months.
The first trimester was the most tricky, because I often meet sources for drinks. But I didn't want to explain why I wasn't drinking. I remember once just fibbing and telling a source I was going on TV later that night and hoping they wouldn't tune in to watch!
Yasmin: What’s been the hardest moment so far?
Julia: I've been sick through my whole pregnancy. I was told I would start feeling better after the first trimester, but I'm more than six months in and (sorry if this is an overshare), I've thrown up twice in the past 24 hours. As you may have seen, one moment of nausea was particularly public when I got sick outside of the Justice Department when I was live on camera.
The hardest moment by far though was having to say “no” to reporting trips to Central America. As an immigration reporter, I was offered the chance to travel to three Central American countries with the Department of Homeland Security. But the threats of Zika, extreme heat and contaminated water were too high for my comfort. A male colleague of mine took a similar trip and came back with two strains of E. Coli, so I was happy I had not jeopardized my health or my baby's health by going. But as soon as I'm back from maternity leave, I want to head south!
Yasmin: Do you have any nervousness or anxiety about balancing work/baby?
Julia: Yes. I am the only woman in my family with a full-time job, so I'm looking to my colleagues here as models. I was raised by a stay-at-home mother, so I don’t have the answers to questions like: ‘What do I do when my child is too sick to go to school?’ Or, ‘what if my nanny cancels on a busy work day?’ Or, ‘what happens if I'm called in to work late nights, early mornings or to travel, as I often am?’ My husband also has a crazy work schedule, though luckily his is more predictable than mine. I'm hoping between the two of us, family nearby and the grace of God, we can pull this off!
Yasmin: What are you most anxious about with the impending arrival of the baby?
Julia: Mainly just having no idea what I'm doing. I'm the youngest in my family and I've only babysat for children about 4 and up. I've literally never changed a diaper! So, my husband and I are taking classes and ordering lots of books!
Yasmin: Will you be taking all your leave?
Julia: Yes, I plan to take all of the paid leave. I could take more unpaid if I need it, but I'm hoping I'll be ready to return after 16 weeks. I'm very thankful for the lengthy maternity leave here at NBC. I was offered a job at another news organization at the same time I was offered this job. I knew I wanted children over the next three to five years, so I took a look at their parental leave policy. The other company only offered four weeks! So that certainly factored into the decision I ultimately made to come to NBC.
Yasmin: Are you nervous/anxious to do so? If so why or why not
Julia: It's a little scary to be taking leave during such a momentous time in Washington. I expect the Senate will begin their trial to decide whether to convict the president right around the time I'm going on leave. But my wedding day was the day after James Comey reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, and I remember thinking at the time that I was missing the biggest story of my generation. Now, that doesn't seem like such a big deal. So, I've learned there will always be news breaking and you have to keep living your life in the meantime.
What also gives me some comfort is that my job as an investigative reporter means digging up original and exclusive news rather than following the news of the day. So stories that are unfolding in front of our eyes, like a trial or election, are actually not the places where I can leave my biggest mark.
Yasmin: How are you preparing?
Julia: Lots of nesting! It seems like every weekend we tackle a new project around the house: painting the nursery, building the crib, making sure the wiring and heaters in our old house are baby-safe. And I'm getting lots of advice from friends and colleagues. But I've also been told there is nothing you can do to truly be prepared, so I'm also trying to pack in some fun times too. Going out for date night, mini-vacations to the mountains, and catching up with friends before the baby comes and takes up all our time and energy.
Yasmin: What has been the best advice someone has given to you?
Julia: The overwhelmingly consistent piece of advice I've received from many women at NBC is to take all of my maternity leave and not feel guilty about it. I've been told that time with my baby will be time I can't get back, but the news will keep going and be here when I return.