Other Articles from Yvonne Ndege
Yvonne Ndege : My Career or My Baby?
When I first found out I was expecting Baby Safari in December 2013, I spent endless nights worrying about how I would cope with working in the grueling, competitive, male dominated, 24/7 travel and on-call, profession that the 24 hour TV news business is. Where over 90% of the women are single, divorced, and without children.
As the West Africa Correspondent for the Qatari-owned TV network Al Jazeera, based in Abuja, Nigeria, I knew it would not be easy. But I didn’t anticipate the magnitude of the first professional dilemma I would face upon returning to work in January 2014 after 7 months maternity leave in London when Baby Safari was just 5 months old. I would have to choose between my job and my baby!
1st Assignment After Maternity Leave: Charlie Hebdo
My first assignment was a trip to Paris to cover the terrorists attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in which 12 people were killed by Islamic extremists. The call to travel came just 72 hours after the end of my maternity leave, on January 8, 2015. I wondered whether the assignment was a nasty test of my commitment from my employers. Or an attempt to show I just couldn’t cope being a TV Correspondent and mother to young baby, too.
Even though I had a wonderful live-in Nanny from Kenya who had just arrived in Nigeria, there was no doubt at that very instance that I was choosing my baby by taking Safari with me to France. I was not ready to leave her in her own beautifully decorated nursery and bedroom across the hall from my own bedroom even one night. Let alone be a 6 hour flight away on a different continent, with a different time zone, for an unknown length of time. So off I went to France, baby in tow and 4 suitcases!
Family to the Rescue
Fortunately my parents live London – they dropped everything and traveled to France to meet us, picking Safari and I up at the airport. They watched me dash to work as they were left holding the baby. Between live television reports from across Paris on the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and rising terror threats, I would dash back to the hotel every 2-3 hours to check on my Baby Safari and my parents.
Balancing Career Opportunity & Breastfeeding
And most importantly to breastfeed her. My breasts were constantly and uncontrollably filling up with milk. I needed to be with my baby for relief from the physical discomfort too. No words can describe the feeling of relief here. And it was during our time in France that Safari also had her first taste of formula milk – as I was working such long hours, there were times I could not dash back to the hotel to breastfeed her. Fortunately she loved formula!
I felt awful about having to leave her to go to work. But I recognized this was a career defining opportunity and story that I had to be a part of for my career. I guess my actions demonstrated that mothers CAN do this! But clearly with a lot of help from my family. After 8 grueling days and nights for me. And fun for Baby Safari who’s stay involved visiting the beautiful tourist destinations across the city. And buying designer baby clothes with her grandmother – we were heading back home to Nigeria. Assignment done.
I shed a few tears on the Air France flight back. Pent up emotion, I guess. And the guilt of having to leave her to go report what some crazies in Paris had done. Baby Safari played during the whole flight, completely oblivious to the fact that she had just zigzagged two continents and only seen me for a few hours for the last 8 days, for the first time in her short life.
President Goodluck Jonathan & Baby Safari
Since returning to base, Nigeria, thankfully no similar stories or trips have taken me away from my baby. Though I had one night away in March, which resulted in an interview with Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan. I fondly told the Mr President I had just had a baby. In fact, I told him all about her and talked constantly about her. And told President Jonathan that I had wished I been able to bring her along to meet him. He seemed slightly amused by my excitement but was very gentlemanly and understanding. Probably because he’s a father too.
I called home that night and told Baby Safari that it was only because it’s the President I’m not coming home tonight. And of course, I could not sleep all night. My Nanny and her Dad later told me that in sharp contrast to my feelings of sadness from detachment. Safari slept through her first night without me and was completely ignorant to my absence.
So what has helped me cope as a career Mum after 3 months back at work? Having a present and supportive father to baby has been the most important and tremendous thing for me and Safari. I fundamentally believe that only Baba Safari cares for and loves Safari as much as me. So having him around and at home often. Giving Safari a bath, or reading her a book before bedtime has been a huge weight of worry and anxiety off my mind – when there’s breaking news all over the place and I’m stuck at work. Having any supportive adult around at home is so important as a new mother if Dad is not around. Secondly, having an excellent Nanny.
I’ve been extremely lucky to have Monica from Kenya. She’s loving, caring and professional. And I have no shadow of a doubt in my mind that she is giving my baby good care when I’m not around. The simple but profound truth about becoming a mother is that life goes on afterwards. It’s special to you. But not really to anybody else. Most of us have to and want to work and continue our careers. When you have a baby though your values are realigned and you have to balance the demands of work and career, with the needs of your baby that only you can discharge. It’s hard to strike the perfect balance. And having a demanding career and you baby is difficult. I often do have pangs of emotional angst.
Wondering whether Baby Safari knows I’m her Mum or just another face in the crowd. Whether she prefers to be with her Nanny Monica, or me!
Whether she’s being held or fed correctly. I try to spend as much time with her as humanly possible when I’m not at work. Having a schedule helps. So even if I am – I can pop home and do one of her activities with her. Whether it’s playing music or giving her a massage, or doing her hair. I’m a lot more focused at work now. And 10 times more efficient. Lol. I want to get stuff done quickly and run home to my baby. Much more no nonsense when it comes to the clock. I’m still very much at the beginning stages of being a career Mum. And I know it’s not going to be easy. I know there’s are challenges ahead. But I’ve resolved to take it day by day.
Journalism in general is hostile to parenthood – and in particular mommy hood. Particularly as the face of Al Jazeera covering West Africa. But so far it’s been amazingly positive. Being a mother has impacted my career positively. I had to become a mother to interview the Nigerian President again! Only the second time in 6 years. I feel like I can handle any professional challenge thrown at me.