The Great CNN Baby BoomPoppy Harlow
hen Brianna Keilar saw her CNN colleague Pamela Brown adjust her dress just so, she became suspicious. “We were sitting on set, and she sort of tugged it out, like pulled it away from her body a little bit,” Keilar, a D.C.-based senior political correspondent and anchor, remembers. “I don’t know that anyone else would have noticed it, but I noticed it because I was doing it myself.”
She approached Brown with a hunch.
“Sure enough, our due dates were like 10 days apart,” says Keilar. From then on, “we would talk about our ultrasounds and our symptoms, and what was interesting and what sucked.” They even appeared on air together in May, prompting at least one viewer to point out how rare it is to see two noticeably pregnant women anchoring the news.
The double-bump moment reflects a phenomenon that’s gone mostly unnoticed: At least eight of its most high-profile anchors, correspondents, and reporters are expecting or have given birth in the past year and a half, and that’s counting only staffers in New York and Washington, D.C., where the vast majority of CNN’s weekday programs are produced.
“It’s like a sisterhood,” says congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty, whose daughter, Roosevelt, turned 1 on Memorial Day. “It’s bonded us as coworkers and friends like never before.”
Aside from their packed schedules and intimate knowledge of how it feels to get jerked around by a presidential Twitter account, what CNN’s moms and moms-to-be have in common is an implicit understanding of what it’s like to be in their position—journalists trying to keep up with a whiplash-inducing news cycle while dealing with the physical and emotional toll of pregnancy and motherhood.
“You’re just more tired than normal some days, and some days you do have pregnancy brain—that’s a real thing—but you can’t afford to not be on your A-game covering this White House,” says Brown, who gave birth to a boy last month.
“I felt like I was in the back of a taxicab 24/7,” says national correspondent Brynn Gingras, who is expecting her first child in September. These days, the problem is not morning sickness but exhaustion. She recently parked herself in a folding chair outside the Loews Regency Hotel in Manhattan, where Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer who is under FBI investigation, has been staying. “I just looked ridiculous, but I was like, I need it. I’m so hot and I’m tired. I looked like I was at a sporting event in the middle of Park Avenue.”
For CNN Newsroom anchor Poppy Harlow, who returned from her second leave in April, being pregnant on live TV wasn’t necessarily trying in the physical sense—both of her pregnancies were relatively easy, though she did pass out on air during her first one. But there was still the matter of having such a personal time in her life up for public consumption: In December, when she was eight months pregnant, a spokesperson for anti-choice Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore told her that Moore would protect “babies like yours in the womb,” as opposed to his opponent, Doug Jones, who would support “killing them.” “Let’s leave my child out of this,” Harlow told her.
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Despite the challenges they’ve faced, the women at CNN say it’s helpful to have others in the office who can relate.
“We talk,” says OutFront anchor Erin Burnett, whose third child is due in August. “‘You also are dealing with things like childcare—how does that work? And what’s your schedule?’ I think maybe a different generation, people didn’t have those conversations in the same way that they have them now.”
Serfaty remembers calling Keilar and Brown as soon as she heard they were pregnant: “I was hopefully one of the first to come and say, ‘How can I help you? Let me share some of my experiences.’” She handed over her sleep schedule (“which I’m going to treat like the Bible,” Brown says), shared her registry, and passed along a book on delivery and birth.
“There’s so many of us!” says Gringas, who has turned to her colleagues for advice on everything from breastfeeding on the road to maternity leave. “You get good perspective on all those questions.”
Thirty seconds to air. “Just so you know, he hasn’t signed anything,” anchor Kate Bolduan tells her four panelists as they take their seats. They’ve arrived during a commercial break, about 10 minutes into her show State of America, which began shortly after President Trump said he would sign an executive order mandating that migrant families be kept together when they’re detained.
“They weren’t cages,” André Bauer, the former Republican lieutenant governor of South Carolina, shouts. “They look like what I put my dog in,” Mike Morey, former communications director for Democratic senator Chuck Schumer, responds. They’re debating what to call the metal fences behind which kids are kept at the border.
When they cut to break, a panelist asks Bolduan, who’s been back from maternity leave for about two months, how her youngest, Delphine, is doing. “Baby’s great,” she says. “Amazing.”
It’s a jarring transition, and a reminder of how emotional covering the news can be sometimes, especially to a journalist who, like Bolduan, has young kids.
“I’m pretty stoic on air, pretty no-nonsense,” she tells me from a couch in her office, where we convene after her 2:30 p.m. show wraps. (She also anchors At This Hour at 11 a.m.) “But the moments that break me are generally when it comes to children.”
“I can’t be there for every playdate, I can’t be there for drop-off and pickup. But I am very passionate about being a strong example of what a working woman can do,” Bolduan says. “Cecelia’s imaginary play is already ‘grabbing my briefcase and going to work’—and there’s nothing that makes me more proud.”
Before our time is up, I ask Bolduan to address one seemingly dark spot in her early life as a working mom: She was replaced on New Day, the show she co-anchored with Chris Cuomo for more than a year, while she was on her first maternity leave.
Timing-wise, she concedes, it wasn’t ideal. “My whole life is changing with my baby being born. And then my career is changing at the same time. It was a lot,” she says. “But I’m an eyes-wide-open-in-this business kind of girl. And it was a business decision. It was not a personal decision. To be honest, I took it as a challenge to prove myself even more.”
As many working moms will tell you, maternity leave—if you’re fortunate enough to have it (CNN offers 12 weeks paid)—is not a vacation. You’re learning how to take care of a totally dependent human, getting reacquainted with your body, dealing with hormones. On top of that, if your job is to report the news, it’s almost impossible to disengage from work.
Gingras admits the idea of stepping back worries her. “Everyone I’ve talked to who has children has been like, ‘No, you’re not going to want to do anything but stare at your baby,’” she says. “But I feel like I’m not going to want to be totally out of the loop, because then you have three months of catching up.” It doesn’t help that two of her beats—Michael Cohen and Harvey Weinstein—are unfolding as we speak. Weinstein, she notes, is back in court on her due date.
“There were moments that I was not plugged in at all, where the most news of the day was, ‘Did she smile for the first time?’” Serfaty says. “But there were other moments where, I have to say, I was very connected to the news.” When her daughter was 2 weeks old, for example, she brought an iPad into the nursery to watch former FBI director James Comey testify on Capitol Hill (“a huge story in my beat”).
“My husband snapped a photo of it and said, ‘This is for posterity,’” she says. “I thought that was so meaningful, because I didn’t want to miss this moment in history, and I felt very strongly I didn’t want her to either.”
CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas, whose son, Leo, turned 1 earlier this month, remembers her beat exploding while she was on leave. “Who could have ever thought that this #MeToo movement would sweep Hollywood in the way that it did?” Melas says. “I was watching it all unfold breastfeeding from my couch, almost intimidated about how I would jump into the conversation when I got back.”
Within two weeks of her return, she published a report in which eight former and current House of Cards employees claimed Kevin Spacey created a “toxic” work environment through an alleged pattern of sexual harassment. (In the wake of multiple sexual assault allegations, Spacey said he was seeking “evaluation and treatment.”)
In May, she and another reporter broke a story in which eight women, Melas included, accused Morgan Freeman of inappropriate behavior and harassment. According to Melas, Freeman made suggestive comments, including “You are ripe,” to her when she was six months pregnant and covering a publicity event for his movie Going in Style. (Freeman issued a statement apologizing to “anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected.”)
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“Breaking the Spacey story was the best thing that could have ever happened to me as a working mom,” she says, “because it reaffirmed that what I’m doing matters. From that moment, I went full steam ahead and I was like, ‘I have made the right choice to be a working mom.’”
“My first maternity leave, there were a couple big breaking stories that I missed, like the Ebola crisis,” Bolduan says. “When I came back this time, it’s like 750 major breaking stories had happened since I was on leave. By choice or by necessity, I did not unplug this time during maternity leave. It’s really impossible to. And I didn’t want to.”
Harlow, meanwhile, took a different approach this time around, scaling back almost completely. But even then, she interviewed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Columbia University five days after giving birth to her son, Luca. The invitation came when she was three months pregnant, and she turned it down at first because she thought she might be in labor the day of the event. “They came back to me and said, ‘Are you really saying no to interviewing a sitting Supreme Court justice?’” The university promised a backup reporter, and she accepted.
“But here’s the crazy thing,” she says. “I’m sitting on the stage, interviewing Ruth Bader Ginsburg—and wearing a diaper. Any woman who has had a baby will understand this. You have to wear, like, Depends after the baby is born.”
She remembers people telling her she was “superwoman” after the interview. “I’m like, If you only knew. I tell you this at the risk of grossing people out. That is what it’s really like to try to ‘do it all.’”
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The concept of “having it all” or “balancing it all” is something that more than one mom or mom-to-be at CNN brings up in her interview, despite it being something of a taboo subject for working women.
Bolduan says CNN’s former chief political correspondent Candy Crowley advised her accordingly: “She said, ‘Kate’—and this was before I had kids, before I was even married—‘You can have it all. You cannot have it all at the same time.’ It meant something then and it means so much more now, which is: Don’t have unreasonable expectations of yourself. Sometimes something’s gonna fall through the cracks at home. It probably means you are killing it at work. Something might fall through the cracks at work. It means you’re being supermom at home.”
Harlow remembers getting a similar lesson from a female CEO. “I’m not having it all right now,” she says, “but I’m having a lot of good. Not a lot of sleep, but a lot of good.”
The wall behind her desk is lined with family photos and a framed copy of a USA Today story she wrote about learning to say no after becoming a mother. (Her older child, Sienna, is 2.) Beside her chair are a couple of commuter bags, one with a Post-it reminding her to “pack milk and ice.” She tosses a pair of gray Native toddler shoes onto the heap—a gift from Keilar, whose stepson has outgrown them.
When Keilar and I talk, it’s been just a week since she gave birth to her son, Antonio. He’d arrived almost a month before his due date, healthy if a bit ahead of schedule.
“I got up from a nap and thought, Uh, that’s weird,” she remembers. “Either my water is breaking or I’ve developed some severe incontinence.” She called her husband, who was in Japan, a friend she’d designated as her birthing partner, her doctor, and her producer.
Then, as she was cooking for her geriatric dog, Rico, it happened: “I had a movie-style moment of my water full-on breaking on the kitchen floor,” she says. She packed a bag and headed to the hospital. Her husband arrived the next day, 40 minutes before Antonio was born.
“It’s the craziest time,” she says. “You’re dealing with so many hormones and keeping a tiny thing thriving…Work has not popped into my mind once in the first week of maternity leave—I will say that!”
Perhaps that will change, at least a little bit, eventually. After all, about three weeks after we speak, CNN announced that Keilar will anchor a 1 p.m. weekday show in the fall. But, for now, she’s sitting in bed, “totally un-showered,” having just breastfed her newborn.
“I’m staring at a sleeping little baby,” she says. “Life is good.”