In January of 2015, I happened upon an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled, “What Can a Pregnant Photojournalist Cover? Everything.” It was written by Lynsey Addario, a photographer who has covered most major conflicts around the world since 2001. The difference between her and her male colleagues is that she also did it while pregnant.
This was rather humbling for me, the mother of a one-year-old, who was still attempting to work part-time. Journalism in a war zone with a baby at home? Now that takes “working mom” to a new level. The story stuck in my mind, and I couldn’t wait to read her memoir, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, which has recently been released in paperback (November 2016).
Addario’s memoir is about her work—a story that is harrowing, adventurous, important, and dangerous. She takes the peril in stride and clearly sees it as a necessary hazard of her business. But no matter how stoic Addario is, being fired on by the Taliban while on a military embed is a big deal. So is being kidnapped—twice—once in Iraq and another time in Libya. The stories go on, and any reader will feel a new sense of appreciation for what journalists go through to get a story.
She takes pains to say that she is not reckless, and all of the risks she takes are calculated, but the fact is, she sticks her neck out nearly every time she covers a story. Addario is deeply committed to bringing the truth about what goes on around the world—a story of human suffering, terror, hope, and humanity—back to readers in the US. However, this is a treacherous calling. There are occasions when she escapes death by minutes. She describes being without adequate water for days in Sudan. The conditions are extreme.
This brings us to a central question in the book: how does she navigate the risks and responsibilities of her profession, which often mean being gone for months at a time in unsafe places, with having a personal life? Is it reasonable to ask a partner to wait around while she’s gone 300 days a year? Is it fair to ask a child to wait that long for his mother? Are there some jobs that preclude having a family? Is this a question only women must ask themselves?
The personal and professional are intertwined in this book. Addario shares about intimate partners, family dynamics, and private needs. I was as captivated by this part of the story as I was by the details of her work. Why deny that a person is more than just a career—important though it might be? Why deny that females have challenges (i.e., pregnancy) that a man would never have to consider? It made the story richer, and it contextualized the danger, and sacrifice journalists make—that the person risking her life is someone’s daughter, friend, wife, mother.
After a series of failed relationships and lost lovers, Addario finally meets her match with her husband, fellow journalist, Paul de Bendern. He understands that what she does for a living is more than an occupation; it’s part of her, a true calling. Still, he longs for a baby, and after her terrifying experience being kidnapped in Libya, she agrees. The three months after her son’s birth keep her at home, but then she’s off again, chasing the story. A helpful husband and a dedicated nanny make it work, but as it is for any parent, striking the right balance is a challenge.
So…can a female war photojournalist have it all? I recommend reading Lynsey Addario’s memoir to find out.
Q: Do you think women face more scrutiny when they try to balance demanding jobs and families? Why or why not?