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A War Correspondent Takes On Her Toughest Assignment

NPR correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (right) conducts an interview in the West Bank.
Courtesy of Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
NPR correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (right) conducts an interview in the West Bank.

When I discovered I was pregnant, I realized it was time for a change of pace. I'd been covering conflicts around the world for 12 years. The plan was to retreat to balmy Miami where my family is, have my baby and just slow down for a bit.

My husband was taking time off; I would have plenty of extra help if I needed it. While pregnant, I fantasized about the tender, quiet moments I would share with my daughter, her suckling contentedly while I cooed.

"How hard could motherhood be?" I blithely thought.

It actually sounded relaxing. Nothing like covering Mexico's drug wars, Iraq's insurgency or the uprisings of the Arab Spring. I'd been shot at, threatened with kidnapping and death, spent countless years in places most people would do anything to avoid.

Then my daughter, Cassenia, arrived, beautiful and healthy. But those tender, quiet moments didn't follow.

Feeling Helpless

Within her first few hours, I felt I was failing at my very first responsibility as a mother. I couldn't feed my child. Initially, breast-feeding was a soul-destroying struggle that left me desperate and my daughter hungry.

As I looked down at my newborn daughter, I'd never known such fear. The tiny being that I created relied solely on me for her survival. And I had no idea what I was doing.

And it slowly dawned on me: This is the hardest thing I'd ever done.

Yes, it fills spaces in your heart you didn't know existed. Yes, you will love your child more than anything in this world. But dealing with a newborn is brutal.

I was used to pulling all-nighters reporting on breaking news in insalubrious surroundings. I've even been woken up by rockets hitting my hotel in Baghdad. It never fazed me.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro and her daughter, Cassenia.
/ Courtesy of Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
Courtesy of Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro and her daughter, Cassenia.

And yet, in the middle of those long nights with my daughter, I prayed for a reprieve.

After years of covering detention facilities, it took having my child to begin to understand why some consider sleep deprivation a method of torture.

An Apology

So now seems like the appropriate time to apologize to all my friends who have children. I realize that while childless I was thoughtless, rude, arrogant and judgmental.

In particular, I'd like to apologize to a former neighbor in Jerusalem. Several years ago, she complained rather aggressively that I was playing my music too loudly at 10 p.m., and it was disturbing her children. I wasn't very polite back. I now realize she was clearly exhausted, and now that I am also exhausted, I'm ashamed. Karma is cruel.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well for me, it's taking a medium-sized town. And if I'd had my way, that town would be completely populated at every corner by pediatricians and caregivers.

For guidance, I've delved into the massive industry of books that give advice on child-rearing.

I've looked online for a nurturing community of fellow mothers to provide support.

It's been a revelation.

I've lived in places without running water, so it came as a shock to discover that in America you can find people who will come to sleep-train your child; they will shop for your baby items; or they will even get your dog accustomed to the new baby — they are called doggy doulas, and yes, it's a real profession. Everyone will tell you they have the magic formula to solve whatever problem you are having with your child.

Drawing On The Past

What is helping to keep me afloat in the tsunami of new parenthood is a simple mantra born out of my experiences in some of the most violent places on Earth.

I remind myself every day how lucky I am. I have seen the worst humanity has to dish up. Every time a Syrian story appears, I think of some nameless mother trying to comfort her screaming child. But unlike my daughter, her child is in mortal danger and is probably startled by the bombs and the bullets — and not the beeping of the microwave.

I chose to cover conflicts because I felt it was important to bear witness. And I paid the cost at times. I've suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing one too many suicide bombings, and lost friends in war zones. There are plenty of dark places in this world.

But today, as I look at my daughter, she seems luminous, holding all the world's light in her little form. All the fear and the worry is dispelled by her glow.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.