A Dance Between Two Hearts

It was time for Jacquelyn Martin to drop off her 2-year-old son, and he was distraught. “Look, this is where Mommy’s going to be,” Martin would say, pointing to a picture of the White House on the daycare wall. “Whenever you miss Mommy today, you can come over here and tap the picture and say, ‘That’s where Mommy is’ and know that we’re connected.” Then she reminds herself that as an Associated Press photojournalist who has worked in Washington, D.C., since 2006, she is documenting the arc of political administrations of the United States. That is an important job. Important enough to do what she calls a dance between her two hearts: the heart she has for her son and the heart she has for photojournalism.

Though the dance is worth every step, it is difficult. The stakes are high for Martin to perform these steps well. She is the primary breadwinner for her family of three; her son is closely attached to her and wants her above all others. She must perform at work for economic reasons just as much as for personal desire to contribute to our community. And she feels that she must be present for her son, particularly while he is so young, because “I am raising a potential father right now.”

Martin has traveled worldwide on assignment. She has braved the dangers of riding on a freight train at night with Central American immigrants for a personal project as well as navigated the halls of Congress in search of a nursing mothers’ room to pump breast milk in between assignments. With an infant son who refused to drink formula, pumping and proper milk storage were a necessity.

“Women are pretty hardy,” says Martin, who is quick to point out the error of our heteronormative assumptions. While female photojournalists are often asked to explain how they balance career and family life, men are not quizzed in the same way.

“No one seems to worry about whether the men have families,” Martin says. “That is an extra burden for women in a traditionally male-dominated field like photojournalism.”

The expectation, based on American history, is that men will have a female partner at home who will take care of family responsibilities, leaving them free to pursue career aspirations unencumbered. But when you really analyze this assumption, it quickly falls apart. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 71.1 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 living at home participated in the labor force in 2017. In 1950 the rate of participation was 33.9 percent for all women, with no statistics available to show how many working mothers there were.

Jacquelyn Martin, at 25 weeks pregnant in 2016, before departing on Air Force One. Photo courtesy Jacquelyn Martin

Further, though no one says it out loud, male employees are perceived in a more positive light when they become parents.

“Men, when they have kids, are perceived as, ‘Oh, he’s a family man; he’s got to bring home the bacon. He’s really going to work hard for us.’ While women are perceived as, ‘Oh she’s going to be so flighty and distracted by her kids, and she’ll keep taking time off to be with her kid.’ And what’s the difference?” Martin asks. “The only difference is who is doing the birthing.” 

Martin says that the AP is supportive of her and her family. Still, she concealed her pregnancy until she was almost six months along because she did not want to be viewed as less capable of physical tasks or travel. The AP provides up to 18 months of job-protected parental leave, which is more than the law requires.

She took a seven-month leave and then returned full time, a transition difficult in part because she practices attachment parenting, a responsive style of parenting, which includes extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping. This encourages strong bonds between parent and child, which she loves, but it has made the separation that much more difficult.

There is not an easy answer to address this, which is why the concept of “work/life balance” is problematic for Martin. “It’s like your heart is torn in two different directions,” she said. Each day she must assess and address the needs between news and her family, remind herself of the importance of her work and ask for equal support from her husband. “You’re always trying to do both things to the utmost of your ability. Sometimes it works great, and sometimes it doesn’t.” 

Autumn Payne