Yahoo Journalist and Veteran Mother: Stephanie Sy Tells All
We just need to get it out there: you looked amazing in our Ellen Dress at the Talking Motherhood Event! How did you feel in it?
As soon as I slipped on the dress, I felt more graceful and feminine. I haven’t been nursing for several years, so I didn’t have a chance to try out the handy breastfeeding feature, but I marveled at how well-camouflaged the access points were! It’s the kind of beautiful, versatile, and comfortable piece I would wear regardless of the bonus booby pockets!
You've reached great success in your career. Tell us, what was your journey to becoming a broadcast journalist like?
Journalism runs in my blood. When my mother immigrated to the US from Taiwan, it was to get a graduate degree in journalism from a top J-school. She ended up having four children (starting in her early twenties with my eldest sister) instead of pursuing her ambitions to write for a newspaper. I view my career ambitions as part of the arc of my mother’s own life; I am an extension of her, and she passed on her interest in news and current events to me. I was editor of my junior high and high school newspapers, and as a young girl, envisioned myself as the brainy Lois Lane-type. As it happened, my first journalism job was in television and the rest is history! One of the aspects of being an anchor I love most is the challenge of thinking on my feet during breaking news events when you have no script and are forced to learn the facts almost simultaneously with broadcasting them. It is a terrific (and initially terrifying) test of an anchor’s own wit, experience, and, importantly, ethics. It’s also those moments at which my decades-long experience reporting from the field pays off in the controlled chaos of the studio.
You recently moderated an impressive panel of working moms at Mitera’s first Talking Motherhood Event and opened the talk in an interesting way: tell us more about that!
I wanted to moderate the panel in a way that was much more intimate and personal than the way I might approach other panels I’ve participated in. I opened up the discussion candidly--with my own personal story and struggles. I won’t repeat the story here, since I preconditioned the panel on “what is said here, stays here,” and I’d like to keep it that way! But, I think mothers in that room felt an immediate closeness once it became clear that we were not there to try to present our “best selves” but to just be ourselves in all of our flawed, but fierce glory. Then I asked questions on issues that I was genuinely curious about, which is what guides most of my interviews with newsmakers. The women on the panel were all smart, self-reflective, and so generous with their own honest feelings. It was wonderful.
We loved how candid your input was; it was inspirational to all the women there. Share with us, who or what inspires you?
I am very much inspired, comforted, and challenged by the teachings of Pema Chodron, a Western woman who became a Buddhist nun in her thirties after going through marriage, divorce, and children. I first read one of her books “When Things Fall Apart” when I was in college. I picked it up again after becoming a mother, and read teachings from her other books on a daily basis. I even have a little pocket-sized book of her teachings to remind me to remain in the present, worry less, and to be grateful. But nothing has inspired me more or has brought me greater visceral joy than my daughter. The way she points out the size of the moon whenever she sees it, the way she spontaneously bursts into song or makes up games to play no matter how mundane the environment...I hope what she has is catching!
You had your daughter five years ago, what was it like being a working woman throughout your pregnancy and after?
Let’s just say my daughter was hesitant to leave the womb. She was a week late. I had it in my mind that I should avoid medical intervention to induce because I had heard it led to a slippery slope that would end in an unplanned C-section. Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans... In the end, I was in labor for more than 24 hours, pushed for 3 hours, and they still had to surgically get her out. It was hard to come to grips with the delivery for awhile. The breastfeeding was easy, then tough, then really tough. We did well with it for several weeks, then my baby started sleeping for five to six hour stretches. I got lazy, and instead of waking her up to feed her or pumping out the milk (which never came with ease), I just kept sleeping until she would wake up for the next feeding. My breasts became engorged, then infected. It was pretty awful. I had a high fever and pain and had to go to the ER. No one had warned me about it, and yet all the pressures from the medical experts, and the research I had read kept weighing on my feverish brain. As painful as it was, I kept trying to feed her for weeks but scarcely any milk was coming out. It was torture for both of us. The pressure on breastfeeding mothers has become another form of suffering that we women inflict on each other and ourselves. Breastfeeding is cheaper, more practical at times, and healthier for the baby in general, but doing it at all costs is counterproductive in my opinion.
What do you think are some of the biggest joys and challenges of modern motherhood?
I think the joy is what has always been true of motherhood--the experience of unconditional love between a mother and child that is psychic and sublime. The challenges of modern motherhood are country-specific, and in the US have a lot to do with the lack of support systems, including affordable, quality childcare. This country makes working motherhood (and fatherhood) a gut-wrenching, soul-tearing daily grind. We all expect so much from the modern mother, but meeting those expectations with a complete lack of societal and structural support is impossible for many women.
Is there any external support you wish you had to help with the challenges of modern motherhood?
I often wish I were closer to my sisters and mother, who live on the West Coast. It has often occurred to me that motherhood would be so much less fraught if we had more of a village system. I have good mommy friends in Manhattan, and that helps, but sometimes I dream of living in a more communal way. The goals of Mitera seem to speak to this part of me that wishes for more community with like-minded career moms.
Now that your daughter is a bit older, what's next for you as a journalist?
It’s hard to say what’s next. With mobile and smartphone technology--not to mention social media--the news business has been seriously disrupted. My hope is that I will continue to be able to make a living as a journalist and not be replaced by a robot!
Last question! - what has been the most surprising thing about motherhood so far?
The most surprising thing is the reserves of patience I did not realize I had when I interact with my daughter. Especially when I’m trying to get her to practice her violin! I know, I know, I’m such a Tiger Mom ;-).