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Baby boom in White House briefing room is far from fake news

Updated December 15, 2017 - 3:27 pm

WASHINGTON — Love is in the air in the White House press briefing room — or it was months ago around those who practice their craft in the close quarters with its 49 coveted seats. There is a briefing room baby boom.

Three reporters — Ronica Cleary of D.C. station Fox5, Jessica Stone of CGTN, a network based in China, and Anne Walters of Germany Press Agency DPA – have to squeeze through the throng with pronounced baby bumps. Kristin Fisher of Fox News just joined Ayesha Rascoe of Reuters on maternity leave.

Others may be pregnant, but not clearly showing, and, really, who dares ask?

Call the phenomenon The Other Trump Bump. Could it be that being a White House correspondent in the Trump White House is more effective than visiting a fertility clinic?

Theories that tie periods of upheaval to increased birth rates readily present themselves, but may not stand up to scrutiny.

The “blackout baby boom” after the lights went out in the Northeast corridor in 1965 apparently is an urban legend. However, a 2014 University of Oregon paper reported that a monthlong blackout in Zanzibar was followed by a significant increase in the number of births eight to 10 months later, although according to the abstract the linkage to electric power is unclear.

Post-campaign interlude

For White House correspondents, the end of the 2016 campaign provided some couples with some down time after the journalist halves covered a grueling campaign.

Walters cites the demographics – “your peak child-bearing years coinciding with your peak journalism years” – but also noted her husband and she thought it would be nice to conceive after she covered the 2016 campaign.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who is a mother of three, has no theory on the timing on the briefing room baby boom. She offered, “There is nothing better in the world than being a mom, so I am not surprised by all of these women who are pregnant and I think it’s great these women are able to work and be moms.”

Walters and Stone covered the Obama White House while they were pregnant with their first children. The briefing room was different, they say, not nearly as crowded.

“You have to squeeze your bump around a lot of people just to get in the room,” Walters noted.

“The briefing room has doubled or tripled in size in terms of density,” said Stone.

(It is considered a matter of fact in the briefing room that for all his grousing about “fake news,” President Donald Trump has served as a one-man employment plan for political journalists.)

Crowds mean that for reporters not assigned to a seat it is standing room only in aisles shared with cameramen and dotted with broadcast equipment — and it’s no picnic maneuvering into a seat.

Crowds also can make for cranky workers. At one point this year, a visibly pregnant journalist challenged a conservative scribe comfortably seated to offer her his chair if he believed in family values. He did not budge.

Perils of the bump

Fisher found the biggest space challenge involved the Fox News booth in the basement. It’s the size of a van — which meant she and her bump often knocked people on the way to a seat.

Worse than the crowded aisles is the time spent working in the pool. Since White House rooms are not large enough to accommodate the whole press corps, and similar restrictions exist during travel, designated representatives for print and broadcast news organizations are ushered into West Wing meetings to witness brief remarks and perhaps shout a question.

“You have this narrow strip” to stand in, Stone noted. She is “very grateful” for a time when Communications Director Hope Hicks made way for her in a particularly tight venue.

“The closer I am to the end of my pregnancy,” said Stone, who is due in February, “the more I appreciate the deference.”

With weekend, late night and early morning tweets, the Trump news cycle can be unforgiving. “It’s an additional layer of challenge,” Stone offered, “trying to stay focused, but also cut yourself some slack.”

The next issue is maternity leave. “It is hard to step away from such a great story,” Walters admitted.

And then there’s the return to work. How will they do it? A first-time mother-to-be, Fisher responded, “I look forward to the moment when I can say I’ve figured it out, because I have not yet.”

When the moms return to work, expect the breast pumping room in the basement to be in high demand. It’s in the booth that also hosts the Christian Broadcasting Network and Canadian Broadcasting Network.

With all these White House pregnancies, will there be any little Donalds, Melanias, Ivankas, Tiffanies or Barrons in the future? Don’t bet the farm on lot of little Donalds. Walters answered, “We’re big on family names,” from her own family.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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