War correspondents: conflicted over children

By Allix Denham 

Clarissa Ward

Clarissa Ward

Clarissa Ward is, by anyone’s standards, an extraordinary woman. Now senior international correspondent for CNN, she has reported from Beijing, Moscow and Iraq and has visited Syria several times since the conflict started. She’s 36, speaks six languages and was the 2012 winner of the prestigious George Foster Peabody award. Yet following an article about her move from CBS to CNN, one of the comments read: ‘She’d better freeze her eggs soon.’ Because, as we all know, her life is devoid of meaning until she’s given birth. Sigh.

In her position, given the danger she regularly faces, is having children even an option? Other correspondents, including the BBC’s Kate Adie and Lyse Doucet, and Channel 4’s Lindsey Hilsum, never became mothers.

‘I wanted to travel the world,’ Hilsum told the Daily Mail. ‘Being able to jump on an aeroplane at the drop of a hat isn’t really compatible with being a mother.’

Yet not everyone would agree. Alex Crawford has been Sky News’ foreign correspondent for over ten years, reporting most recently from Libya, despite having four children. ‘When we were in Tripoli, I didn’t talk to my children, and when I spoke to my husband I couldn’t tell him what was going on. I didn’t want to add to his worries,’ she told The Telegraph.

Sunday Times journalist Christina Lamb rode on Benazir Bhutto’s open-top bus through the streets of Karachi when her son Lourenço was eight. Two bombs went off, killing at least 120 people, and she was unable to call home. ‘The battery on my phone had run out,’ she told the Daily Mail. ‘I found out later that Lourenço asked his father: “Do you think Mummy survived?”

The guilt most working mums go through can’t compare with that, surely? For the dangers are all too real, as the deaths of Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin in Syria, and German photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus in Afghanistan, in 2012 and 2014 respectively, proved.

Yet no-one questions a man being in a war zone, as Debora Patta, the South Africa-based CBS Africa correspondent, points out: ‘Having children makes it much harder because you have to think about them without a mother, so you’re a lot more cautious,’ she told the New York Times. ‘People are saying to me, “How can you do that when you have children? Do you really think you should take that kind of risk?” Almost the implication being that you’re reckless as a mother. Men don’t get asked that.’

Whether Clarissa Ward decides to have a family is entirely her business. Let’s just hope that she, and all the other courageous women working in conflict zones, mothers or not, stay safe.


  1. These women belong to what I call ‘the league of strong women’. There is nothing like powerful and courageous women to show other women what is possible.

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