MSNBC Anchor: It Took A Serious Fall With My Baby To Change My Life
Working the night shift, back in the 1990s when she was with CBS news, Brzezinski would return home in the late mornings, relieve her babysitter and try to raise her two young kids on little to no sleep, and didn't stop to prioritize her life until she took a tragic fall down a flight of stairs -- while holding her four-month old baby.
Now, her two daughters are 11 and 13 years old, and Brzezinski's had time to reflect back on motherhood, jotting down her cautionary tale in her debut book "All Things at Once."
ParentDish spoke with the busy news anchor, via telephone, about the lowest moment in life and not always being a good mom.
ParentDish: Your book is about some of the mistakes you made early on in parenthood. What was your biggest mistake?
Mika Brzezinski: Not admitting that I can't do it all and that I need help at times. And not realizing that even my children need to be put on the back burner sometimes in order to get through the workday. When I was younger, I tried to be supermom, superwife and superworker. But I had a job that challenged my sleep -- working all night from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. -- and I didn't recognize that there were times when I couldn't be all things to all people. As a result, I had a terrible accident with my infant daughter.
PD: Was that when you fell down the stairs?
MB: Yes. And, to this day, I blame myself for that. I can't blame my job for being too hard; I can't blame my baby for keeping me up at night; I can't blame anyone but myself for trying to do too much.
PD: What exactly happened?
MB: I had worked all week on the night shift, like I did every week. It was a lot, plus trying to raise a toddler and a newborn, and trying to keep great relations with my husband. It started to build on me and I stopped sleeping -- even if I took sleeping medicine I couldn't sleep. I was too nerved up, my body was out of whack, I was breast-feeding, I was emotional and I think I had postpartum depression. I kept trying to make everyone happy. That day, I came home from work and I tried to sleep but couldn't so I decided to let the babysitter go home early. I picked up the baby and I was talking 100 miles an hour. I walked right off the top of the stairs. We landed at the bottom with me on top of her.
PD: Do you remember what was going through your mind as you were falling?
MB: It was a horrific moment. I just knew that something really bad was happening. It was like being in a very bad car accident and knowing that you weren't going to get out of it okay. I knew I had hurt her and I knew it was bad.
PD: What'd you do when you finally landed?
MB: I scooped her up. I looked at her and she wasn't crying, which I knew was a very bad sign. I rushed her to the hospital but they couldn't find anything wrong with her. I kept telling them I thought I hurt her head or broke her neck. I was so focused on her head that they gave her an MRI but they found nothing wrong and sent me home. The doctors said she was okay but I knew in my heart she wasn't. I called my husband who told me to call the pediatrician. The doctor told me to put her on the bed and he walked me through an exam. On the phone with him I got this chill throughout my body and I realized she wasn't moving. He said to get back to the hospital and he'd call to let them know I was coming. I rushed back to the ER and they weren't ready for me. They told me to sit down but I explained to this guy that I was just there and that my baby was in really bad shape. He gave me papers and told me to take a seat. That's when I completely lost it; I grabbed the guy by his neck and I shoved him against the wall and I said, "You better f*****g understand what I have to say right now, this baby needs to get in the x-ray right now. And if you don't put her in, I'm going to kill you."
PD: That's what any mother would do!
MB: The staff rushed around us and started to wonder if I should be tranquillized. I was shaking from head to toe. They put the baby on the table and realized she wasn't moving. Then they started considering the fact that she might have spinal cord damage. They were poking her with needles and trying to make her respond. Long story short, it was hours and hours of waiting and people rushing around. I finally got the news that it was just a broken thighbone and she had probably gone into shock from the pain, which explained why she wasn't moving. I had lived this window of time thinking I had paralyzed her. It was the lowest moment of my life.
PD: Was that when you realized you were doing too much?
MB: Absolutely. I wish it didn't take that to get me to that point. My advice to women is to listen to your body and to make it work for yourself. And sometimes that means not being the perfect mom and not being there for your kids every second of the day. If you've got a career that you need to nurture, there are going to be times when you need to transfer your authority to others. I will forever regret that I didn't get help sooner so I could get through that rough patch in my career.
PD: Did you ever think about leaving your job and staying home?
MB: My husband didn't want me to quit that way. He wanted me to leave on my own terms -- not because of an accident. And I still wanted to nurture my career.
PD: So you got help raising the kids?
MB: We got a ton of help and almost went broke paying for childcare. We literally had nothing left at the end of the week. For about a year, I worked like hell on the night shift and worked to get a job that made more sense for everybody. It sorted itself out and I eventually got another job at MSNBC during the day.
PD: During that year, did you do anything to make the little time you had with your kids more special?
MB: No, and stop trying to make me say I was the perfect mom.
PD: Oh, sorry. That's not what I meant.
MB: There were days I had five minutes with them. I'd hug and kiss and love them but then I'd have to go to sleep because I was exhausted. There were days where I was not a very good mom at all. There were days I was not present. But that's reality.
PD: What about your relationship with your husband? How did you keep that going strong?
MB: That was one of the reasons we got into this mess. I was trying to be perfect for everybody. On Fridays, I'd come home, try to sleep, go running, shower, get pretty for him, get the kids ready and be the perfect wife at the door with candles and dinner on the table. He told me to stop and that he didn't need that stuff. We've since grown together and gotten a lot more comfortable working together to get things done.
PD: Now that your kids are older, what do you tell them when you can't make it to watch one of their activities?
MB: I tell them the truth. There are many things that I cannot attend because of my job. I just told my daughter today that I'd make it to her chorus event but I'd be arriving late and I'd be in the very back row. So far they don't complain.
PD: Just to be sure -- your youngest daughter's okay now?
MB: She's great. She's a spunky, smart kid who constantly reminds me that I broke her leg in attempts to get me to buy her stuff.
Brzezinski's book "All Things at Once" comes out on January 5.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.