After the harrowing birth of her second son Monty, NBC News White House Correspondent Carol Lee is back at work and reporting on everything from the Ukraine invasion to the Iranian nuclear deal. Seven-month-old Monty, who was born with a rare congenital heart defect, is healthy and home with Lee in Washington, D.C.
But instead of suppressing her experience and dusting it off, Lee, 44, is sharing her birth story. She hopes to spread awareness about working mothers who face traumatic births, and to advocate for women to take the time that they need.
“To me it’s helpful to hear the ugly stuff. It’s important to hear that it’s normal to have a difficult time, and that you don't have to smile your way through it,” Lee told Know Your Value.
After his birth, Monty underwent surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia due to transposition of the great arteries, or TGA, a condition in which critical cardiac arteries have switched sides. Monty had difficulty breathing and eating when he was born, requiring feeding and oxygen tubes.
Lee herself underwent a difficult birth. She suffered from placenta previa, a condition in which the placenta covers the cervix, causing internal bleeding. Ultimately, she needed a blood transfusion and a C-Section. At one point during the ordeal, she lost consciousness.
“I had lost a ton of blood and my blood pressure dropped through the floor. When I came to, they told me that Monty was not doing well, and I had a panic attack,” said Lee.
Thankfully, Monty’s surgery was successful. Nine days after his birth, he came home, where he has been thriving alongside his older brother Hudson, 8, Lee’s husband Lt. Col. Ryan Harmon, and the family dog, Pancakes.
“His heart is in a good place. We’re onto regular baby problems, crying a lot, waking up throughout the night,” said Lee.
Lee’s own recovery has been steady but difficult. Her husband returned to military life after Monty’s birth and worked up to 19-hour days. For the most part, Lee watched the two kids alone while her body healed from the trauma.
“I have a great network of friends who are amazing, but if there was one thing I would do over, I would have gotten more help,” said Lee.
But Lee was able to take off for six months before returning to NBC News, which was an enormous help.
“I’m fully comfortable with saying what I need to be best at my job. I wouldn't have been good at my job coming back in four or three months,” she said. “Because I had this time, I didn’t have to come back distracted.”
This maternity leave was a stark difference from her first leave from a different company, which was completely unpaid. At the time, she was also a single mother.
“My credit cards were maxed out, I was missing rent payments. It was a different experience giving birth to Hudson eight years ago. It’s probably more similar to what a lot of women go through than my recent experience,” she said. “We have a very long way to go, but I do believe we’re trending in the right direction when it comes to paid leave.”
After Lee and Harmon got married, they wanted to have a second child together. Lee was in her 40s and considered high-risk. She underwent a crushing miscarriage in 2019, and decided to undergo in-vitro fertilization.
“It took four rounds of IVF. I was giving myself hormone shots in the White House,” she said. “Monty is really our miracle baby.”
Lee said she gained 60 pounds during her pregnancy and cringed a few times when she had to appear on camera. But she didn’t let it slow her down.
“It has never crossed my mind not to work. I love my work, and my work has always been me,” she said.
Since Monty’s birth, Lee has primarily been working out of Washington, D.C., since the president isn’t traveling very much due to Covid-19. Juggling childcare is still a challenge—recently her son Hudson had to stay overnight in the work hotel accommodations with her. But she’s not complaining.
“I feel so blessed and lucky - and it doesn’t always have a happy ending for other women,” said Lee. “There were babies in there who were there for months or years waiting for heart transplants. It’s just a constant reminder that it could always be harder.”
Reliving her birth experience made Lee choke up. But she was determined to share her story in order to give other women permission to do the same.
“I think the more women who talk about it and keep it real about what it’s like to go through this experience, the better things will get,” said Lee.