Q&A With Lisa Ling

From the WebMD Archives

Lisa Ling, the globetrotting reporter famed for her curiosity about the plights and pursuits of everyday people, entered the fifth and final season of her investigative series "Our America" on Oprah's OWN network at the end of May. Look for the new mom (to daughter Jett, 1, with husband Dr. Paul Song) to explore the alarming spike in HIV rates within the African-American community, the foster care system in Los Angeles, and the increase in ADHD diagnoses in the U.S. Ling, 40, had herself tested and learned she showed symptoms of ADHD, an assessment that didn't surprise her. She talked with us about how becoming a mom changed how she views her work, herself, and the world.

Your daughter Jett turned 1 in March. Any major milestones to report?

"She's not walking yet, but she's crawling at a furious pace. She's hard to keep up with; she's pulling herself up all over the place! And she's such a hilarious dancer; the second you turn on music she starts dancing. She calls every stuffed animal 'Bear-Bear.'"

You say the world looked different to you as you drove home from the hospital with your newborn. How so?

"Life as I knew it was not the same. I had this life that I'd become responsible for. The way I drove, the billboards I was seeing with scantily clad women … everything was about her. And I felt this desire to protect her from the world. I hope I can do it well."

You had two miscarriages before having Jett. How did you cope?

"When I was pregnant with Jett I was terrified every time I went in for an ultrasound. I braced myself to hear the same words: 'There's no heartbeat.' Until the eighth month I never really calmed down. They were hard, the miscarriages. But the way I look at it is Jett is the baby we were supposed to have."

What has surprised you most about motherhood?

"That I would enjoy it so much, frankly. I never had a desire to be a mother. It just wasn't something important to me. I've always been career-driven; I felt like [my work] was my purpose. But having a child has changed my life. It's brought me incredible fulfillment, a new perspective and purpose. I love it."


What's the best health advice you ever received?

"To eat healthy. It's very simple, but it makes you feel better. When I eat unhealthy, I feel it. It makes me lethargic and slow. My vice is that I'm a coffee addict. All I need is one sizable cup in the morning, but I need to have it. It's the first thing that goes into my body in the morning. I practically have it intravenously! If I don't, I'm a mess."

Tell us what you learned about ADHD.

"I'd always suspected I might have some kind of attention disorder. As a kid I never had hyperactivity but always had focus issues, and I'd work on a billion things at one time, often not completing any of them. I was so scattered. It was difficult to learn of the bona fide diagnosis [of ADHD], but at the same time I felt relieved because it gave me an explanation. There's been an explosion of ADHD diagnoses in this country, and one of the main things I learned is that it's manageable. And people who are diagnosed can lead perfectly normal, productive lives if they manage it early enough."

Do you have a treatment plan?

"Let's just say I'm seriously considering a number of different options. I've been lucky that I've figured out a way to compensate for a number of my shortcomings. I've chosen a career that's allowed me to work on [different projects] simultaneously, which I think helps. I have, for the most part, learned how to manage. At the same time, the doctor I met with had a great analogy. He said, 'If you had impaired vision, you could sometimes drive, and perform your daily activities pretty well. But once you put on your glasses with your correct prescription, everything becomes so much clearer, and you can perform so much better.' That makes a lot of sense. Why wouldn't you want to perform at the highest level you can?"

Your father is from China, your mother is from Taiwan, and your husband's family is Korean. How important is it to share your collective heritage with Jett?


"She understands quite a bit of Chinese. If you tell her to pat her nose or head in Chinese, she does it. We have a nanny who only speaks to her in Chinese, and my mom only speaks to her in Chinese. But it's funny; my mother-in-law only speaks to her in Korean, so Jett's getting immersion in three languages [counting English]. I'm hoping it doesn't totally confuse her! I want to expose her to as many languages as I can while she's young. Travel changed my life, and I'd love for her to be able to communicate in as many languages as she can. I also think it really helps cognitive abilities when [children] are able to comprehend different languages. My biggest regret in life is that I never really got the chance to be immersed in another language."

Your reporting -- on bride burning, sex trafficking, rape in the Congo -- reveals just how brutal the world can be to girls. Any reservations about having one?

"I was so excited because I'm hoping to raise a little feminist. I'm looking forward to girls truly being able to change the world. I think my husband initially wanted a boy. But now he is so madly in love with her! My relationship with my husband has grown so deeply, and part of it is because of the way he is with her. It makes me fall in love with him even more."

Are you consciously taking fewer risks, now that you're a mother?

"I've always done a pretty intensive risk assessment before any shoot that could become contentious. Now that I'm a mother I'm certainly even more diligent about trying to make sure that things are not too perilous."

Does it bother you that male reporters, who happen to be fathers, are rarely if ever asked the same question?

"Oh, yeah! And not just male reporters: Even when I was pregnant I can't tell you how many people asked me, 'Are you going to change your life?' But nobody asked my husband. Not a single person! I think it's unfortunate that women are held to a different standard. But, by the same token, I've made changes in my life because I want to make them. Right now, being a present mother to my daughter is really, really important, and so while I'm still as passionate about my work as ever, I'm just as excited about getting home after a productive shoot."


Your career is demanding. How do you find balance as a working mom?

"I'm not gonna lie! It's very, very challenging. I've worked out a system: I'll travel for maybe 10 days, and then I'm home for the rest of the month. I prefer that rather than nine-to-five, because when I'm home it's totally immersive. I've cut out almost everything else. You'll hardly ever see me out any more at different functions because when I have the opportunity to be home, I want to be home. Jett's become my top priority. She doesn't come with me, because when I'm in the field my schedule is 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and it wouldn't be fair. The best invention ever is Skype and FaceTime. I rarely miss bath time."

Describe your health regimen.

"I'm a pretty healthy eater. I try to do this on the road, although it's difficult. I eat breakfast every morning with eggs or some kind of protein. I try to have three healthy meals a day. I'm very physical. In Santa Monica I do the stairs [a famously steep outdoor climb in the bluffs near the Pacific Ocean] three or four times a week. When I'm traveling, I do stairs in hotels. Especially when it's cold outside. It's the perfect exercise. I'll climb the stairs 25 times. It's a great workout, especially in New York in all those tall buildings."

How do you decompress, with all the travel and deadlines?

"I'm a Netflix junkie. I catch up on my series. There's such great TV on right now. I love going to movies. One of the reasons I don't mind travel is that I use my time on planes to read. I love going to interesting dinners with friends. But most of my free time I'm playing on the floor with my baby."

Describe your perfect day.

"I can't describe just one. When I'm working in the field, whether I'm in a heroin den or working with people who are HIV-positive, or people who have been held captive for years, I'm so fascinated that I love being exposed to things I'd never known about before. But I also derive the greatest amount of joy from just being with my baby and my husband. Sometime we'll spend 5 hours watching cartoons or rolling around on the floor, and those moments give me a tremendous amount of joy."

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine."

WebMD Magazine - Feature Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on April 14, 2014



Lisa Ling, reporter.

Oprah.com: "Our America."

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