Progress in the flesh - Jacinda's pregnancy

So it’s common knowledge down under that the Prime Minister of New Zealand is going to become a Mum for the first time this year. This is a pretty big thing given she only discovered she was pregnant in the days before being confirmed as Prime Minister.

The other big piece of the puzzle is that it will be her partner, Clarke Gayford who will look after their baby as the full time caregiver, while Ardern resumes her job 6 weeks after the baby is born.

Radical in terms of historical significance, this will be the first time a head of state will give birth while in power in almost 30 years. The last time was the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, who had a baby in 1990 while in power. She too was a modernizing figure, popular domestically and an advocate of women’s rights and democracy.

Photo - Wix

Yes, Jacinda’s pregnancy and domestic situation is unorthodox in the political world but it is obviously not the first time a woman has given birth while assuming a demanding career role. We have also seen before male Prime Ministers become fathers while being in office – take Tony Blair for example. The birth of a child to a male head of state normally does not garner the type of attention this political baby is getting, and I can’t imagine the father to be being subject to the myriad of questions about multi-tasking or juggling work and parenthood that Jacinda has been.

So naturally the news is attracting a groundswell of attention, but from where I sit the dominant view is one of unequivocal support – as it should be. As Jacinda herself has said:

“I’m just pregnant, not incapacitated,” she said. “Like everyone else who has found themselves pregnant before, I’m just keeping on going.”

I did a quick informal survey of peers at a 40th birthday party in the weekend – deep in the heart of dairy farming country in rural New Zealand. Not a scientific poll, but the general consensus was that of course this is fantastic for New Zealand society and above all, for women as a collective group. It is also a fantastic for ‘stay at home Dads’ given Gayford’s role in the parenting puzzle.

This pregnancy and the overwhelming positive way in which it has been received reflect the increasingly progressive nature of New Zealand culture and society –flipping the status quo on its head by reversing the role expected of a mother – and one in a hugely demanding role.

While it shouldn’t be news when you pick apart the pure facts and take away the prime ministerial role, it is still a trailblazing moment that is being celebrated internationally. A working mother or ‘stay at home Dad’ is far from a new thing in general society – so many people have been there, done this. It’s news because it’s the first time this has happened to a global female leader of a country in a generation.

Photo - Jessica Podzebenko

But from a group of working mothers of multiple children, there was also the frank acknowledgement that while Jacinda and Clarke will become the pin-up couple for flexible parenting and gender equality, it will still likely be rather hard work for both of them, particularly Jacinda. And that’s just on a day-to-day parenting level, let alone factoring in the media attention their situation will attract.

Any first-born baby is a massive change for a mother, and throwing in a job as leader of New Zealand would invariably test the most together, resilient and capable of women. But just because the road might be hard, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be taken. I personally find taking the easy road never quite delivers the same sense of satisfaction as does overcoming the odd hurdle and challenge along the way.

This baby and the circumstances surrounding its birth and early years of life will, I believe, show that women can and do hold ‘big’ jobs and become a Mum at the same time, and raise the child by any combination of parents and loving caregivers they choose. This will all hopefully inspire other women to do the same - kick some career goals and in doing so, nudge us closer to well and truly breaking that glass ceiling.

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