Well now, that’s hardly a headline is it? How many millions of pregnant women are working at this very moment? You might have done it yourself; you might be doing it right now. But what if that pregnant woman is the leader of an entire nation?
image via http://www.labour.org.nz/
Last week Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, announced her pregnancy in a post featuring a photograph of three fishhooks, including a tiny baby fishhook curled into a larger Mama fishhook (her partner, Clarke Gayford, is known for his love of fishing). Ardern explained on Twitter and Instagram:
“And we thought 2017 was a big year! Clarke and I are really excited that in June our team will expand from two to three, and that we’ll be joining the many parents out there who wear two hats. I’ll be Prime Minister AND a mum, and Clarke will be “first man of fishing” and stay at home dad. I think it’s fair to say that this will be a wee one that a village will raise, but we couldn’t be more excited. I know there will be lots of questions, and we’ll answer all of them (I can assure you we have a plan all ready to go!) But for now, bring on 2018.”
And just like that, in the age of politicians making casual social media announcements, Jacinda Ardern is set to take her place in an exclusive club of heads of government who have had babies while in office. The only other Prime Minister in this club being Benazir Bhutto, who, in 1990, gave birth to her daughter, Bakhtawar, while serving as Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Of course, not everyone is a fan of Jacinda Ardern. She is a politician after all, it’s an occupational hazard. Some voters were terrified this is exactly what would happen if we allowed a woman of a “child-bearing age” to lead the country. In fact, Ardern was only chosen to lead her party, Labour (oh, the puns will be great!), only 54 days out from the national election. Then, during the election, Ardern’s party did not receive the majority of votes, they went to the incumbent National party. Talk about being behind the eight ball. Following the election Jacinda managed to form a coalition with smaller parties, New Zealand First and the Green party, which made it possible for Ardern to become Prime Minister of New Zealand on the 26th October 2017. In the space of less than one year Ardern will have become leader of her political party, Prime Minister of New Zealand and first time Mum. Did I mention that Ardern is the world’s youngest female head of government, having taken office at age 37?
I’ll admit it – I had tears in my eyes when I read Ardern’s baby announcement. Various personal politics aside, I know many women who reacted exactly the same way. Clearly there’s nothing new or unique about pregnancy, but this declaration felt special. Special and important. A Prime Minister is saying to the world it’s possible to be a leader and a woman, a leader and a Mum, that we can (and will) do these things despite resistance or in the absence of precedent. Ardern’s example, with her partner Clarke Gayford, demonstrates so many things: that ambition and family are not mutually exclusive, that fathers can parent well and equally and that it’s high time for old gender stereotypes to be shattered.
While writing this my three children (all daughters) have interrupted me approximately forty-five times. It’s summer school holidays and the weather is bad, the tensions running high. One daughter is currently wearing a winter hat and a swimsuit with a jammy muesli bar stuck on her index finger. When I explained to them what I was writing about (and why I had tears in my eyes) my eldest daughter, age seven, simply shrugged. She was completely unfazed by the news that the leader of our country is going to have a baby. Her attitude said it all – “who cares?” I briefly felt a bit sad about her apathy. But then I realised – this is exactly the point. A pregnant woman is just doing her job. This is no big deal. This is my daughter’s normal. And isn’t that just the best thing about it?