We all collectively lost the plot when Jacinda Ardern announced that she’d be having a baby in office. However, we should focus on the normalisation of her situation, as it should apply to all of us.
As a lady in her mid-thirties who recently had a baby and is currently struggling to ride the work/life bicycle, I was completely delighted to hear the news that New Zealand Prime Minister and all-around awesome person Jacinda Ardern is expecting her first child while in office.
Despite the reservations many had back in October about elevating a young, childless woman to the top job, the mood since her announcement has mostly been one of support. Some have even seen it as further proof that pregnancy is, in fact, some sort of untapped superpower. First, there was Serena Williams at the Australian Open, now this! See: women can have it all! A lady is running a country and growing a human! Simultaneously!
But here’s where I think we’re mistaken: Ardern’s pregnancy isn’t an example of a woman having it all. It’s about a woman knowing her capabilities, embracing her support system and stepping up to the challenge, accepting the sacrifices she will have to make along the way. And there will be sacrifices, because no one can have it all, nor should we be pushing a narrative that encourages women to drive themselves into the ground trying.
Having a pregnant lady in the top job can only prove pregnancy and motherhood merely a diversion in a woman’s life rather than an endpoint. Having children is always a massive undertaking, but Jacinda and her baby will be absolutely fine.
There have, of course, been the naysayers, those critical of Ardern’s lovely news. It’s irresponsible leadership and parenting! She must choose one or the other! Lady hormones will make her confused and we don’t want some sleep-deprived person running a country. In essence, all the typical bullshit that women face every single time they decide to squeeze in a bit of “keeping the species alive” between bouts of earning a bloody living.
And while “having it all” makes me cringe, questioning her capacity is far more insidious.
When Jacinda was running, she was asked (multiple times) about her baby plans, a question she insisted was completely unacceptable and would never be asked of a bloke in the same position. Since her announcement, she’s gone out of her way to reassure her constituents that she’ll address all their concerns and that she has things under control.
Why should anyone suspect she doesn’t?
Questioning Ardern’s thinking does more than just belittle her, both as a politician and a parent: it questions her understanding of her own capabilities and limitations, an understanding without which she would not have been entrusted to lead. This woman isn’t an idiot. She also isn’t naïve. She’s simply doing what women have done since time began: taking a situation and making it work. Auckland city councillor Richard Hills had this to say on Twitter after Ardern’s announcement:
Jacinda had an hour to decide to be leader. 54 days to campaign. Her Grandma died 3 days b4 the election. Found out she was pregnant during coalition discussions. Her cat got run over on her first day of parliament.
She kept calm and carried on. Owning her role. She’ll be sweet.
— Richard Hills (@richardhills777) 19 January 2018
But the concern about Ardern’s pregnancy shows that, despite it being 2018, despite all the current fuel and passion behind issues which affect women, we still want to lump females under the one umbrella, we still want them to choose work or family. But women – just like men, funnily enough – come in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of personalities and abilities and experiences and desires. Many women had no interest in having kids. Katharine Hepburn, Helen Mirren and Gloria Steinem. Future President Oprah Winfrey once said that “If I had kids… They would have ended up on the equivalent of the Oprah show talking about me, because something would have had to suffer and it would’ve probably been them.”
Women enter parenthood both willingly and unwillingly, but no woman enters it without being acutely aware that day-to-day life as she knows it is about to change. Oprah – and the others – were grateful to have been given the choice not to have kids, knowing the sacrifices they would have had to make. I’m not sure men face the same dilemma.
I’ve been a mother almost seven months after wanting it all my life. My world is infinitely more beautiful now that my son is in it. But there have absolutely been sacrifices. To my career, to my relationships, to my health. There is no way in hell I could have gone back to work six weeks after having a baby – as Jacinda plans – but then I didn’t have the drawcard (the job of a lifetime) and I didn’t have the level of personal and financial support that she will. Even if I had, would I have been ready? No, I don’t think so. But that’s just me. I know many women who felt they were, who felt – just like fitting your own life jacket first in an airplane – they’d be a better mother once they got themselves back. We have to trust that Jacinda knows what is best for her, her family, and her country.
Shared responsibility. Supported paternal leave. Adequate medical care. Flexible working conditions… Game changers for motherhood. It’s not about having it all. It’s about having the support around you to be able to make your situation work.
We also must realise this is a watershed moment. Having a pregnant lady in the top job can only help prove that pregnancy and motherhood should be merely a diversion in a woman’s working life rather than an endpoint. Having children is always a massive undertaking, but Jacinda and her baby will be absolutely fine – because her partner is being supported to quit work to stay at home. They’ll also have access to the best medical care both during and after birth, care that will be crucial if the PM is to bounce back and return to work six weeks later.
And finally, Jacinda has already stated that the baby will come to work, and travel with her as needed.
Shared responsibility. Supported paternal leave. Adequate medical care. Flexible working conditions. These things are game changers for motherhood. Seeing them in practice on a national level can only help to normalise pregnancy and parenthood in the eyes of employers around the world. It can only help other parents ask what they need from their workplaces when it comes to starting a family. It’s not about having it all – we must get rid of that notion. It’s about having the support around you to be able to make your situation work.
But nothing is without trade-off.
Jacinda Ardern will miss some very big milestones in her young child’s life by not being at home to see them. Will that regret outstrip that of turning down the Prime Ministership purely because she knew she was pregnant? No-one but her can truly know. But this is a woman who was elected to office because people believed in her ability. To lead by example, to inspire those under her, to make tough choices and personal sacrifices to get things done.
In short, to do what mothers around the world do every single day.
I have a feeling she’s going to be just fine.