New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Friday that she is expecting her first child.
The news spurred curiosity about how the recently elected leader will balance leading a country with being pregnant, and later raising a child.
But parenting expert Ann Douglas, from Peterborough, Ont., says that those questioning whether a nation’s leader can also be a mother are overlooking all the progress working moms have made.
“We’re seeing a lot of CEOs and women in upper management ,” Douglas told Global News. “They’re still in the minority, but that says more about the constraints that are put around women in general, as opposed to any lack of ability.”
The 37-year-old leader, who took office last October, was also quick to reaffirm her commitment to her job while speaking about her pregnancy at a press conference.
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“I’ll be a prime minister and a mum,” she said, noting that the child is due in June.
“I am not the first woman to work and have a baby. I know these are special circumstances but there are many women who have done it well before I have,” she added.
The politician’s pregnancy is one of the very few examples of an elected leader holding office while pregnant, and the first in New Zealand’s history. Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto gave birth while she was prime minister in 1990.
Ardern has set out a clear plan for the weeks following her child’s birth — she will take a six weeks off, during which the country’s deputy prime minister will take charge. Once she returns to work, her partner, Clarke Gayford, will be the child’s full-time caregiver.
Even with the plan in place, Ardern faced questions on how she will manage both demanding roles.
“I am not the first women to multitask,” she told reporters.
Working moms and Canadian politics
Ardern’s announcement was met with enthusiasm from politicians around the world, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Environment minister Catherine McKenna tweeted a quote from the expecting mom, saying the prime minister’s outlook on being a working woman was “spot on.”
In Canada, there has only been one female prime minister and none that have been pregnant in office. But female members of Parliament have faced the challenges that come with being mothers and working politicians.
Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould is expecting a child, and will soon be the first member of the federal cabinet to give birth while in office. The House of Commons still doesn’t have a formal policy in place covering maternity leave, something that Gould said should probably change.
WATCH: Karina Gould pushing for a maternity leave policy
The 30-year-old Ontario MP recently told Global News that she’s “working out” how she’ll balance her responsibilities at home and at work.
“It’s important that we have that diversity of who we are as Canadians, and … it’s kind of novel that I’m pregnant and in politics, and I’d like that to be more normal,” Gould said.
NDP MP Christine Moore has two children, and has also been outspoken about the challenges of being a mother and politician. But she told Global News that it’s possible — for MPs and leaders of a country — to be mothers.
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Moore said that countries have plans in place, and people such as deputy prime ministers or vice-presidents, to take over in cases such as this.
She added that being a mother is politics is difficult, and the idea that Ardern will disappear from public life for six weeks and not care for her country is laughable.
“It’s not true that even though we are taking maternity leave that we are totally away from the job, and totally free to think about something else,” she said.
“This is not true. It’s not true for politicians, it’s not true for businesswomen, it’s not true for a number of people that cannot just close the door between work and personal life. It’s not easy.”
Her advice for Ardern: stay organized, seek help and support, and remember to be patient.
“Even though it’s crazy sometimes to be a mother and a politician, you have to remember that almost every new mother for the first time, they feel overwhelmed.”
Challenges faced by working moms
While women can be mothers and politicians, Douglas says the challenges that come with juggling both roles shouldn’t be underestimated. Rather, they should be tackled together.
“If you’re in a job with long and sometimes unpredictable hours, and lots of travel, you would need to have a partner or other family support that’s behind you 110 per cent,” the parenting expert said.
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“That’s what makes it possible. You look at it as a family challenge.”
But Douglas added that the issue as a whole of women feeling like they have to choose between motherhood and career, is too big for one family to solve.
“It’s just not a problem that any individual family can solve for themselves, it’s an issue that has to be tackled at the societal level,” she said.
“If we want women in Canada to be able to run for municipal politics, or to be able to run in provincial or federal jurisdictions, then we have to put in place the supports that make that possible.”
She said that means things like providing maternity leave, and affordable child care options.
— With files from Global News reporter Monique Scotti and Reuters
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