Jacinda had a baby which is remarkable because she is the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Contrary to historic opinion, women who are powerful can also be feminine. Now we have a prime miniature and her name is Neve Te Aroha. Aroha is a Māori word for love – a big sort of love. It is compassion, kindness, empathy, affection. The sorts of things a woman might feel towards her country and its peoples as well as her daughter. Women have babies quite often but this woman and this baby are special and it is ok for them to be special and not like the rest of us, because we can’t all run countries. Some of us have to run companies, build cathedrals, run errands, hold safe spaces, fly planes, make school lunches, save lives, kiss it better, create beauty, sit in the front of the bus, and generally just get on with it.
I was a kid when Jenny Shipley became the first woman prime minister of New Zealand, and Helen Clark, the second, led our country throughout my teenage years. My Mum had a sticker on a dented blue suitcase that read “Women Can Do Anything” and I grew up in a time and a country that allowed me to believe it.
(As an aside: I met Helen Clark when I was 14, during a Model United Nations conference for teenage
nerds global thinkers. I’d bought a can of Coke to have with my lunch beforehand and I was wearing a white skirt, so it was inevitable that I accidentally tipped the Coke into my lap instead of my mouth. This would have been fine had I not been about to shake hands with the prime minister. I turned the skirt round so the brown stain was behind me, which was slightly less noticeable but possibly more mortifying were someone to notice. I ended up “casually” tying my jersey around my waist like someone who didn’t care about looking presentable to meet Helen Clark and I was so embarrassed I don’t even recall shaking her hand, I only recall waiting in line thinking about the brown stain on my butt.)
I already had a kid when Jacinda announced her pregnancy; my lifelong membership in the motherhood club was confirmed. It’s not a club you join and then leave after the trial expires, once you’re in – you’re in, no matter what. I felt like we mothers were welcoming her into this club – she became more accessible to me by being new at something I was already doing. She became one of us.
Our Prime Minister met the Queen of England in a flowing golden gown and a korowai with the prime miniature prominent in her uterus, and she looked for all the world like she was, in fact, the queen. Jacinda took maternity leave (unlike Benazir Bhutto, then-Prime Minister of Pakistan, who had to keep her pregnancy a secret and go back to work the day after giving birth), and after that Jacinda breastfed her daughter at the United Nations. Jacinda acknowledges that she has significant resources and support to enable her to parent her daughter and lead our country at the same time, instead of trying to pretend that we could all do it all if we just tried harder. Women can do anything – but none of us can do everything, and nor should we.
I know quite a few families where the father is the primary carer, like Jacinda’s partner Clarke. It’s not that they are revolutionary in their family arrangements, but that they are so visible, and unapologetic. They didn’t offer excuses for being unmarried. There was no question that her job took priority over his for now, even though he has a successful career too.
Nearly three years ago the Very Stable Genius Donald “Covfefe” Trump became the President of the USA which was (and continues to be) a bad thing in a world that seems substantially bullshit, and less than a year later some other white man resigned as leader of the Labour Party of New Zealand a mere two months before our election, which was a good thing. Jacinda Ardern became the leader of the Labour Party and then she became the prime minister, and there was some hope again. I had an election party the day Jacinda didn’t get elected. It wasn’t much fun, as parties go, because she didn’t get elected. Thankfully that mistake was later corrected. And then! THEN she went and had a baby! As if she wasn’t already amazing enough, with the kindness, strength, and intelligence that shapes her work.
I mean, have you seen babies? Have you sniffed one lately? They are really small and soft. They have a way of tearing you wiiiide open and I don’t mean during birth. Their existence causes you to feel things in a way you didn’t before. Babies are really important for humanity and I don’t mean the literal propagation of the human race. I mean they are important for our humanity. Babies are good for the soul (feel free to disagree if you’re sleep-deprived), and since Jacinda is the Prime Minister, her baby is sort of good for our collective soul. Jacinda is continuing the legacy of other famous mothers, by making motherhood more visible, by making power more maternal, by making politics more kind, and by allowing us to celebrate and witness the coexistence of grace and fierce mahi.
Jacinda had a baby and now we have a prime miniature, and her name means love. Big love.