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Leona O'Neill: Why the heck wouldn't Jacinda Ardern have a baby and run a country?

New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern is about the become just the third prime minister to give birth in office – anywhere. As a busy working mum, Leona O'Neill wonders what the fuss is about and offers her some advice

Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand and mum-to-be

NEW Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is just weeks away from giving birth to her first child. This is the year 2018 and this is still a huge deal due to the fact that some people don’t think she is up to running the country while nurturing a child.

Announcing the happy news in January, the PM said: “We thought 2017 was a big year! This year we’ll join the many parents who wear two hats. I’ll be PM and a mum while Clarke will be “first man of fishing” and stay-at-home dad. There will be lots of questions (I can assure you we have a plan all ready to go!) but for now bring on 2018.”

The announcement struck me as almost apologetic and one most working mums and mumpreneurs would be no stranger to. She explained that others can manage wearing two hats and so will she, reassured people that her husband would be a stay-at-home-dad so that there is no issue regarding her carrying on with her work and that they had a plan ready to roll, so panic not.

The announcement was met with equal amounts of congratulations and trepidation.

If this was an announcement from a man, heralding his first steps into parenthood, there would be no reassurance needed, no almost apology, just that he is to become a father and sure isn’t it great?

When the prime minister gives birth in June she will be only the second female leader to have a child while in power in recent history. Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto gave birth to a daughter in 1990 and was immediately criticised for wanting to have 'motherhood, domesticity, glamour, and whole responsibility' rather than making sacrifices for her country as demanded of a leader.

That is the thing with women in power, business or careers. They cannot possibly dream of having it all, or having what they want, or having what they have worked damn hard for, if they also happen to be or want to be a mother. Society states, even if we have moved on slightly, that it’s one or the other. It can’t be both. And sometimes, you can’t win, regardless of what choice you make.

Working mothers are vilified for going out to work and leaving their children in creches. Women who run their own businesses are often accused of desiring career success over their children’s well-being. Women who chose to stay at home with their kids are branded scoungers.

The thing is, mothers are the world’s best multi-taskers, which will come in handy when Jacinda comes back from her six-week maternity leave. They are no strangers to stress so nothing – not even the threat of Trump-induced World War Three – will phase her. And this may come as a big shock, so sit yourself down, but they are as equally capable of doing a fantastic job as their male counterparts. Being a woman and becoming a mother does not change that a jot.

Jacinda is a true reflection of modern-day families who just get on with things and make it work for them.

She will be returning to work after her brief maternity leave and her partner Clarke Gayford will become the primary care-giver. A set up mirrored in many houses all over the world.

While babymania sweeps New Zealand, the news agendas are dominated with discussions about her pregnancy. Some have said she will not be able to cope. Others advise that she must take six months off to look after the baby. Others have blamed her for causing heartache to those who struggle to conceive with her high-profile pregnancy. However, the cool as a cucumber PM says she’s just going to get on with things her way.

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

“Certainly when I walk around and step outside my house, I get a few honks and hollers and everyone has been very warm. But again, I don’t take that to mean absolutely everyone in New Zealand is happy. I’ve got work to do to prove that I can fulfil the responsibilities I have, and I absolutely intend to do that and so does the government.”

Working mother to working mother, I wish her all the very best. And I offer this advice to any woman navigating motherhood and work: Listen to your heart and your head, not critics who know nothing of your situation. Whether you are running a business from your living room or running the country, keep going, stay strong and show the naysayers that mothers mean business.

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