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Monday’s city council meeting in St. John’s had a new face — the 11-week-old daughter of Coun. Hope Jamieson.
In the past few years, we have seen images from around the world of women bringing their children to various political chambers, from the U.S. Senate to the Spanish parliament with stops in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Italy and even the United Nations.
I have always wondered why we haven’t seen more babies in the political sphere as — generally speaking — they are fairly portable and manageable when they are younger and not walking.
I said “generally.”
Anyway, we are seeing more babies in the political sphere these days as often there isn’t a maternity leave provision for sitting political representatives.
Sometimes babies decide they want to eat or need a cuddle on their schedule, not mom’s. So if you need to attend a meeting, vote on an important motion, or ensure the people you represent are heard, bringing baby to work makes that happen.
In Hope Jamieson’s case, the councillor took family leave after giving birth. In an interview with CBC this week, she said she wanted to get back to work, and as a breastfeeding mom, she needs to have her daughter close by every couple of hours.
Some meetings, she drily noted, can run more than a couple of hours.
And remember I said portable and manageable? Sometimes babies decide they want to eat or need a cuddle on their schedule, not mom’s. So if you need to attend a meeting, vote on an important motion, or ensure the people you represent are heard, bringing baby to work makes that happen.
It’s great to hear Jamieson say she has received support from council during her early months as a mother.
Some workplaces are far less approving. Almost two years ago, Japanese politician Yuka Ogata was told she could not bring her three-month-old son to a meeting because the rules said visitors and observers were not allowed.
Here in Canada, Parliament has a similar rule — which new MPs have ignored. Here, though, according to the arcane wording of legislative tradition, it’s not observers or visitors who aren’t allowed, but “strangers.”
Aside from addressing policies themselves, the need for onsite daycare, and the peculiarities of the language such policies use, having politicians bring their babies to work offers another opportunity: that of visibility.
In 1987, Sheila Copps was the first sitting MP to give birth while holding office, but Michelle Dockrill was the first to bring her baby to the House of Commons in 1998, just over a decade later.
I was struck, reading the news reports about baby Maggie in the City of St. John’s council chamber, by how important seeing a working mother is.
We have come far, I like to think, from the days when, say, you couldn’t hire a married woman, or a woman had to leave work if she got pregnant. Over the years, maternity leave and benefits have expanded. Many fathers now look forward to taking time to be with their newborns, and increasingly, we see dads take on the full-time stay-at home parenting role previously expected for women.
Somewhere along the way, in between being able to keep your job when married or pregnant, we lost the joy of seeing motherhood in all kinds of spaces.
Women who wanted to move up the career ladder were told to put in their hours and not mention things like having to leave at 5 p.m. to pick up children from daycare or choosing a different date for the presentation because it conflicted with a school concert.
I remember one (childless) woman tell me she didn’t appreciate having to do all the work while parents got to leave “early.”
Early, indeed. Perhaps you need to walk in a parent’s shoes to understand what time management truly is.
I think it is a sign of progress today that we have moved forward from hiding obvious signs of pregnancy behind tents and not talking about the fact you have children and that they (gasp!) have needs to being visible, fashionable and committed to the diversity of roles a person may play in their home, community and workplace.
And perhaps we all need to take a moment and acknowledge how wonderful it is to see a baby in council chambers, and plenty of other places, too.
Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant who remembers with fondness bringing her own baby to meetings. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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