COVER STORY

Lara Giddings made plenty of sac­ri­fices to serve the state – in­clud­ing giv­ing up on love and hurt­ing her chances of hav­ing kids. But now, with a loving part­ner by her side, her dream of be­com­ing a mum will soon come true

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Up Front - WORDS SALLY GLAETZER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MATHEW FAR­RELL

Lara Giddings opens up about her ca­reer, re­la­tion­ships and be­ing preg­nant at 44

The nau­sea re­minds Lara Giddings of a 10-week voy­age to Antarc­tica 20 years ago, when she was in­vited aboard the ice­breaker Aurora Aus­tralis. This time the sick­ness is of the poorly named morn­ing va­ri­ety: a 24-hour-a-day queasi­ness in­di­cat­ing the 44-year-old for­mer pre­mier is joy­ously preg­nant. Our in­ter­view lo­ca­tion is the new MACq01 ho­tel and Giddings hap­pens to be look­ing across to the or­ange hulk of the Aurora as she re­flects cheer­ily on her in­abil­ity to hold down much be­sides plain white rice. As with Antarc­tica, the end re­sult more than makes up for the dis­com­fort of the jour­ney. And, she notes, “you al­ways feel so much bet­ter af­ter a good vomit”. Her smil­ing hazel eyes are strik­ing as they re­flect the glit­ter­ing wa­ter.

Through­out her par­lia­men­tary ca­reer, Giddings has been pro­tec­tive of her pri­vate life, never al­low­ing in­ter­views at her home or even pho­to­graphs, as many politi­cians do. How­ever, she has made no se­cret of her de­sire to have a fam­ily and has been vo­cal in en­cour­ag­ing other ca­reer women not to leave it too late.

In re­veal­ing her news ex­clu­sively to TasWeek­end, Giddings, who is now about a month into her sec­ond trimester, wants to em­pha­sise the re­al­i­ties of try­ing to start a fam­ily post-40. She speaks can­didly about the up­hill bat­tle she faced in fall­ing preg­nant, and her thank­ful­ness at meet­ing a part­ner who was will­ing to try for a baby early in their re­la­tion­ship.

“I feel if you’re go­ing to be an in­spi­ra­tion to young women and hope­fully young men as well, it’s im­por­tant they get the whole pic­ture,” Giddings says. “You can have a very suc­cess­ful ca­reer that’s very ful­fill­ing, but if you do want to have chil­dren you have to think about how you bring them into your ca­reer plan.”

She aims her mes­sage at men as well, not­ing women can be en­cour­aged by their part­ners to put off ba­bies un­til all the travel, house and ca­reer plans have been ticked off.

A re­al­ity Giddings wants to drive home is that for women in their mid-40s, the chances of con­ceiv­ing us­ing their own eggs are slim. Women should start early or, if that is not pos­si­ble, con­sider freez­ing their eggs – prefer­ably by age 32 – to keep their op­tions open, she says. Giddings went through 12 months of IVF hor­mones be­fore con­ced­ing her body was no longer pro­duc­ing eggs.

“It hasn’t been an easy jour­ney,” she says. “Part of that was com­ing to terms with the fact I had gone into per­i­menopause, prob­a­bly through the stress of be­ing pre­mier and the work­load that it car­ried. For me, it was a griev­ing process, com­ing to terms with the fact I couldn’t have my own child with my own egg.

“But through the gor­geous gen­eros­ity of women out there who have been pre­pared to do­nate eggs, that has given me and Ian a choice to cre­ate our own child with the help of a donor.”

Giddings’ part­ner of about two-and-a-half years is Ian Mag­ill, 40, a Syd­ney-born phar­ma­cist who grew up in Queens­land and set­tled in Tas­ma­nia 12 years ago. He owns a phar­macy at Geeve­ston and a health-food shop at Huonville. The pair first crossed paths at a pub­lic meet­ing when Giddings’ La­bor gov­ern­ment was still in power. Mag­ill spoke out at the meet­ing against a health pol­icy that af­fected the avail­abil­ity of cer­tain med­i­ca­tions and he re­mem­bers rolling his eyes at the typ­i­cal politi­cians’ re­sponse Giddings pro­vided. She, on the other hand, was im­pressed. “I re­mem­ber him be­ing quite feisty with me and think­ing, ‘Oh, you’re quite nice, I quite like you’,” Giddings says. “But he was mar­ried and I saw the wed­ding ring and thought, ‘Oh well, you’re out of bounds’.”

While pre­mier, Giddings gave up on find­ing love. “I did have a re­la­tion­ship while I was pre­mier and it wasn’t easy be­cause if you go out for din­ner ev­ery­body’s look­ing at you,” she says. “When my part­ner at the time came to a film open­ing with me and ended up in the pa­per with the head­line ‘Who’s Lara Giddings’ man?’ I think that was very dif­fi­cult for him to deal with,” she says. “When that re­la­tion­ship broke down I guess I gave up on even try­ing to look for a part­ner.”

When she and Mag­ill met again, brought to­gether by a shared pas­sion for le­gal­is­ing medic­i­nal cannabis, his mar­riage had ended. Giddings, as a shadow min­is­ter, had rel­a­tively more time on her hands and was less in the spot­light. Her elec­torate of­fi­cer played the role of “wing wo­man” and lined up a date. “I got off a plane from China to a text mes­sage to say, ‘I’ve found you this re­ally gor­geous, in­tel­li­gent, sin­gle, hand­some phar­ma­cist, would you like to have lunch with him on Wed­nes­day?’” Giddings says.

Whether this lunch was their first date is a point of friendly con­tention be­tween Giddings and Mag­ill. In fact, he jokes that they “painfully agree on al­most ev­ery­thing – ex­cept the num­ber of dates we’ve had”. In his view it was not a date be­cause they were “chap­er­oned” by the match­mak­ing staffer (“She knew I would bolt if she didn’t come along,” Giddings says).

How­ever, he did ar­rive with half a dozen red roses. “It’s dif­fi­cult meet­ing a per­son who is strong and prob­a­bly knows ev­ery­thing about ev­ery­thing,” Mag­ill says. “So I went to the florist and said, ‘I need some roses, but I don’t want it to be a ro­man­tic ges­ture’. The florist just looked at me and laughed.”

The Cen­tre­point florist who armed Mag­ill with six “non­ro­man­tic” red roses no doubt played a role in how swiftly the re­la­tion­ship moved. As Giddings says, when you are over 40 and keen to have a baby, there is no time to play hard to get. “He hadn’t even got back to his truck (af­ter the lunch) be­fore I texted him ‘I’m free Fri­day night if you are’” she says.

For Mag­ill, this baby will be num­ber five. He has nine-year-old twin boys, Oliver and Christopher (Kiki), Gin­ger, 6, and Jax­son, 2. The older chil­dren live with their mother in Vic­to­ria, while Mag­ill and Giddings have Jax­son ev­ery other week.

“I think it’s amaz­ing,” says Mag­ill of his soon-to-be-ex­tended fam­ily. “It was pretty much from our first date that we talked about it (try­ing for a baby) which is a bit strange.”

To clar­ify, it was over din­ner at Mures Up­per Deck, not the chap­er­oned lunch meet­ing, when Giddings spoke of her re­gret at not hav­ing chil­dren.

MY ONLY RE­GRET WAS NOT BE­ING ABLE TO HAVE CHIL­DREN

“It came out of a con­ver­sa­tion about pur­su­ing our dreams and I said to him how my only re­gret was not be­ing able to have my own chil­dren and he turned to me and said, ‘Well, you’re not too old’,” she says.

“Luck­ily for me I’ve found a man who loves chil­dren, who was will­ing to go down a path with me very early in our re­la­tion­ship.”

Within months they were vis­it­ing IVF spe­cial­ist Bill Watkins’ Ho­bart clinic. “I think that was our fourth date,” Mag­ill jokes.

Giddings an­nounced in May she was stepping down at the next elec­tion, re­fus­ing to bow to in­ter­nal La­bor party pres­sure to re­tire early to make way for for­mer MP David O’Byrne.

O’Byrne is once again run­ning for the seat of Franklin and a pre-elec­tion re­turn to Par­lia­ment could have helped his chances. “I wanted to be able to choose my own time to re­tire and not have other peo­ple push me out,” Giddings says.

She has ex­pe­ri­ence in star­ing down her de­trac­tors within the party. Ahead of the 2014 elec­tion, in the wake of gloomy polling, Giddings faced pres­sure to hand over the role of pre­mier to O’Byrne. La­bor was on the nose af­ter form­ing an al­liance with the Greens, and O’Byrne, a min­is­ter at the time, was seen by some within the party as the only hope of sur­vival. Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, there was no lead­er­ship chal­lenge and O’Byrne lost his seat when the Hodg­man Lib­eral Party won gov­ern­ment.

“I don’t think like that,” says Giddings at the sug­ges­tion her re­fusal to re­tire early was payback for the ear­lier un­der­min­ing of her lead­er­ship. “Pol­i­tics is pol­i­tics and I don’t hold any grudges.”

Af­ter her party’s de­feat in 2014, Giddings con­ceded the role of La­bor leader to her deputy Bryan Green. While she says this was po­lit­i­cally bruis­ing at the time, in hind­sight she is grate­ful. “It gave me 12 months to get over the adrenalin you have pump­ing through your sys­tem as leader and it en­abled me to cre­ate the space in my life to meet Ian,” she says. “I look back and think, ‘Thanks Bryan’.”

Po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Kate Crow­ley at the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia says Giddings is be­ing too gen­er­ous. “The treat­ment of Lara Giddings was misog­y­nis­tic,” Crow­ley says. “She was Tas­ma­nia’s first fe­male pre­mier, she did a skilled job of lead­ing mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment, but she was ex­pected to stand down as thanks. She topped the poll in Franklin and then was bun­dled out.”

Crow­ley says Giddings’ achieve­ments in steer­ing the state through the tu­mul­tuous post-GFC years and an in­her­ited bud­get mess have been “en­tirely glossed over”. “This sends a poor mes­sage about the na­ture of Tasmanian La­bor. It also sends a poor mes­sage to other fe­male lead­ers,” she says.

Giddings will not hear a bad word about the party she joined at 18. And while she has spo­ken be­fore of the ex­tra ef­fort she had to put in be­cause she was a wo­man, she says she never faced the out­right misog­yny di­rected at for­mer prime min­is­ter Ju­lia Gil­lard.

It is worth not­ing, though, it was al­ways men who dubbed Giddings “La La” while she was pre­mier. This fairly lame at­tempt at an in­sult stemmed from Giddings’ mild but stub­born re­fusal to go back on un­pop­u­lar poli­cies such as sav­age health cuts, which she saw as vi­tal to im­prov­ing the state’s bleak fi­nances. “I ac­tu­ally started call­ing my­self La La as a lit­tle girl be­fore I could say Lara so it never both­ered me, that sort of pet­ti­ness,” Giddings says.

She in­her­ited the role of pre­mier from David Bartlett in early 2011 but it was Bartlett’s pre­de­ces­sor Paul Len­non who taught her the most about back­ing her de­ci­sions and fronting an an­gry crowd. In 2007, as health min­is­ter, Giddings copped abuse at a par­tic­u­larly heated pub­lic meet­ing about the clo­sure of a ru­ral health fa­cil­ity. She brushed off po­lice ad­vice and stayed un­til she had spo­ken to the last per­son in the room. Out­side the hos­pi­tal some­one let off fire­crack­ers at her feet.

It was all wa­ter off a duck’s back for Giddings, who grew up in Pa­pua New Guinea amid ri­ot­ing and vi­o­lence, fol­lowed by the vastly dif­fer­ent but also bru­tal world of an elite board­ing school for girls in Mel­bourne. By the time she was first elected in 1996 at 23, the youngest wo­man to be elected to any par­lia­ment in Aus­tralia, she was pre­pared for the rough and tum­ble of pol­i­tics.

“I was 12, go­ing on 13, when I was sent to board­ing school and I think that’s part of the rea­son I’ve been able to de­velop a tough skin,” she says of the school­yard bul­lies who de­rided what she calls her “goody two shoes” na­ture. “One of the things that got me through was, ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, names will never harm me’, and I’ve car­ried that through­out my life.

“The other was, ‘I’ll run my own race’. I was the kid who didn’t have Levi jeans and when all the other girls were shav­ing their legs I re­fused to. If they slipped out on a Satur­day night and went night­club­bing I would stay back at the board­ing house and say, ‘If that’s what you want to do, you do that, it’s not my scene’.”

Giddings’ older sis­ter Sonya was four years ahead at Methodist Ladies Col­lege and re­calls young Lara’s “dogged re­fusal” to bow to peer pres­sure. Their fa­ther, a mag­is­trate in PNG, and mother, who set up the is­land na­tion’s pro­ba­tion­ary ser­vice, had taught the girls to steer their own path. “She was strong enough never to sway to that pres­sure and she was bul­lied for that,” Sonya says. “I re­mem­ber one girl who was a real bully. But Lara was al­ways well-liked and held in high re­gard.”

Even now, Sonya notes she has never heard any dirt on her sis­ter, which is quite re­mark­able for a politi­cian in a small city. She ex­pects this may have some­thing to do with Giddings’ leg­endary abil­ity to hold her al­co­hol, a trait that proved use­ful while she was pre­mier, par­tic­u­larly in places such as China where down­ing whisky shots is a rit­ual of diplo­macy.

For­mer eco­nomic ad­viser Richard Dowl­ing agrees with Crow­ley that Giddings’ achieve­ments as pre­mier have been largely over­looked. Her at­tempts at bring­ing in mar­riage equal­ity and eu­thana­sia laws in Tas­ma­nia failed, but Dowl­ing ar­gues his old boss played a key role in “build­ing up mo­men­tum” for change.

“She pur­sued those so­cial causes at great po­lit­i­cal cost,” says Dowl­ing, re­fer­ring to those who wanted Giddings to stick to core gov­ern­ment busi­ness. “For more po­lit­i­cally minded peo­ple that was a frus­tra­tion, but she was iron-willed. She had a de­ter­mi­na­tion. She al­ways said, ‘I don’t know why we can’t do more than one thing at a time’, and, ‘If it’s not a pri­or­ity now, when is it?’.

“Those big so­cial is­sues do take a long time and I think when we look back his­tor­i­cally she will get a lot of credit for start­ing the de­bate.”

The baby is due in Fe­bru­ary, which is ideal tim­ing given the elec­tion is likely to be held in March, al­though the Gov­ern­ment is hold­ing the ex­act date close to its chest.

At Bel­lerive’s Abun­dance cafe (their Howrah home is still off-lim­its), Giddings and Mag­ill are to­tally at ease in the pub­lic eye. Hold­ing hands on top of the table, they speak openly about the joys and chal­lenges of “com­pli­cated fam­i­lies” and their plans for the fu­ture.

While Giddings will main­tain an ac­tive be­hind-the-scenes role within La­bor, Mag­ill, who only re­cently joined the party, is con­sid­er­ing a tilt at pol­i­tics. “I have to give Lara a break first,” he has­tens to add.

See­ing them so loved up, I can­not help ask­ing if they have any plans to marry. It is clearly some­thing that has come up in pri­vate be­tween them but which they are not keen to spill the beans on just yet.

“It’s not some­thing that’s in our thoughts at this point in time,” says Giddings, diplo­mat­i­cally, af­ter some gen­tle rib­bing of her part­ner. “Who knows what the fu­ture holds, but Ian and I have a beau­ti­ful re­la­tion­ship, he’s got beau­ti­ful chil­dren who have come into my life as well, and there are enough com­pli­ca­tions for us to work through at this point in time.

“Be­sides, I would want it to be a sur­prise if he ever pro­posed to me. I don’t want to be the mod­ern wo­man who pro­poses to the man. I’m a bit old-fash­ioned like that.”

They are re­fresh­ingly not old-fash­ioned in their par­ent­ing, though. Giddings and Mag­ill say their new son or daugh­ter will al­ways know they were cre­ated by three adults, not two. It was

fifth time lucky when the em­bryo cre­ated us­ing a donor egg “fi­nally held”, to use Giddings’ term.

With the bless­ing of their anony­mous egg donor, with whom they have been in con­tact via TasIVF, they plan to in­tro­duce their child at an early age to the wo­man who has made their baby dreams come true.

“The big­gest dam­age I’ve seen to chil­dren who are ei­ther adopted or as a re­sult of a do­na­tion is the se­crecy,” Giddings says. “Se­crecy causes a lot of pain when that se­cret comes out, as it al­ways will. I ex­pect at some stage while the child is still young, at an ap­pro­pri­ate age, we will in­tro­duce the child to the donor so that, too, is part of nor­mal life, so they’re not hav­ing iden­tity crises as they head into pu­berty.”

She hopes her can­dour may prompt other women to do­nate. “If I can, I would like to help en­cour­age any other women who are think­ing about do­nat­ing eggs to do so, be­cause you can make some­thing that was im­pos­si­ble for a cou­ple pos­si­ble.”

When I speak with Sonya by phone she says her par­ents, now based near Ho­bart, are over­joyed at their youngest daugh­ter’s news. “We know it’s been her heart’s de­sire,” she says.

“Lara gave up so much of her life to ser­vice the Tasmanian com­mu­nity and when she was told she had no eggs it seemed an in­cred­i­ble sac­ri­fice, to have lost the chance to have a child. Thank­fully, through the gen­eros­ity of a donor she’s been able to re­alise that dream.”

Mag­ill is in awe of Giddings’ forth­right hon­esty, not­ing some other “celebrity mums” would not be so up­front about us­ing donor eggs, po­ten­tially giv­ing women un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions. “I think she’s just an amaz­ing per­son,” he says. “What you see in the pub­lic eye is how she is in pri­vate.”

The cou­ple hope their story sends a pow­er­ful mes­sage about the diver­sity of loving fam­i­lies. “Three peo­ple mak­ing a baby is a beau­ti­ful thing,” Mag­ill says.

Clockwise from above, Lara Giddings with, from left, fa­ther Rick, part­ner Ian Mag­ill, mum Lynn and sis­ter Sonya de Lacey; Giddings, as deputy pre­mier in 2008, takes the op­por­tu­nity to cud­dle a baby at a com­mu­nity event at Bridge­wa­ter; and Giddings, as pre­mier, makes a cam­paign speech be­fore the 2014 elec­tion.

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