We go in­side the new fam­ily-friendly Par­lia­ment


NOELLE MCCARTHY: Are ba­bies in par­lia­ment the new nor­mal? WIL­LOW-JEAN PRIME:

It’s be­com­ing the new nor­mal. When we ar­rived the place was pretty ster­ile. It didn’t feel fam­ily-friendly but over time, we’ve set­tled in and bought baby gear and re­ally made it homely. Not only is [my baby daugh­ter] Heeni here but we also have Hiwa-i-te-rangi, Kir­i­tapu Al­lan’s baby, who of­ten comes in.

You and Bay of Plenty MP Kir­i­tapu Al­lan are of­fice neigh­bours aren’t you?

Yes. They dubbed this the ma­ter­nity wing of the par­lia­ment of­fices. A lot of thought went into where to put us to sup­port the work that we’re do­ing and our fam­i­lies that come and go to sup­port us. Th­ese rooms have kitchens. There’s a shower, and we can bath the ba­bies up here in their bucket baths.

Were you ner­vous, the first time you breast­fed in the de­bat­ing cham­ber?

I was. Par­lia­ment is tele­vised 24/7 and it is such a new thing. I knew that it would get com­ment and feed­back and be vis­i­ble. Breastfeeding is com­pletely nat­u­ral and some­thing I do all the time but I was still get­ting fa­mil­iar with the place. That was our first day of sit­ting in the House, and I hap­pened to walk through the doors with the baby, and then she woke and needed feed­ing. It all just hap­pened – I had no time to pre­pare, I just had to re­spond. That was perfect be­cause if I had to over­think it, it would have been more chal­leng­ing. I just had to calm my­self right down, my heart­beat right down, and fo­cus on latch­ing Heeni on and feed­ing, and then we were do­ing it, and it was amaz­ing. Do­ing some­thing for the first time is al­ways a chal­lenge. It got so much eas­ier af­ter that.

As a new mum, I find the first time do­ing any­thing is ter­ri­fy­ing.

Ab­so­lutely that’s how I would de­scribe that feel­ing. Ter­ri­fy­ing the first time and then you get more con­fi­dent. My at­ti­tude to it is that ba­bies will be ba­bies, and noth­ing goes as planned, so we just have to test the sit­u­a­tion. It’s one thing to say we want par­lia­ment to be fam­ily friendly, and then it is an­other thing to ac­tu­ally be that, in all of the ac­tions. So I’m not do­ing any­body a ser­vice if I don’t just do things nor­mally as any par­ent would. That’s what we do when we’re here, and some­times it goes amaz­ingly well and some­times it doesn’t. So­ci­ety needs to un­der­stand and sup­port that, and not put un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions on our par­ents and our ba­bies.

You men­tioned be­ing sup­ported by fam­ily. Does that make a dif­fer­ence?

It makes all the dif­fer­ence. I don’t think I could do it if it was just me by my­self. I have done days my­self, or one part of a day. Hav­ing Mum here means that I am able to do the job day-on-day and week-on-week. Hav­ing my hus­band back home with our two-and-a-half-year-old Hi­hana means that she has sta­bil­ity and con­ti­nu­ity in terms of her Ko­hanga Reo and her home life [in North­land]. I be­lieve it takes a vil­lage to raise a child, and I’ve brought my vil­lage with me down here.

That im­age of the Speaker, Trevor Mal­lard, hold­ing baby Heeni – I sent it to my friends all over the world. It made me feel proud to be a mum in New Zealand. What was it like for you?

Peo­ple will know that no­body is al­lowed in the Speaker’s chair ex­cept for the Speaker! But he’s made an ex­cep­tion for the ba­bies – and I think pos­si­bly that is a first in the world. I know that it went in­ter­na­tional.

“I just had to calm my­self right down, my heart­beat right down, and fo­cus on latch­ing Heeni on and feed­ing, and then we were do­ing it, and it was just amaz­ing” – ON FEED­ING HEENI IN PAR­LIA­MENT FOR THE FIRST TIME.

It’s sym­bolic but it also is show­ing our com­mit­ment to role modelling and lead­ing in our so­ci­ety. I thought it was a beau­ti­ful thing. Since then he’s held other ba­bies up there, which is great, and the thing about Trevor is he doesn’t just do it for a me­dia stunt. I’ve got pic­tures of him push­ing my baby around in her pushchair. He’s come swim­ming with us in the par­lia­men­tary pool. That im­age is sym­bolic but it also is gen­uine and show­ing what a dif­fer­ence they’ve made to this place.

How much thought did you give to tim­ing when it came to plan­ning your fam­ily?

It took al­most five years to get preg­nant with our first baby, Hi­hana. We had planned her, but she didn’t come ac­cord­ing to plan. My preg­nancy with her was con­firmed just af­ter I was an­nounced as the Labour Party can­di­date for North­land in the 2014 elec­tion. I was shocked, as was the rest of my fam­ily. Peo­ple say, ‘Oh you just need to re­lax and have a hol­i­day.’ I was the op­po­site. Give me more to do and baby will come at the time when I’m the busiest and most stressed in life! Hi­hana is a gift, and we just thought, what will be, will be, and we will just have to come to­gether as a whanau and sup­port one an­other through it. Hi­hana was then six days old when the North­land by-elec­tion was an­nounced. I think I had a cry. Prob­a­bly be­ing hor­monal, but also just that my baby was only six days old, and I’d just come off two cam­paigns, so I knew how de­mand­ing it was go­ing to be. My mid­wife rang me within five min­utes of the mid­day news and said, ‘Oh my god, Wil­low-jean - I will be there shortly.’ We had a discussion about ex­press­ing, be­cause she knew I wanted to breast­feed, and the ad­vice that she gave me, which has stuck with Heeni as well, is: ‘All baby needs is some­body to be 100 per cent fo­cussed on them, but that per­son doesn’t al­ways have to be Mum. It can be Dad. It can be Aunty. It can be Nanna, Papa. Who­ever. Just that per­son needs to be 100 per cent fo­cussed on baby and then baby won’t know what crazi­ness is go­ing on around her.’ And that was true. That’s what we ex­pe­ri­enced in the by-elec­tion. When it came to Heeni, our sec­ond baby, we knew it had taken that long to get preg­nant the first time, knew the next elec­tion was com­ing upon us, but I didn’t want to have to choose be­tween pol­i­tics and be­ing a rep­re­sen­ta­tive for my com­mu­nity, and hav­ing a fam­ily. I had a sneaky sus­pi­cion that she would come, and sure enough, as we got closer to the elec­tion, and I was count­ing the months, and what would that mean… bang! It hap­pened. I did angst over it a lit­tle bit. I was 33 or 34 at the time, and be­cause of my ex­pe­ri­ence with Hi­hana, I didn’t want to take any risks.

Were you con­scious of send­ing out a mes­sage that you are a vis­i­ble mum who is also a work­ing MP?

Yes, ab­so­lutely. My mid­wife, sis­ter in law, cousins, were hope­ful that I would just con­tinue to do what I did when I got down here to Welling­ton. They didn’t want me to be put off by it, scared by it, in­tim­i­dated. They hoped I would be able to find the courage to be a mum in this place.

You were the per­son who said you wanted a dif­fer­ent cal­iber of de­bate around the ques­tions Jacinda Ardern was be­ing asked about moth­er­hood. Do you still think we have the op­por­tu­nity to have those dis­cus­sions?

Ab­so­lutely. The ques­tion should have been around how can she do both, not whether she should do both or not. How can our moth­ers, our fam­i­lies, be sup­ported, so that there doesn’t have to be a choice?

No mat­ter what job you’re do­ing?

No mat­ter what job they’re do­ing. If there’s a will, you can find a way to sup­port fam­i­lies. I’m re­ally in­ter­ested in our leg­is­la­tion around flex­i­ble work ar­range­ments, and those con­ver­sa­tions, and what I want to see are or­gan­i­sa­tions that are do­ing that, and how they’re do­ing it. We can share that with oth­ers who might be con­sid­er­ing whether that’s some­thing they could do. The leg­is­la­tion isn’t manda­tory, and doesn’t

re­quire any­thing other than hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion and a think about it. That’s a re­ally good start. That’s been the test here in par­lia­ment. We say we want to be child-friendly and fam­ily-friendly. What then do we ac­tu­ally have to do struc­turally to achieve that? We’ve changed rules. Some of them are big things, some of those are lit­tle things.

Com­ing at this from a Te Ao Maori place, cul­tur­ally and from your fam­ily back­ground, does this make for a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence?

I think it does. We’ve re­flected on this and talked about it as a whanau. I’ve al­ways taken my baby to hui with me on the marae. I’ve seen oth­ers al­ways bring their chil­dren. It showed me that it can be done, and so when some­body says it’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate or it can’t be done, I chal­lenge them back and say it can be done. I’ve seen it be­ing done. That’s where the wider whanau, the vil­lage, steps in and helps. The chil­dren are en­cour­aged to be part of it all, not to be out of sight, out of mind. They’re en­cour­aged to make noise, they’re wel­come to be part of the hui and the kau­papa that are go­ing on. Things like, we’ll be hav­ing a cup of tea af­ter­wards, and peo­ple will see and they will of­fer to take the baby and hold the baby so you can eat with two hands. Amaz­ing!

To know how to ask for help or re­ceive it when it’s given is a tal­ent.

Ab­so­lutely. A lot of peo­ple of­fer it, but I find we of­ten will turn it away be­cause we don’t want to be an in­con­ve­nience. But they are gen­uine when they of­fer it, and I find my­self just say­ing ‘yes’ a whole lot more. It means you can go to the bath­room, you can have a drink of wa­ter, you can have a proper meal. You can make that phone call. The sup­port has come in many, many ways. My col­leagues in cau­cus are al­ways of­fer­ing to lend a hand. Can I push the pram for you? I say, ‘Thank you, I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate you push­ing the pram for me!’ It’s the lit­tle help and the big help we get that makes the dif­fer­ence.

What’s the hard­est thing about be­ing a new mum in par­lia­ment?

Lack of sleep. Do­ing this all day, then do­ing night­time feeds, or hav­ing a sick baby and you need that much more work and care. The dis­tance from Dion and Hi­hana, emo­tion­ally, is hard, and Dion es­sen­tially is a solo par­ent for four or five days a week and then we all get back to­gether on the week­ends. Sleep de­pri­va­tion is just such a cruel thing.

What are your hours like here?

Typ­i­cally, the first meet­ing is at 8.45 in the morn­ing and the house sits un­til 10 o’clock at night. Those hours for me, for mum, and for Heeni, are re­ally chal­leng­ing. It’s taken us a long time to get a bit of struc­ture in the day that works for ev­ery­body. My mum needs a break as well. We work to­gether so that she can also have lunch, watch some TV, have a rest. For me at the mo­ment it’s do­ing the long days here, and then be­ing the feeder, do­ing the nights as well. Most morn­ings we’re up around five o’clock. Time man­age­ment is hard. I thought I could ex­press but ex­press­ing takes 15 to 30 min­utes a time, and some­times I would need to do that five times in a day, and some­times you don’t have that time on the run, so it’s eas­ier to have the baby de­liv­ered for feed­ing, wher­ever I am.

Things will change as Heeni gets older. The great thing about this age is they’re por­ta­ble.

I know, look at Hi­hana, my two-and-a-half-year-old. I haven’t at­tempted to bring her in the House yet.

“If there’s a will, you can find a way to sup­port fam­i­lies. I’m in­ter­ested in our leg­is­la­tion around flex­i­ble work ar­range­ments”

From left: Wil­low­jean Prime and daugther Hi­hana in her of­fice at Bowen House; Heeni in her play gym; hus­band Dion, a high school teacher, lends his sup­port.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.