Jacinda Ardern on her ex­tra­or­di­nary first year as Prime Min­is­ter and a mother


A year ago, Jacinda Ardern was mak­ing head­lines as our new Prime Min­is­ter. She was also newly preg­nant. Now, a year into her job run­ning the coun­try while also be­com­ing a first-time mum, she talks ex­clu­sively to Emma Clifton about mak­ing his­tory, find­ing bal­ance in life, and her grat­i­tude for the sup­port of oth­ers.

This time last year Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern was one of only a hand­ful of peo­ple who knew just how his­toric 2018 was go­ing to be for her. Her prime min­is­ter­ship was al­ready a big deal – she was the sec­ond youngest world leader and one of only 10 fe­male heads of gov­ern­ment.

So the eyes of the world were al­ready on her. But she knew the glare of that spot­light was only go­ing to get big­ger. Be­cause last Christ­mas, Jacinda was preg­nant with her first child – and was go­ing to be one of only two fe­male po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, ever, to give birth while in of­fice.

“At that point, no one else knew,” Jacinda says of her preg­nancy last Christ­mas. Keep­ing the se­cret at such a fam­ily time of year wasn’t easy, but the good news was her morn­ing sick­ness had fi­nally started to pass. “I’d felt sick for a long time, so it was great to have a lit­tle bit of time out and also feel good again. But this year is go­ing to be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. We’ve got an ex­tra mem­ber of our fam­ily, and I’m not hold­ing any se­crets!”

Ev­ery time I have in­ter­viewed Jacinda over the past four years, she has been a big­ger and big­ger deal

– and the in­ter­view lo­gis­tics have fol­lowed suit. A quiet cul-de-sac in Auck­land’s Mt Eden is lined with se­cu­rity cars and men with ear­pieces – as if some­thing very for­mal and se­ri­ous is tak­ing place in the mid­dle of sub­ur­bia. In re­al­ity, the Prime Min­is­ter is sit­ting down, drink­ing a cup of tea and chat­ting up a storm – her pho­to­shoot for The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly pro­vid­ing a brief respite from a day of back-to-back ap­point­ments. New Zealand has al­ways been blessed with down-toearth lead­ers and you can’t get more down-to-earth than our Mor­rinsville-born leader. She doesn’t re­ally do pomp and cer­e­mony. Case in point, on the day of our shoot, she ca­su­ally men­tions, mid-con­ver­sa­tion, that to­day is her 10-year an­niver­sary of when she be­came a mem­ber of par­lia­ment at 28. Would she have ever thought that this would be her po­lit­i­cal life a decade later – Prime Min­is­ter for a year, a mother for six months? “No,” she says drily. “I would not have picked that.”

Our vil­lage

You can de­bate for a long time whether fe­males in pol­i­tics, or any pro­fes­sion, should be asked if they want chil­dren. But as a fe­male in pol­i­tics, Jacinda was of­ten asked by jour­nal­ists – my­self in­cluded – if she wanted a fam­ily. And she was al­ways hon­est in re­turn. “I used to talk openly when I was asked about fu­ture lead­er­ship; I would very gen­uinely say that I wanted to do nor­mal things – and that was al­ways code for me to talk about want­ing a fam­ily, with­out pre­dict­ing whether that would hap­pen for me or not. Be­cause there are some things you can’t plan,” she says. “So I put pri­or­ity on that [answer] be­cause I thought, as well, there was the is­sue of whether or not it would be pos­si­ble or whether or not it would be ac­cepted.”

She ad­mits to be­ing sur­prised at just how well the news of her preg­nancy was taken. “I didn’t ex­pect peo­ple to be so wel­com­ing, so pos­i­tive about me be­ing preg­nant while be­ing Prime Min­is­ter. I was re­ally ner­vous about that an­nounce­ment – re­ally ner­vous. So that part sur­prised me – and then the fol­low on, which was, ‘And now that you’ve got her, we’re here to help.’”

When Neve Te Aroha Gay­ford ar­rived on June 21, the photo of

Jacinda and Clarke hold­ing their baby girl, our very own “First Baby”, went around the world. They say it takes a vil­lage to raise a child, and ac­cord­ing to Jacinda, “New Zealand is our vil­lage”.

“I see quite lit­eral signs of that all the time,” she says. “I’ll go places and peo­ple will say, ‘Where’s our baby?’ Men too – when I went to Ratana, ‘Where’s our mokop­una?’ It’s lovely – this ex­pec­ta­tion that she’s there and that they can take care of her if she is. Even some­one at the Busi­ness Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil to­day said, ‘Next time, bring the baby – we’ll pass her around.’”

As New Zealand’s First Child, Neve has also been in­un­dated with gifts, both from Ki­wis and from around the world. Theresa May gave her a beau­ti­ful Peter Rab­bit one­sie. The Prime Min­is­ter of St Lu­cia sent a Bob Mar­ley style hat, com­plete with knit­ted dread­locks. The Ir­ish Taoiseach gifted a sil­ver rat­tle, and an ex­cerpt from his favourite poem in a card. But it’s the hand-made gifts from New Zealan­ders that are most wellused in the Ardern-Gay­ford house­hold. In the first fam­ily photo of the three of them in their new home, Neve is wrapped in a peggy-square blan­ket made by a lo­cal school. And one of the first gifts used for Neve has a touch­ing story be­hind it. “It was a beau­ti­fully fine knit­ted piece by a woman who was mak­ing it for her first grand­child; but her son and daugh­ter-in-law lost the baby and so she put it away,” Jacinda says. “When she found out I was preg­nant, she got it out and fin­ished it and sent it to me. It’s been so lovely. Any­thing that was hand-made, we used. So she wears a lot of gifted cardis and hats and booties – I think we’ve only had to buy her one­sies.”

The lo­gis­tics of be­ing a breast­feed­ing mother means that Neve is of­ten by Jacinda’s side, al­beit fly­ing un­der the radar. “Our gen­eral rule of thumb is that we try not to put her too much in the pub­lic eye. If she’s with us

when I’m out work­ing, it is what it is. But we try not to. When we were at the United Na­tions, it’s kind of ob­vi­ous we were just go­ing about our busi­ness.”

It was in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly of the United Na­tions that the world got its first good glimpse of

Neve, at that stage a lit­tle three-month-old, sit­ting in Clarke’s lap. Her par­ents had no idea she was to be­come a global sen­sa­tion. An­drew Camp­bell, Jacinda’s Chief Press Sec­re­tary, had found a seat where Clarke could sit with Neve and see Jacinda do­ing her ad­dress to the Nel­son Man­dela Peace Sum­mit. It was only when they sat down, An­drew re­calls, and he had heard the cam­eras of the UN’s press gallery go crazy for a solid 30 sec­onds, that they re­alised it was “a mo­ment”. The pho­tos, Clarke later tweeted, were viewed more than 195 mil­lion times world­wide. A baby in the halls of the UN is a big deal, it seems. “They have breast­feed­ing rooms there, but there weren’t many ba­bies around,” Jacinda says of the UN. “It should be a place that we think about kids – hav­ing a lit­tle re­minder of that’s not a bad thing. That doesn’t mean that she’ll al­ways be there with us, it’s just that she’s small and so we can right now.”

It has taken a del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act in­volv­ing Clarke as a stay-at-home dad and sev­eral fam­ily mem­bers on deck to help make be­ing a par­ent and Prime Min­is­ter pos­si­ble. Clarke is “a great dad”, Jacinda says. “He’s ex­actly as I ex­pected him to be, which is com­pletely dot­ing. Very ded­i­cated. Re­ally pa­tient. I feel like they’ve got in-jokes al­ready, I don’t even know how that’s pos­si­ble, but they do. And he of course will dress Neve, so there are a lot of ‘I heart Dad’ socks and shirts.”

Both grand­moth­ers are “amaz­ing”, she says. Jacinda’s sis­ter, Louise, has only just moved back to New Zealand with her hus­band and two young chil­dren, so Neve is the first grand­child their mum Lau­rell is able to en­joy as a new­born. On Clarke’s side, his mum Peri now has eight grand­chil­dren, so she’s an old hand at this. For all the talk about whether or not it would be pos­si­ble for a prime min­is­ter to have a baby, Jacinda has made it work – with help, she is firm to point out. “I can bring my mum with me, or Clarke, and that makes me very, very priv­i­leged, so I don’t think that any­one can look at me and say, ‘Oh she’s do­ing it, so all of us should.’ I get that I’m priv­i­leged and I’m lucky. But I’m also in a po­si­tion to try and make it a bit eas­ier for other peo­ple.”

Jacinda also con­sid­ers her­self lucky, in a way, in that the tim­ing of both Neve and be­ing made Prime Min­is­ter was out of her hands. “Some­times when those de­ci­sions are taken away from you, it can work out,” she laughs. “There was no ques­tion [of there be­ing] a choice, that I could just say, ‘Oh, I’ve made the choice to go back to work.’ I have to. And I imag­ine there are a lot of women who don’t feel like they have a choice ei­ther, for fi­nan­cial reasons.” She’s also very aware that she’s in a po­si­tion where she loves her job, and has the flex­i­bil­ity to make this new ar­range­ment work. But it’s still not an easy sit­u­a­tion. “It’s not so much guilt as… I just feel bad, be­cause I’m not around as much as I oth­er­wise might be. I have to lean on Clarke a lot, and he’s left with the mo­ments when she’s scratchy and tired.

“I haven’t got it per­fect,” she says thought­fully. “I was just think­ing about this last night… I don’t want to look back on these early months and feel like I missed out on the good bits. But there is a cer­tain re­al­ity that un­for­tu­nately Clarke is just go­ing to have to send me a photo of the

lat­est thing that hap­pened at home.”

She smiles. “But I have her. And that’s the lucky thing.”

More women lead­ers

It helps im­mensely that it’s also been a good year for Labour. The most dire fore­casts from the op­po­si­tion or right-wing me­dia com­men­ta­tors have not amounted to much; the econ­omy is strong, un­em­ploy­ment is at its low­est rate in a decade. Both the coali­tion gov­ern­ment and Jacinda are do­ing very well in the opin­ion polls, and she was able to take six weeks ma­ter­nity leave with­out the world fall­ing apart. The big ques­tion mark around whether a prime min­is­ter can have a baby is slowly fad­ing away.

“I cer­tainly hope I’ve added a lit­tle more weight to the other side of the scale,” Jacinda says. “But I’m equally aware I’m not in a nor­mal po­si­tion.”

Although she has made head­lines for be­ing a fe­male leader who breast­feeds while run­ning a coun­try, the ul­ti­mate re­sult would be to have the nov­elty wear off, Jacinda says. “The goal ab­so­lutely has to be for it to be­come more nor­mal. And for that, we need many more women in lead­er­ship. So I get that it’s treated as a nov­elty but I can only hope that’s not for ever.”

She also points out that she’s one of four Labour MPs with chil­dren un­der two. “I’m not alone – there just hap­pens to be a lot of focus on me.”

When asked what she’s most proud of achiev­ing in her first year as Prime Min­is­ter, Jacinda says it’s what Labour has done for fam­i­lies and kids: the in­creases for Work­ing for Fam­i­lies, the Best Start pay­ment for fam­i­lies with new ba­bies, in­creas­ing paid parental leave and bring­ing in the Win­ter En­ergy pay­ment – a $5bil­lion pack­age that came by can­celling the tax cuts pro­posed by the for­mer gov­ern­ment. The changes kicked in in July, when Jacinda was on ma­ter­nity leave. One day, when she and Clarke had popped out with Neve in the pram to get milk from the lo­cal dairy – “I was look­ing a bit rough, I think I was in a hoodie and jacket” – they were ac­costed, in a friendly way, by a mum who had spot­ted them while driving past. “She’d seen me, stopped the car and chased me be­cause she wanted to tell me that she had twins and what a huge dif­fer­ence the Work­ing for Fam­i­lies change had made for them. It just brought me back into the po­lit­i­cal world for a minute, when I was in my [new mum] bub­ble, and re­minded me of the good things you can do in pol­i­tics.”

Com­ing up with ideas that fix prob­lems, that try to bring about change for those in need, is what brings peo­ple like Jacinda into pol­i­tics. Pas­sion is im­por­tant – par­tic­u­larly when the change needed feels over­whelm­ing. Jacinda is some­one who has al­ways burnt the can­dle at both ends, and hav­ing a baby as well as an ex­traor­di­nar­ily high­stakes, high-pro­file job has meant she just has to do it all.

“It forces you to resched­ule,” she says of try­ing to find work/life bal­ance in this unique sit­u­a­tion. “It doesn’t stop you from burn­ing the can­dle at both ends; it just forces you to change the way you do. I’m sure there are very few mums or dads who say, ‘Oh, my en­ergy lev­els are so much bet­ter since I had kids!’” she breaks off, laugh­ing. “But I do try… if I don’t see Neve in the morn­ing be­cause I’m up too early, I’ll make sure I’m there to help put her to bed. I read my pa­pers in the week­end when she’s sleep­ing so I can play with her when she’s not. Just lit­tle things like that.”

This Christ­mas, the fam­ily of three will be in the Waikato with Jacinda’s grand­fa­ther and, with Louise and fam­ily re­turn­ing from the UK, it will be the first time the Arderns have all been to­gether for a decade. Clarke will be­gin film­ing his show Catch of the Day in the New Year, mean­ing there will be some quiet time with just Jacinda and Neve be­fore Par­lia­ment re­con­venes in early Jan­uary. You can hardly call hav­ing a seven-month-old baby around a qui­eter time, but it will be a more set­tled Christ­mas than last year.

So if present-day Jacinda, at the tail-end of a crazy and suc­cess­ful first year of be­ing both Prime Min­is­ter and a first-time mum, could give some ad­vice to her­self a year ago, what would she say? She thinks for a minute. “I would just say… it’ll be okay. You’ll work it out. Take each day as it comes, and it’ll be okay.”


RIGHT: Jacinda and Clarke in­tro­duce their new­born daugh­ter, Neve Te Aroha, to New Zealand af­ter her birth. BE­LOW: The fam­ily ar­riv­ing back in Welling­ton when Jacinda re­turned to work af­ter tak­ing ma­ter­nity leave for six weeks.

ABOVE: Clarke and baby Neve at the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly in Septem­ber. LEFT: Neve in her knit­ted dread­locks hat from St Lu­cia and in Dad-themed cloth­ing favoured by her dot­ing fa­ther.

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