Sunday Star-Times

Babies don’t get in the way of running a country

- Mahvash Ali

It was a brave new Pakistan. The year was 1989 and after a decade of a dark regime under the stoic General Muhammad Ziaul-Haq, democracy had been restored.

Benazir Bhutto was the new prime minister. And she was pregnant – at least according to hushed rumours.

Bhutto had given birth to her first child during the campaign and only a few months into office she looked like she was hiding another baby bump. I remember my mother asking my father, ‘‘She looks like she’s expecting, is it because of the bulletproo­f vest?’’

At the time he was a senior police official in charge of the tumultuous eastern part of Karachi – prime ministeria­l visits were common and security had to be tight.

There were thousands who would push and shove to get a single glimpse of Bhutto and others who could not stand the sight of her.

She had to be protected from both, she was a pregnant prime minister.

There is a vague memory I have of her receiving a guard of honour.

Standing straight, head held high – she must have been full-term because there is no way a bulletproo­f vest could be that shape.

In January 1990 she gave birth to a daughter and named her Bakhtawar, meaning the one who brings glad tidings – a propitious name for a child who helped her mother create history.

My mother, so inspired by the auspicious turn of events, even considered giving me a similar middle name. Thankfully she talked herself out of it, but that is the most star struck I have seen her in my life.

The pregnancy and the baby did become talking points at dinner parties, but it was business-as-usual, because expectant mothers aren’t odd (certainly not in a country bursting at its seams due to a population explosion).

For the conservati­ve, maledomina­ted society that Pakistan is thought to be, the country handled the situation well.

As a young kid, I did not know it was history I was living through. And I only realised that in August last year, when Jacinda Ardern was asked about her baby plans in an interview, that Bhutto’s pregnancy had been a first.

Ardern said it was acceptable for questioner Mark Richardson to ask her those questions because she’d made it clear she would answer them. But, pointing at him, she added, ‘‘for other women, it is totally unacceptab­le in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace. That is unacceptab­le in 2017. It is the woman’s decision about when they choose to have children.’’

The prime minister’s womb is nobody’s business.

Now she is pregnant, congratula­tions to her. But pregnancy and babies don’t get in the way of running a country – and it has been proven it can be done.

I lived under the regime of a woman who returned to work a day after giving birth. In fact, the timelines of Bhutto’s political career and motherhood almost run parallel.

She was pregnant with her first child during the campaign, gave birth to her second while she was in office and her third was born just months before becoming prime minister for a second term.

Since Bhutto – who was assassinat­ed in 2007 – there hasn’t been a pregnant prime minister so once again we are in a brave new regime.

May this one be better than the one before.

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