Michelle Duff: Why I couldn't care less if women breastfeed in Parliament
OPINION: Italian politician Licia Ronzulli has been bringing her daughter to Strausbourg Parliament since 2010, when she was one month old.
Adorable photo galleries trace the girl's growth from bub to toddler in the debating chamber, where she raises a tiny arm to vote on a bill alongside her mum.
Last week, Greens senator Larissa Waters became the first MP to breastfeed her baby, 14-week-old Alia, while moving a motion in the Australian Parliament. In May, she was the first to breastfeed her baby in the senate chamber.
Both of these women have been applauded for normalising both breastfeeding and being a working mother.
This is all very good, and I really only have one question.
Have you ever tried bringing a baby to work?
When I took my baby for his first visit to the Fairfax newsroom, he was three months old. I hadn't left the house much before then, because I had a caesarean section birth which made movement painful, and difficulties with breastfeeding which meant attaching myself to a pump every few hours.
Oh, and because going anywhere with a newborn is a military operation. Pram, nappies, wipes, spare clothes, sling, blanket, hat, dummy - the list is so long I'm bored just recounting it. Leaving the house, a simple task that used to take 10 minutes, becomes a two-hour long baby-wrangle.
I made it to the newsroom and my son looked super-cute until we walked in, when he poo-nadoed through his outfit, howled, demanded to be fed, and somehow managed to go cross-eyed for the first and only time. "Does he have a bung eye?" one colleague enquired, displaying an impressive sensitivity.
So when I watched the video of Waters breastfeeding while giving a speech in Parliament, I didn't think it was normal. I thought she was some kind of a superwoman.
There was no way in hell I, nor any woman I know, would have been able to do that without a serious amount of effort. Not just because many of us struggled with breastfeeding, or postnatal depression, had babies with colic or reflux, or were so sleep-deprived we could barely see.
The truth is, when you are a new mum it is almost impossible to concentrate on anything other than your baby. When you visit a friend with a newborn who "makes it look easy", she is actually exhausted.
She might look like she's listening, but she's really thinking: "I wonder if he's hungry again. He's chewing his hand. What does that mean? Is he sleepy? I should probably change his nappy...what's the time? Can I have baked beans for dinner for the third night in a row? Man, I am tired."
Of course, it's great politicians like Waters who are putting working mothers in the spotlight; breastfeeding is natural and should be able to be done without drama whenever a hungry baby needs it. The gutless idiots who criticise this are cretins who appear to have forgotten they ever suckled from their mother's breast, and need to die out like the dinosaurs they are.
But for god's sake, let's stop pretending this is normal behaviour. Family-friendly workplaces are great in theory; but for many women, the idea of taking their baby to work is the stuff of nightmares.
I don't really care if a female politician breastfeeds in New Zealand's Parliament. I do care whether they push to extend paid parental leave, campaign for workplaces to be more flexible, and give more funding to early childhood education.
My real admiration is reserved for women like our own former Green MP Holly Walker, who quit Parliament because she found combining it with motherhood compromised her mental health.
She then bravely wrote a book about her struggle, and outlined what needs to change for us to have more female representation in Parliament - things like job-sharing for MPs, and a leave of absence which would allow other list MPs to take over during parental leave.
Let's be honest. For equality to be achieved, we need to keep it real.
Michelle Duff is a weekly columnist for Life & Style. Read the full interview with Holly Walker and New Zealand's political mothers in this week's Sunday magazine.
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