Close to Home: Elected, working and pregnant
There are some weird things about being an elected official. As all moms know, there are some weird things about being pregnant. But there's an exceptional strangeness that arises when you find yourself in the unusual position of being a pregnant elected official.
Starting with: My pregnancy is news. And not just personal news - the pregnancy test you show to your husband, the excited announcement you make to the grandparents, the ultrasound photos you share with family and friends. Rather it's an article in the local paper, a menial footnote of local history - the first supervisor to give birth while serving in office - and fodder for congratulations and questions around the community. I figured I'd offer up answers to some of the questions I've heard so far.
- Does this mean you won't be seeking re-election?
Heck no. I love my job and will absolutely be running in 2020.
- Do you plan to take time off?
Assuming an uncomplicated birth, I plan to take three weeks (mostly) off after the baby is born. After that, in the early months - what I think of as the eat-poop-sleep-fuss stage - expect to see a lot of the baby in my office and out and about in west county.
- Isn't it going to be hard, having a newborn and being a supervisor?
I've had two newborns so far, so I know what I'm getting myself into. When I made the decision to run for office, Addy was 9 months old, and I walked precincts and attended meetings with her strapped to my chest. It's worth noting that the prime minister of New Zealand and a U.S. senator from Illinois are currently balancing newborns and work. I'm confident I will be able to effectively serve the 5th District. Besides, everything worth doing in life comes with challenges; I look forward to the challenges I've chosen and the joys and satisfaction they will bring.
I'm happy to answer questions and educate people about the intersection of public service and motherhood. But I answer these questions cheerfully in hopes that by the time my daughters grow up, women won't have to answer questions about whether they can balance home and work life. Because, by then, female elected officials with babies will be commonplace.
Women are natural multitaskers and communicators. Mothers are especially passionate about the future of our community, our state, our country, our world. We look at our children and simply can't help ourselves. It's strange, then, how few women of childbearing age serve in our political system. By contrast, it's commonplace for young men to run for office. When they do, and when they have children, they are never asked about their decision to procreate or the impact it might have on their work.
If we are going to encourage young women to run for office - which I believe we should - we must support family/work balance for all women. This means access to local, affordable child care. This means paid family leave for both parents. This means normalizing the presence of infants and children in public. (Normalization of children at public meetings and events is good not only for young elected officials and candidates but for other parents who want to communicate with elected officials.)
If we don't encourage young women to run for office, the long-running gender imbalance will never change. And the historic data are as follows: male presidents, 45; female presidents, 0; men who have served in Congress, 11,920; women who have served in Congress, 329. These lopsided numbers are as true on the local and state level as they are on the national stage. We've had only seven female supervisors in the 168 years our county has existed. Three of us currently serve on the board.
Women are intimately and uniquely impacted by many state and national policies, yet we still lack equal access to the halls where decisions are made. Our country's current administration recently opposed a pro-breastfeeding initiative. Federal agencies have confined pregnant refugees in detention centers without access to medical care, shackling them around their bellies, leading some to suffer miscarriages. We have witnessed the forcible separation of nursing children from their mothers and the infliction of early childhood trauma on a generation of refugees.
To me, these actions are a clear indication that we need more mothers in politics.
But while we need more political mothers, let's also remember that the decision to have children isn't a political one. We needn't overthink or overscrutinize female elected officials' decisions to have children - or not to have children, for that matter. (Interestingly, society tends to view childless women with the same skepticism applied to working mothers.)
In the end, my family picture is simple and apolitical. One man, one woman, two big sisters, a couple of crazy dogs, some goats and chickens. A growing belly, with all it contains: promise of newness; hope for the future; the early, persistent flutterings of life.
Lynda Hopkins represents the Fifth District on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
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