Career

How Jacinda Ardern is managing her pregnancy on top of her role as Prime Minister of NZ

She’ll order a takeaway curry after a busy day, and chats with her partner on Facebook. She’s also the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who stunned the country with the news that she’s expecting her first child.

By: Emma Clifton

In a small pocket of suburban Auckland, the location of the Prime Minister's home is the world's worst-kept secret. As The Australian Women's Weekly team crosses the road towards it, laden with clothing for the photoshoot, a woman in a small blue car slows down as she passes us.

"Are you going to talk to Jacinda?" she gasps. "Oh, please tell her I love her. We all love her."

Even though the results of the election were controversial to a lot of people, it's hard to deny that goodwill towards the 37-year-old has never been higher than it was following her surprise pregnancy announcement mid-January.

Her big, pie-in-the-sky vision for New Zealand 20 years from now?

"It would be amazing if we had within our sights becoming carbon neutral. And we were recognised for being leaders in environmental technology and sustainability," she says.

"That it was possible to work a 40-hour week and have a decent life. And that every kid, no matter where they were born or their circumstances, had the chance or opportunity to become whoever they wanted."

She certainly has her work cut out for her, with the added pressure of now having the world watching to see how a young, pregnant, female leader handles the top job. She is the test run for a generation of women coming through the ranks behind her.

Jacinda always wanted to be a mother, and never courted the office of Prime Minister, but now her only option is doing both, as best she can.

The road ahead will not be easy, but you would have to have a heart of stone not to have been moved by the sight of Jacinda and Clarke outside their house, beaming with the hope and nerves felt by all expectant parents, as they announced their big news. They now have the ultimate learning curve on the most public of stages, but in this political climate, doesn't it feel good to have something to smile about?

The past four months have been "an adjustment", Jacinda says. That's an understatement. To gain access to Jacinda and Clarke's small Auckland home, we have to go through a security team. For our cover shoot, the protection squad lining Auckland's Herne Bay beach scoffs when we politely suggest the Prime Minister changes clothes in the public toilet, and instead insists we travel back to her home in between each outfit.

This is almost immediately vetoed by Jacinda, who says she'll just get changed in the bushes "to save time". Yes, our pregnant Prime Minister nipped into the trees to pull on a ball-gown skirt while two of us held up a screen around her. She is potentially the least precious cover star you could hope to meet, let alone prime minister.

Her new Wellington residence is Premier House – quite the upgrade from the tiny flat she previously had in the capital. Settling into the palatial home – which comes complete with ballroom and tennis court – has been very strange for Jacinda, so she's kept herself confined to one corner of it. One late night, she tried to order a takeaway curry and sparked a comedy of errors.

The restaurant asked for a name and address for the order, so she gave them hers – and when her friend went to pick up the curry, she was told the staff had assumed it was a prank. "Next time they'll know if it's a paneer for Premier House, it's legit," she says drily.

Does she think this happened with other Prime Ministers? "I know that Helen Clark was quite partial to a good curry, so it may well have."

Jacinda and Clarke's Auckland residence still feels more like home, she says, and they intend to keep it as their home base as much as possible – with Clarke and the First Baby travelling with Jacinda during the week.

They have trained themselves to avoid using "he" or "she" when referring to said First Baby, because they know the gender but are trying their very best to keep it a secret – albeit with low expectations on staying mum until June.

"We have a little wager as to who's going to blow it," Jacinda jokes.

In their kitchen, on the fridge, there is a collection of finger paintings from Clarke's nieces Rosie and Nina, the two wee girls who accompanied the pair to Jacinda's swearing-in ceremony, or as they called it "Aunty Cinda's Lady Party".

The Great New Zealand Cookbook sits alongside a Nadia Lim recipe book, there are jandals kicked off at the front door, a plaque reading "This is it" sits alongside the television in the lounge. The pair have lived in the house since 2016 and have become fast favourites of the local community.

A neighbour on one side gifts them books; the family on the other side lets them borrow their dog when they need a pet to cuddle since the untimely death of their cat Paddles in November.

Jacinda and Clarke have been used to their relationship being in the spotlight since they first met more than three years ago, when Clarke contacted Jacinda about a political issue.

He's been a fantastic support system since the bedlam began, Jacinda says, although absent at the start – it become a running joke that every time something major was happening in her career, he was both out of the country and underwater with his Choice TV show Fish of the Day. He had to cut filming short when it became clear the negotiations were wrapping up, Jacinda recalls.

"I'm so glad he did – I can't imagine him not being there. He just rolls with everything; nothing seems to overwhelm him."

Jacinda has always been open about wanting a family, and that one of her biggest fears about a political career was that it would mean sacrificing a normal life.

"I didn't want to leave politics feeling like I'd given everything up for it, I didn't want to have regrets," she has said.

She and Clarke had been told they would need help on the fertility front and had "seen people about this issue", but as soon as she become Leader of the Labour Party, they had put the idea of starting a family on the back-burner.

So, yes, it was definitely a happy surprise when she discovered she was pregnant on October 13 – just six days before she became Prime Minister.

She told Clarke – again, away at the time – the same way she told him all of the life-changing news that occurred in the past six months – over Facebook.

"On this occasion, because it was pretty big magnitude, I used the video function so that we could speak face to face," she jokes.

The couple with Clarke's nieces Rosie and Nina on their way into Jacinda's swearing-in ceremony.

The marriage question has always been danced around the pair and it really stepped up a notch once news of First Baby was announced. It'll happen at some stage, Jacinda says, but she's set on leaving it to Clarke to organise.

"I try and be a modern woman, but there are bits of me that are very old-fashioned and things I try to keep on his shoulders, not on mine."

Popularity aside, it would be a mistake to assume Jacinda's extraordinary career path all came down to good luck and, well, stardust. People do not become Prime Minister by accident. Behind the big smile and relentless positivity is a born politician with all the good-natured likeability of John Key but who plays for the other side.

Born in the Waikato – Dinsdale, specifically – Jacinda and her now UK-based sister Louise (who gave birth to her second child the day Jacinda became Prime Minister) grew up between Morrinsville and Murupara.

Their dad was a police officer, their mum worked at their school canteen.

They were a Mormon family, which in high-school terms equated to being "everybody's sober driver".

Being the only Mormon in the village (her phrase) stood Jacinda apart from her peers, as did being the sole person at her high school who was a member of a political party.

Jacinda has spoken often about the sense of unfairness she saw growing up in semi-rural New Zealand; the children around her who didn't have what she had. It cemented the core belief of not only the Government's policies moving forward, but also her personal mission: all Kiwi children should have the same opportunities for success.

While she and Clarke will be in Auckland for the foreseeable future, she says there are definitely plans way down the line to retire somewhere quieter. Anywhere "a little more spread out, with a bit more green space" is really where she feels at home.

Jacinda is still close to a lot of her friends from Morrinsville College; there's a high school reunion this year for her graduating class of 1998 which should be good fun to attend, although considering they once voted her "Most likely to be Prime Minister", they were perhaps the least surprised group of New Zealanders last October. As one of her five guests to the swearing-in ceremony, she took her former social studies teacher.

The influence her upbringing had on shaping Jacinda's personal brand of politics cannot be underestimated.

"It made me hopeful that New Zealand can be different and better and that it should be. It also made me a real pragmatist – that's probably the Morrinsville part of the mix. I was surrounded by people who didn't see the world the way I did. So I know that sometimes change can be slow and you have to bring people with you."

It also gave her an early taste of just how polarising her brand of politics would be to a large part of New Zealand. Back when she was a candidate in the Waikato district, she was giving a speech about climate change to a local crowd, which included her grandmother, when she was roundly booed by the audience.

Afterwards, an MP told her that "Fifty per cent of the time, people are going to disagree with you, and if they don't, you're probably not saying anything."

While studying for a Bachelor of Communications at University of Waikato, she continued to volunteer for the Labour Party and eventually ended up working for Helen Clark.

When previously asked what she had learned from working under Helen, her immediate quip was, "That I didn't want to be Prime Minister." In fact, being asked if she was ever seeking the top job was openly her most-hated question. Now that it's too late, her updated most-hated question is being reminded of it by "the people who bring up my answer to the last one", she jokes.

But there's a lot she is keen to emulate from Helen's career.

"She left a legacy. She made changes that lasted. Under her we had Kiwibank, interest-free student loans, Working for Families," Jacinda says.

"If you manage to leave things behind that don't get changed once you're gone, that's a big test. We will be different leaders, and we will both be products of our time. Helen was exactly what we needed then and I'll try and be what we need now."

Helen – an outspoken fan of Jacinda's for years – was one of the first to publicly congratulate Jacinda after she announced her pregnancy last month, wishing her and Clarke all the best and noting that "every woman should have the choice of combining family and career."

Even though she has run as a candidate for Auckland on three separate occasions – twice for Auckland Central, where she lost to National MP Nikki Kaye, and early last year, when she won the Mt Albert by-election – Jacinda has only lived in the city for eight years.

"I think it's helpful I didn't come from Auckland, just because it's given me totally different experiences. I've lived in cities, I've lived overseas, I've lived in rural communities of 3000."

The rural/city divide that sprung up during the 2017 election was deeply frustrating to her.

"I see us as a country carrying lots of challenges, and I don't think any one part of New Zealand should carry them on their own," she says.

There are differences between the areas, she acknowledges.

"You go into regions in New Zealand and they'll be thinking about how to create more jobs and stop losing their young people to the city or overseas. [But] there are some things that are definitely universal. You go outside of Auckland and people think that Auckland is a basket case. That's pretty universal…"

While she and Clarke will be in Auckland for the foreseeable future, she says there are definitely plans way down the line to retire somewhere quieter. Anywhere "a little more spread out, with a bit more green space" is really where she feels at home.

Jacinda is still close to a lot of her friends from Morrinsville College; there's a high school reunion this year for her graduating class of 1998 which should be good fun to attend, although considering they once voted her "Most likely to be Prime Minister", they were perhaps the least surprised group of New Zealanders last October. As one of her five guests to the swearing-in ceremony, she took her former social studies teacher.

The influence her upbringing had on shaping Jacinda's personal brand of politics cannot be underestimated.

"It made me hopeful that New Zealand can be different and better and that it should be. It also made me a real pragmatist – that's probably the Morrinsville part of the mix. I was surrounded by people who didn't see the world the way I did. So I know that sometimes change can be slow and you have to bring people with you."

It also gave her an early taste of just how polarising her brand of politics would be to a large part of New Zealand. Back when she was a candidate in the Waikato district, she was giving a speech about climate change to a local crowd, which included her grandmother, when she was roundly booed by the audience.

Afterwards, an MP told her that "Fifty per cent of the time, people are going to disagree with you, and if they don't, you're probably not saying anything."

Criticism of politicians is nothing new, nor is the extra level female politicians have to endure. Much has been made of Jacinda's good looks – none of it worth reprinting – and there was a bunch of slurs that came out during the campaign, the nicest of which was "Tinkerbell".

When asked how much of the criticism against her felt, or still feels, gender-based, there is a long pause. "At the time it did, but I've also tried to keep myself in check," she says.

"Because I'm going to get criticised, and sometimes it's going to be well-deserved… but there were times where I thought, 'Er, I'm just not sure I've heard that criticism levelled against male politicians.' But I try not to dwell on it too much. For me, it's probably the kind of thing that after I'm out of politics, I'll talk about more. I don't want it to feel to other women that a) we're a special case or b) it's harder here than it is in other professions. I do want it to feel like it's a place women can and should go into."

It illustrates the difficult position Jacinda finds herself in now, however. Being pregnant is hard, uncomfortable, exhausting. Being Prime Minister is probably similar. In every post-announcement interview, Jacinda has stressed, over and over again, how seriously she takes her role as Prime Minister, that fulfilling the mandate laid down to her by New Zealand is a great priority for her.

This is the road less travelled for women in politics, so she has to strike a potentially impossible balance: she cannot be shown to let the effects of pregnancy or new motherhood affect her job, because every error will be used as an example of why women shouldn't really try to do both. If she has too easy a time, she risks setting the "superwoman" bar too high and coming across as unrelatable.

Jacinda is quick to give credit to women who have paved some of the way before her.

"I am by no means the first woman to multitask, and in politics there are plenty of women who carved a path and incrementally have led the way to be able to make it possible for people to look upon my time in leadership and think, 'Yes, I can do the job and be a mother.'"

She's reminded of something Marilyn Waring, former MP and another one of Jacinda's heroines, once said about being "the first".

"She said, 'There are two types of people: we can either be women who fight so hard to get into a place that once we get through, we jam our foot in the door to pull through more people, or those who fight so hard to get there that once they get there they pull the door shut behind them.' I think it's a matter of us all ramming our foot in the door."

She's just reached the end of Labour's ambitious 100 days plan and it's clear Jacinda is relishing being in the driver's seat after nine long years of being in Opposition.

She once described the frustration as similar to that of waiting in an endless supermarket queue, not knowing if you should jump out of that queue because suddenly you're going to be next at the counter or not… "except it's a line that's been going for nine years". So now she's at the head of the queue, and when asked if she's enjoying the momentum, she almost leaps out of her chair.

"Yes! I mean, we've been trying for almost nine years to increase paid parental leave and we were in a month and had done that already," she says.

"As someone once said to me, 'One bad day in Government is better than a hundred good days – a thousand good days – in Opposition.' Because you're there to do something constructive and as much as you can try, it's very hard to do constructive things from Opposition."

The to-do list sitting before Jacinda is immense; the scope of the problems extreme. Early on in her new role, she was interviewed on CNN by veteran journalist Christiane Amanpour, who introduced her with, "Challenges facing Ms Ardern include North Korea, immigration and climate change."

Did Jacinda find that list intimidating? Not at all, she says – also acknowledging that North Korea is a global issue. She thinks Christiane went easy on her, that she could have added housing, child poverty, and homelessness to that terrifying list as well.

"She gave me a short list," she says, before growing serious. "They're all really big issues and the thing that probably worries me the most is how much time you have to resolve them. People are impatient for us to make things better; I can see why, but that's the challenge."

Not only in New Zealand, where the social media movement #knitforjacinda has knitters around the country creating clothes for needy children, but around the world, where it was breaking news on CNN and front page on UK newspaper The Guardian. Stories like this just don't come along very often.

She is only the third woman to ever become Prime Minister in New Zealand. She is one of the youngest heads of state. And, as of June this year, she'll be one of only two world leaders to give birth while in office… ever.

In a global information cycle still reeling from more than a year's worth of bad political headlines, Jacinda emerged as that rare thing: a good news story involving a woman. She got her boss's job, then her boss's boss's job, all without putting her hand up – and much of it while battling morning sickness.