Career

'I'm no superwoman!' Jacinda Ardern on juggling work and pregnancy

'When you've got one of the most privileged jobs in the country, you can't sit there and feel sorry for yourself because you've got an amazing opportunity.'

By Nicky Pellegrino

In a busy Auckland café, she looks like an ordinary customer, hungrily tucking into a late lunch of a cheese baguette. But a week earlier, she was sitting near Prince William at dinner and having tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. And next month, she will be the second world leader in history to give birth while in office.

Since she became our Prime Minister in October, Jacinda Ardern's life has been a whirlwind. Juggling the country's top job with her first pregnancy must be incredibly tough at times, but today she seems rested and glowing. Even if she didn't feel as great as she looks, you would never know it because Jacinda (37) isn't one for complaining.

The diversity of her job is what Jacinda enjoys the most about being PM, which has recently included meeting the Queen as well as former US president Barack Obama.
The diversity of her job is what Jacinda enjoys the most about being PM, which has recently included meeting the Queen as well as former US president Barack Obama.

Yes, she'll admit to having had terrible morning sickness, which struck on the very day she was sworn in as Prime Minister and continued up until Christmas. And yes, she did feel like she was car-sick for pretty much all of that time.

"But at that point, no-one knew I was pregnant so there was only a handful of people I could talk to about it and that was probably helpful," she says cheerfully. "It meant I couldn't fixate on it too much. I just had to fight it and get on with it."

So Jacinda ate a lot of bread and crackers, and kept her mind firmly fixed on the task of setting goals for her stint in government.

"Those were busy days," she admits, "that period of getting us up and running, and laying down the foundation for what we need to do. It was good to have that distraction and focus."

Many of us probably feel we could never cope with the challenges Jacinda is facing on a daily basis, but she isn't so convinced.

"I'm loathe to hear women say, 'I couldn't do what you do,' because I think a lot could. Sometimes you don't know until you're in the situation what you're capable of and how resilient you are," she reveals.

There was never a moment when she allowed herself to think she couldn't juggle politics and pregnancy. "No, no, that would have felt a little bit indulgent," she insists. "When you've got one of the most privileged jobs in the country, you can't sit there and feel sorry for yourself because you've got an amazing opportunity."

Group photo with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and schoolchildren.
Group photo with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and schoolchildren.

However, adds Jacinda, "I don't want to give any sense that I'm Superwoman because I'm not. There are certainly times when I've had huge, huge sympathy for the many women who've experienced it before me but managed to plough on nonetheless."

Thankfully, since the morning sickness ended, Jacinda has been feeling her normal self – aside from the occasional kick in the ribcage from her growing baby.

She and partner Clarke Gayford (40) still haven't revealed whether they're expecting a girl or boy.

"I'm astounded that we've managed to keep it a secret," she laughs. "That'll be the test, if we can manage it to the finish line!"

Meeting French President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace in Paris.
Meeting French President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace in Paris.

It's not that she wants their baby's gender to be a surprise for the country. More that she and Clarke need to keep something of the pregnancy just for themselves. And after he or she is born – the due date is June 17 – Jacinda's hope is that they'll be able to continue to create some privacy for their little family.

"We're going to try," she says. "Because they didn't choose the situation they're being born into."

There are no names chosen as yet and since she's planning to keep working until the last minute, there is unlikely to be much time for discussions.

"People give us suggestions and I encourage that because the more help, the better," she smiles.

"It's a minefield. Part of me hopes that something will come to us at the time."

Attending Polyfest in March.
Attending Polyfest in March.

Her own parents, Ross and Laurell, struggled when it came to naming her. "My mother was absolutely convinced I was going to be a boy so had lined up the name Seth," explains Jacinda.

"And then I arrived and completely blew her expectations, leaving her without a name. There was a lot of back and forth between her and my dad until they stumbled across something in a book that seemed inoffensive. It was the one name they could agree on."

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The plan is, after six weeks with her newborn, Jacinda will return to running the country, while Clarke will be a stay-at-home dad. She is aware they'll need to be adaptable but has been encouraged by the number of women who have told her they did the same thing and that she'll be fine.

Jacinda also spoke to Barack Obama about how he made it a priority to always try to have dinner with his family in the White House.

"That takes discipline and I was really impressed," she says. "It's easy to let the job get in the way."

The other piece of advice the former US president gave her was to focus on being the best leader she can be in the time her government has, rather than worrying about winning the next election.

So now the challenge is to push ahead with ambitious goals that include improving housing and transport, battling child poverty, caring for the environment, growing jobs and developing the regions.

While that means a lot of hard work, there have also been some amazing moments so far. The recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London provided Jacinda with a chance to chat to other leaders as well as rub shoulders with royalty. It was her second meeting with Prince William, who she was seated near to at a state banquet.

Clarke and Jacinda  watching the triumphant New Zealand women's Black Sticks win gold at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Clarke and Jacinda watching the triumphant New Zealand women's Black Sticks win gold at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

"He's very down-to-earth, genuinely interested in New Zealand and is just a kind, kind person. I think you could see that when he visited here as well."

The diversity of her job is what Jacinda loves most. She might be making major policy decisions or meeting royalty one day and visiting a primary school the next. One of the things she finds most heartening is the number of children who write to her and she makes time to read their messages.

"I really need to save those letters for a bad day because they're phenomenal and so thoughtful. You can get so much negativity, particularly through social media."

The less favourable aspects of politics must seem relentless at times. There have been weeks when our PM has seemed constantly under fire and although she says she's never developed a hard shell, Jacinda's found other ways
of coping. While taking the constructive criticism on-board, she avoids reading a lot of the unhelpful stuff.

"We're in the public eye and you take what comes with that," she shrugs. "You just smile through it. Luckily, I've got plenty of smiles in me!"

What Jacinda often tells other people who have tricky roles is that there is no shame in looking after yourself. For her, that means making sure she sleeps properly.

"I know I can work pretty long hours, make good decisions and have a clear head, if I get enough sleep."

'We're in the public eye and you take what comes with that. You just smile through it. Luckily, I've got plenty of smiles in me!'
'We're in the public eye and you take what comes with that. You just smile through it. Luckily, I've got plenty of smiles in me!'

For exercise, she loves to walk and tries to have a healthy diet, saying, "I eat a lot of omelettes."

When there is time, her preferred way of relaxing is to cook. "I bake scones and often I'll challenge myself to make a meal with whatever is in the cupboard," explains Jacinda, whose favourite comfort food is the tuna mornay her mother taught her to whip up.

For the next few years, she isn't going to have much chance to potter in the kitchen. There is so much to achieve and Jacinda already has an eye on her legacy to New Zealand.

"We think we're clean and green, and we're responsible when it comes to environmental guardianship. We think we're a great place to raise kids. We think we have decent public services. We think that our small towns are as important as our cities. If I can make all that a reality, then I'll be happy. So yes, that's what I want to achieve. It's not a small list!"

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