Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter says adjusting to motherhood has been a roller coaster

''Last year was very challenging at times... I was probably more emotionally vulnerable to some of the political attacks,'' the Minister for Women and Minister for Transport has said.

It was a proud moment for new mother and Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter. Son Joaquin, age 16 months, uttered one of his first words and it was… bus.

“He couldn’t quite say it so it came out more like bah,” she giggles. “But every time he sees a bus he goes ‘bah, bah’.”

On a roll now, the Minister for Women, Associate Minister of Health and Green Party MP adds, “Oh, and my sister-in-law told me that he saw a woman go by on a bike and he said ‘mama’.”

For the politician who made global headlines by cycling to hospital to give birth in August 2018 this is a big deal.

“Yes, I do want him to be independent and be able to walk and cycle to school,” Julie Anne laughs.

“He already knows!”

Eighteen months into new motherhood Julie Anne is finding her stride.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” she says honestly, “and I do think that last year was very challenging emotionally at times because of the combination of politics and having a little baby at home.

“I was probably a little bit more emotionally vulnerable to some of the political attacks but it’s also given me a new passion for everything I’ve fought in politics for.”

Certain events have moved her more deeply than they perhaps would have before motherhood, she reveals.

“Like the student strikes for climate action – even just talking about that makes me start welling up,” she says.

“Tied up in that is the stuff around what Joaquin’s childhood is going to be like.

“I know the decisions we make in the next 10 years are going to affect his future and his generation.

“They’re not going to be able to do as much as we have the power to do now. So when we passed the Zero Carbon Act in Parliament… I started crying then too.”

The world-wide student strikes for climate action moved Julie Anne to tears. Photo: Getty

Julie Anne gave birth to Joaquin two months after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave birth to baby Neve and the PM’s agenda to “normalise” the reality of being a working mother, coupled with Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard’s bid to make Parliament more child-friendly, has meant there has never been a better time for Julie Anne to be a mother in politics.

Ardern became the first world leader to take her baby to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2018 and told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, “I do think that if we want to make our workplaces more permissive… then we need to acknowledge that there are logistical challenges that come with that…”

“I hope that… just by being a bit more open, which I accept brings vulnerability… it might create a path for other women.”

On Waitangi Day she again made her point, attending the day’s celebrations with a smiling baby Neve in her arms.

And while it was the PM who made the headlines, Julie Anne was also at Waitangi with her baby.

Jacinda Ardern attended this year’s Waitangi Day celebrations with daughter Neve. Julie Anne was also there with Joaquin. Photo: Getty

Those who were present might have even witnessed a very excited Joaquin making a run for Neve to say hello. Although word on the street is that Neve was less than impressed.

“I love that we can do that and it’s very much embraced by most New Zealanders,” Julie Anne says.

“I mean, politics is meant to be about representation so we need to represent parents and family.”

With the election coming up in September Julie Anne has a busy year ahead.

“I’ve run election campaigns before but this will be my first time also having a child and being a minister. I don’t know exactly how this one will work.”

She and partner Peter Nunns moved with Joaquin from Auckland to Wellington at the beginning of last year to make life easier as a family.

And after Julie Anne returned to work from maternity leave Peter took six months’ unpaid leave then returned to work on flexible hours.

The adjustments they’ve made have meant that Peter has become their son’s “go to parent” and it’s something that Julie Anne has found she’s had to make peace with herself about.

“I think it’s fantastic role modelling for men to be taking more of the parenting on. To have Peter showing that he’s really great at the household stuff and he’s got a really great relationship with Joaquin.

“But I’ve felt a little bit jealous too,” she admits.

Photography: Tim Onnes (This photo and hero image)

She takes comfort in the fact that in the mornings when they’re getting ready for work it’s Peter who has to deal with their young son’s demands.

“It has made it quite easy for me to get out the door,” she jokes.

On a more serious note, though, she adds: “Over the Christmas break I took Joaquin away to the South Island for 10 days and after that it was a bit more split between the two of us. We got a little bit of that bond back.”

One thing Julie Anne is acutely aware of is not giving the impression that it has all been easy.

As Minister for Women she admits feeling a certain pressure to get the messaging and the tone right here.

“I certainly feel it, to speak for women and to advocate in government for us to do more.

“And I don’t want to pretend that this is super easy. I can relate to the challenges that working parents have and I only have one [child] so I imagine it’s so much harder with two or three.

“And I’m full of admiration for solo parents, the majority of whom are women. I want to make sure that as a government we are doing everything we can to support them.”

Photo: Tim Onnes

She believes working mothers need lots of support and there are “trade-offs” that have to made, too.

“My partner had to take unpaid leave for six months and he’s been amazing and I couldn’t do it without him.

“We’ve had lots of family support and I’ve just had to accept that I won’t be the perfect mother. But that’s okay because I’m good enough.

“As long as I love him and he’s clothed and fed and has a roof over his head…”

Julie Anne would like to see paid parental leave extended for New Zealanders.

“If you compare it to what Finland’s just announced – seven months per parent. I think that is something that New Zealand should aspire to.

“The other thing that many of the Scandinavian countries do well is quality childcare and generous childcare subsidies. We have some and that’s good but, again, we could go further.

“It’s about building that awareness and support for it politically, and ultimately it would pay huge dividends because those early years are so important in terms of what children are able to achieve later in life.”

One of Julie Anne’s most helpful supporters has turned out to be the Prime Minister herself.

The two women have bonded over their common ground as mums in politics, with the PM being “extremely helpful” on matters of “breast pumps and all sorts of things”.

Neve and her mum even attended Joaquin’s first birthday party, which was held in Julie Anne’s Parliamentary office because it fell on a sitting day.

Like any parent, above all else Julie Anne just wants her son to be happy.

She would love him to have a playmate “but we’ve got to get through this election and see what happens. You fall so in love with them I can understand why people do it again but I’m also aware that might be an incredible challenge if I’m carrying on in politics, and I turned 40 a month or two ago.”

Julie Anne has struggled in the past to get pregnant, suffering two miscarriages before getting pregnant with Joaquin.

She told the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, “I never expected we’d have any problem getting pregnant – in fact, I didn’t. But I lost the pregnancy very early on. And then the next one at eight weeks. We tried for another year after that, but nothing happened.

“I’m quite a rational person and thought I could tell myself it simply wasn’t meant to be, but I was surprised at how intensely powerful my emotions were around the pregnancies and miscarriages. It affected me profoundly. It was upsetting and very sad for both of us.”

“One great thing” is that Julie Anne’s brother and sister-in-law, who live in Wellington, have just welcomed their first child – a son born on February 29.

“So at least he’s going to have a cousin the same age and that relationship between cousins can be a really special one.”

Meanwhile, at the time of writing this story a new update came through from the Minister’s office.

Joaquin has a new word, and the words is… bike.

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