Willow-Jean Prime says she’s always breastfed her babies at work

Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime successfully juggles career and family.

September 25 was my first day as an MP for the Labour Party. I headed to Wellington with my mum, and so many bags, the push chair, the car seat, the wahakura (sleeping pod), and our seven-week-old baby Heeni wrapped on to me.

I thought to myself “We’re doing this!” I was proud to walk through those doors with my baby. It is always nerve-wracking having the cameras on you and thinking about what people might think and say. But I did what felt natural to me.

Over the past 10 years I have been a lawyer, consultant and district councillor. I have had five campaigns in five years. I have either been pregnant or with a baby during each campaign.

Hihana (my eldest daughter, now two-and-a-half) was just six days old when the Northland by-election was announced.

I have always taken my babies with me to meetings and work while I am breastfeeding, so right now Heeni needs to be here in Wellington with me. My party and parliamentary services have been very supportive and the comments have been overwhelmingly positive.

But I still get asked daily, “How will you do it?” and sometimes I wonder myself.

Most of these questions come from a place of genuine concern and curiosity. I think it’s natural for people to wonder because most families are trying to figure out how to find a work/life balance and are doubtful whether it even exists.

I always knew that I wanted to have children; that I could have both children and a career and that we would find a way to make it work.

I knew to make it work, my husband would need to be very hands on and that we would need a village to help us raise our children.

So we moved home to where our whanau are and from day one my husband and I have been a team. We do things differently so that Dion and I can work and the girls’ lives are settled.

My mum and dad provide the girls with continuity, and they bring the magic like only grandparents do. Dion’s whanau are nearby and when I am home I have quality time with my own, where I put the phone down and I’m present to enjoy them.

My mum was a stay-at-home mother and she raised us to believe that we could do it all and has strongly encouraged us to do so. Therefore I grew up believing that as a whanau we would find a way to make it work.

I am happy that we are doing it and I am grateful that I didn’t have to choose. And I believe other women shouldn’t have to choose between furthering their career and having kids. But there is still a real perception that women have to make this choice, and I think it is still a reality for many.

We have to change that perception and that reality. I acknowledge that every woman’s circumstances are different and many women simply have to work because the cost of living is so expensive and their family cannot survive on one income.

There is more that needs to be done to make it comfortable for parents to work and raise a family. We need longer paid parental leave, flexible work arrangements, more support for early childhood care and education, we need to address gender pay equity. I believe if those things were in place then women wouldn’t feel like they had to choose one over the other.

Having a career and children can be challenging and we have fails. Little things like Dion has driven off with the car seat; I have forgotten to put my expressed milk in the freezer (such a waste of that liquid gold); we’ve lost mum out and about at events (she has refused to use a cell phone until now).

It’s all about systems and life-hacks and we are constantly trying to find them. No one week is the same in my work and it takes a lot of compromise from everyone. I am fortunate that I can have a family and represent our people and communities in Parliament. For me it takes a village.

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