WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand returned to work on Thursday, six weeks after she gave birth to her first child, saying that she would not pretend she was superhuman or “hide the imperfections” of parenting.
The prime minister has become something of a trailblazer on the gender and parenting front, becoming only the second sitting world leader to give birth while in office (Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan was the first, in 1990.) But Ms. Ardern said she was prepared to juggle her dual responsibilities.
“I might be at the odd press conference with a little bit of spill on me,” she told reporters, adding that she and her family would “make it work.” She told Newshub that while it would have been “lovely to have more time” off on parental leave, “these were not normal circumstances.”
After spending her first day back at work conducting interviews with reporters at her home in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, Ms. Ardern said she and her family would move to the prime minister’s residence in the capital, Wellington, on Saturday.
Ms. Ardern came to power last October, promising a government that would “bring kindness back,” particularly for vulnerable New Zealanders. She announced her pregnancy in January, noting then that she would not be the first woman “to work and have a baby,” nor the first to multitask.
She became leader of the center-left Labour Party a year ago, and turned around the fortunes of the ailing party with a youthful, charismatic campaign. Reporters coined the term “Jacindamania” to describe the fervor of her supporters. Ms. Ardern made global headlines after she batted away questions from interviewers about whether she planned to have children if she became prime minister.
“I’m not going to pretend that I have the same lot as every other woman,” Ms. Ardern told Radio New Zealand on Thursday, adding that she was in a “very, very lucky” and “privileged” position.
Her partner, Clarke Gayford, 40, will now become a stay-at-home parent, “not a babysitter,” she said.
She made her remarks in a round of interviews with New Zealand media outlets, who all agreed not to post their stories until 5 p.m. New Zealand time. That carefully calibrated rollout also included the release of pictures of Ms. Ardern and Mr. Gayford with their baby that were provided by Ms. Ardern’s office. Her spokesman said no further pictures of the prime minister’s daughter would be made available.
After Ms. Ardern’s child was born, former Prime Minister Helen Clark — a mentor to Ms. Ardern — wrote in The Guardian that “no doors are closed to women.”
Ms. Ardern agreed, but said Thursday that her responsibilities were still a balancing act, “and there is guilt behind every door.”
“I do not have a monopoly on guilt,” she said about her dual role. “Women from all walks of life will feel to some degree like if they place more emphasis on this area, they are sacrificing something else over here.”
Saying she would “gift all women the absence of guilt” if she could, Ms. Ardern said she hoped one day women would be able to “make choices and feel satisfied with doing the best we can, both in the workplace and with our families.”
While she said she was conscious of the intense international interest surrounding her motherhood, she said she hoped some day her situation would not be seen as unusual.
“There’s this overlay of interest in something that is mundane, something that every parent has gone through,” she told TVNZ, about her life of “feeding, sleeping and nappies.”
“I absolutely accept this layer of interest because it’s not our normal yet,” she said. “But one day it will be.”
Ms. Ardern has asked that her child not be photographed on Parliament grounds, where Mr. Gayford and Neve will spend much of their time. Before Ms. Ardern announced her pregnancy, the government had already moved to make Parliament more friendly for parents.
At least five New Zealand lawmakers who were elected or returned to Parliament after September’s election were parents of babies under a year old. While breast-feeding in the debating chamber is not a new occurrence, the ban on children in the parliamentary swimming pool has been lifted, and a weekly parent-child swimming time has been instituted.
Ms. Ardern told TVNZ that her daughter and Mr. Gayford will travel with her to New York next month, where she will visit the United Nations General Assembly.
While she was on leave, the deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, who is the leader of a minor political party, assumed her role. Challenges facing the center-left government in that time have included the first strike action by New Zealand’s nurses in three decades. Their union is calling for better pay, staffing, and working conditions.
Elementary schoolteachers are expected to strike later this month, also over pay.
Ms. Ardern said Mr. Peters had done “a great job” in her absence.
Orignially published in NYT.