Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Baby on the Board

The last six months, since I was somewhat surprisingly elected to the Puketapapa Local Board, have been such a whirlwind that my intended post on what it was like at the start, as a woman and as a mother (not to mention as a centre-leftie) went by the by.  Maybe I'll write it Next Week.

However I can share some observations about Snuffly's involvement as the unofficial seventh member of the Board.  He's been at most things, as he was five weeks' old when both his parents were elected.  Three year old Wriggly struggled quite a bit with his younger brother going to meetings with Mummy and Daddy, but now that often they both stay home for the night events, with a friendly babysitter, he's more relaxed.  Still cries when poor S1 or S2 arrive, which must be quite disconcerting, then he's usually happily playing and forgets to say goodbye or wave at us from the window as promised earlier in the evening. 

Snuffly has been a smiley cuddly dream for anyone looking after him, including me.  I simply couldn't be doing this* if he was sick, had a disability, was a reflux baby or had colic.  I'm very aware that his good health, and our good level of resources, are what enables me to be a Local Board member. 

I've breastfed him in all sorts of odd spots - in the kitchen at Tradeshall during the City Vision results party, while I was on the phone to a mate in Wellington who wanted the goss, and didn't tell me the General Secretary of the Labour Party was listening in; in the old Auckland City Council chambers, with portraits of the Queen and her hubby looking on; at the tech training, as the only woman other than one of the facilitators, with a bunch of mainly older men including George Hawkins MP struggling with the new laptops; in a back room at a public meeting angry residents worried that a "The Warehouse" would radically change their neighbourhood; during a hearing on a resource consent for aforementioned "The Warehouse" proposal; and, most uncomfortably, during our inauguration at the start of November, when Snuffly was just two months old and basically none of my business-y clothes fitted.  While it was nice to have several hundred people turn up to celebrate our election, especially my whanau and friends, it was incredibly daunting to have to sit at the front, side-on to the crowd so I couldn't hide behind the table, and feed my small baby at the start of the night.  . 

Generally when I'm feeding Snuffly in public I'm keen to be as discreet as possible.  I can't think of a time with this child or the previous one when I've been at all interested in people seeing my breasts in that brief period when baby is going on or coming off the nipple.  And unfortunately I find breastfeeding really hard, and so with Snuffly I'm still using nipple shields which make discretion tricky.  Luckily I've got quite adept at it, I think; working out which clothes are going to give me the flexibility I need and not flash the world, and how to best manoeurve them and Snuffly in the right dance to minimise pain, maximise milk, and eliminate skin shows. 

I've not had a single complaint to date.  Someone did make a somewhat snarky comment that I could have taken a couple of ways, a month or so back, but I can't remember it now so it can't have been that bad.  Staff in particular, as well as other members of the City Vision ticket, have been amazingly supportive.  Snuffly has been very good about cuddles with others, which has been a relief, and of course his father is often around to share the duties which is immeasurably helpful. 

One of the things I've been careful to do is assume that whatever Snuffly and I need is just going to be ok.  I've stopped myself from asking if I can have a room to put the portacot in, near the meeting venue, and just checked that they know I need one.  We've just turned up, and started to feed when necessary, because at this point we are simply a package deal;  it's only recently that he's been having a bottle enough of the time for me to go into the office without him for a significant period.  Oddly I am now less comfortable about feeding him with the bottle at an event than I am about breastfeeding.  I suspect if I hadn't been so tired and overwhelmed when this all started I might have had the energy to be more worried about feeding in public.  Seems the oddest things have a silver lining.

And I've got amazingly good at assessing the wheeled access of a zillion places, along with which venues have bathrooms where you can change nappies and which don't (*cough* Auckland Town Hall *cough*).  All useful knowledge, and not just for those with young babies either.

I'm not doing this to make a point about breastfeeding in public or how when babies are welcome mothers can participate. I'm doing it because it is the only way I can do it. I hope it does break down some barriers around babies (and their parents) being acceptable in public life, and knowing that it might does make it a bit easier for me to keep going. But honestly if I could not be doing it this way I would. Because it is HARD. To be trying to work, trying to have difficult conversations about politics and learning so much new stuff, when I'm jiggling Snuffly to stop him crying, attempting to judge if he needs to go down yet, needs a nappy change or perhaps will have to be fed early, is really tricky. I don't recommend it.

*  By which I mean what is effectively a half time (plus) job.  They're paying elected members on my Board around $35K pa, equipping us with laptops, vodems and Blackberries, so to me that means this is a significant part time commitment that should be approached professionally and not as just something I do on the side of everything else.  As the Local Boards are a unique structure in local government, and operating for the first time, many members are taking different approaches, as we all struggle to work it out, and to fit our old lives around the new commitment.  It's a great privilege to be on the Board.  I just wish Rodney Hide et al hadn't rushed it all in, because it's a bit of a mess as a result.


Meg said...

You are totes amazing! I reckon it would make a really interesting doco actually...There is so little political participation combined with motherhood that your experience of political representation combined with motherhood would be so unique.

Demelza said...

political participation and being a mum are quite often 2 things that dont go together well... I found it hard to juggle my eldest with being on a governing body of a party. it got harder when I had #2 and #3, its only now with #4 that I have managed to get organised again to be political, but its not easy.

sound slike you are doing a great job. go you

Meg said...

Yes, and I think I should qualify with 'visible' political participation combined with motherhood. It is happening but is often overlooked by mainstream assumptions of what is political etc

Xavier said...

Excellent post, Julie

Reading this, I was reminded of the story where an MP in the Victorian Legislative Assembly had to leave the chamber because her baby wasn't allowed in there as a non MP or parliamentary clerk or sergeant at arms - she was breastfeeding at the ceremony, and since her baby had to leave, so did she...

Anyway, that was a digression :)

strong light said...

Great post! I've returned to work, with a 12 week old baby. We have a parents room that I can use to feed her in but its small and windowless so today I decided to sit on a couch in our atrium and feed her. Well, everyone that walked past decided to stop and comment on what a lovely baby she is, and how nice it is to see a baby at work etc, and with every person she pulled off the breast to give them a gummy smile, so I ended up back in the windowless room just so that I could get her fed! But it made me feel that things are definatly changing....

lprent said...

Was reading with the idiot box on line on TV1 after looking to see the news (very unusual for me). Looked up on the news about Auckland infrastructure. Cute shot of baby with bottle, camera pulls back, and it turns out to be Michael Wood :) First time I have seen snuffly.

I'll suggest the doco idea to Lyn. She is starting to think about the next project now that the DVDs from the last one are nearly done