On My Mind: Governor Mom

It's not that she is a public official. It's not that she gave birth to twin girls last week. Nor that she has a stay-at-home husband who takes care of their other 3-year-old daughter. These all describe 36-year-old Jane Swift, the Acting Governor of Massachusetts. But what will make her name go down in history books is the fact that she became the first governor ever to give birth while in office. With that accomplishment she has become a trailblazer, a role model for all working women.

While I was taking pride in what I saw as another step forward for women, (especially female politicians) I happened to pick up a copy of the National Review. Its cover story was entitled, "The Case Against Working Mothers." In it author Richard Lowry cites the recent study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that reported children in day care tend to be more aggressive and unpleasant.

Lowry states: "Mothers who choose to work full-time jobs and routinely leave their young children with others for much of the day are not normal. They are a historical aberration: They represent a minority preference among women and they run exactly counter to the standard of motherhood that should be encouraged."

Then why, pray tell, Mr. Lowry, are more than 60 percent of women with children under age three working? They are no aberration. They are the norm in 2001.

Memories of Working Motherhood

I don't think he would approve either of Gov. Swift or my having a career, with two children in the care of others.

When I was pregnant with my daughter 30 years ago and working as a reporter in Chicago, I was an oddity. People would gawk at me as I went about my work. I remained on the job until I was in my eighth month, and even scored a national scoop on a major national story. I felt fine, but in those days, nobody could believe I was still working. Why wasn't I at home resting up for my labor and delivery? Some women who were pregnant would hide their bulging middles, venturing out only in the evenings so they wouldn't be seen.

I returned to work when my daughter was three months old, after I was offered a job in television that I felt I couldn't turn down. My husband fully supported my decision. Thank God for my mother, who became my child care provider. The logistics of taking my daughter back and forth each day were impossible, so we left her at my parents' home and came over each night to feed her and put her to bed. Then she came home with us on the weekend. This was not easy. Not easy at all. Some nights we would be so tired, but we had a responsibility to our daughter.

I always feared that because of my work, I would miss many of her milestones of development. Well, she managed to save them for the weekends. I heard her first intelligible words, saw her take her first steps, and learn to eat with a spoon and drink from a cup. When she was sick, I was afraid to tell anyone at work, so I would call in and say I was sick so I could take care of her. As she grew older and had plays at school or soccer games I would make any number of excuses involving myself. I didn't dare want the men at work to say I couldn't do my job because I was a mother.

Today, I admire the women who work up until the last minute before giving birth and nobody thinks anything of it. When they return to work, the withdrawal from their babies is difficult. They worry, and call, and rush home to be with them. But very few have left their jobs to become full-time moms. Not that some of them don't want to stay home, but usually they are in the labor force because their salaries are necessary for the family to maintain a decent standard of living. Or because they truly feel they have the smarts and talent to make a contribution to society.

Political Pregnancy

But back to Gov. Swift. During her so-called "political pregnancy", she suffered considerable criticism. Is she unfit? Will she have hormone swings? Won't her mind be on her babies and not on politics? She handled the charges with great aplomb, like saying, "I hope that very soon we're going to transcend my uterus." She suggested that giving birth would not destroy her brain cells. Besides, by all accounts, being governor of Massachusetts is not particularly taxing on whoever holds office.

Gov. Swift — who delivered by Caesarean section — will take her babies home to recuperate and begin the bonding process. She expects to be away from the Governor's Office for 6 to 8 weeks. She plans to resume light gubernatorial duties in a few days and stay on top of the state's business by telephone, e-mail and staff visits.

No doubt her detractors will search for ammunition to use against her. But if Governor Swift were a man and was diagnosed with cancer, would the time away from his duties for radiation or chemotherapy create a hubbub? No, he would probably have the sympathy and support of the electorate.

Perhaps Gov. Swift deserves no less.