Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam has made history as the first pregnant leader of an Australian political party.
The University of Melbourne graduate entered parliament in 2017 after spending 15 years as a social worker. She worked in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, international development, family services and settlement services for newly arrived migrants from refugee backgrounds.
Earlier this month Dr Ratnam took to social media to announce her pregnancy with husband, Colin Jacobs, a fellow high-ranking Greens official, after spending many years unable to conceive.
“The doctors couldn’t identify what the reason was,” Ratnam says. “It took six years. It was very emotional. I know so many people go through this too. There’s great expectation and hope and grief. There’s a lot of people out there suffering from silent grief.”
“I have a supportive and loving partner and we’ve been able to talk through it. This experience has really deepened my understating and empathy towards parenthood.”
Since falling pregnant, Dr Ratnam has been suffering from hyperemesis, a pregnancy condition that is characterised by severe nausea, vomiting and dehydration.
“It’s been challenging, and even though it’s gotten a lot better, it might return throughout the pregnancy,” she said. “My sister, a twin, had severe illness throughout her pregnancy. I’m lucky that I’ve got a busy and intense job that I love. And I’m lucky to have some flexibility at my work place. It was also fortunate timing we had a break over December and January when I was at my most ill.”
But she is determined to continue working.
“I’m firmly committed to my constituents in northern metropolitan Melbourne,” Dr Ratnam recently told The Age.
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As we prepare to go back to parliament in a few days, I wanted to share some happy news with you all. My husband Colin and I are excited to be expecting our first baby in July! This news has been especially delightful as we had thought it wasn’t possible for us to have children and had all but given up hope. For all those out there who have gone through similar experiences or want to but are experiencing the heartache of not being able to have children, my heart is with you. Learning this happy news over summer has been joyous and also challenging as I’ve battled quite severe ‘morning’ (more like 24 hour!) sickness and still am. One of the wonders of being an identical twin is that I have a glimpse of what the next few months could look like as my sister also experienced hyperemesis. I’ve been thinking a lot about the women who work in physically demanding jobs with very little flexibility and how hard it must be when their health is impacted by pregnancy or other issues. I’ve been counting myself lucky for the support I have that is allowing me to continue to work. I will take some time off from July and will keep you updated with those details soon. In the meantime, our team of Green MPs is getting ready to head back to parliament this week. Like so many, our hearts have been heavy with the weight of the devastating bushfires that have gripped our state. Knowing that summer isn’t over and that more fires and heatwaves are likely adds to the despair that I know so many are also feeling. If anything, we are strengthened in our resolve to do everything we can to protect our planet and the generations to come from the worst effects of a warming climate. There is a lot we can still do. Ending the burning of coal and other fossil fuels is something Victoria must act on urgently given how much deeply polluting coal we dig up and burn every year. There is no time for business as usual anymore. But there is room for hope. Bringing new life into the world has reminded me of that in the most powerful way.
Dr Ratnam credits New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with giving her strength and resolve around mixing pregnancy and early motherhood with politics.
“When Arden announced she was having a baby, she made a remark, something along the lines of the baby being quite a happy surprise, or that it was an extra delight. She and her partner were told that they’d have difficulty conceiving. And when she spoke about those realities publicly, it just really struck a chord with me. She was talking about something a lot of people don’t talk about. I really connected with that.”
In terms of making history with her pregnancy Dr Ratnam says it’s telling.
“The fact that I’m the first does highlight just how much we have to go towards more women being elected,” she says. “I want to make sure more women are in positions of representation. I hope I’m able to do my bit.”
The U.K born former Councillor of Moreland credits her party’s strong history of female leadership for paving the way to ensuring a smooth ride as she steps into motherhood.
“There’s been a long standing culture of empowering women in the Greens,” she told Women’s Agenda. “I’ve benefited from this strong history. With strong female leadership comes the culture of advancing women’s rights in the workplace. We have good industrial policies, paid parental leave, paid paternal leave. Finland is making great strides, and that is something we look towards.”
“I’ve also learned through the lived experience and barriers that a number of our MPs have pushed through.
“There needs to be things that happen in workplaces. Ellen has spoken about how when she had her first child, parliament was not geared towards things like change rooms or parents room. She, among others, had pushed that, and it’s really improved now. A number MPs now have much better conditions because of people like her.”
I want to share some happy news with you all. My husband Colin and I are expecting our first baby in July! This news has been especially delightful as we had thought it wasn’t possible for us to have children & had all but given up hope… https://t.co/9YdoaLCHwk #springst
— Samantha Ratnam – Leader of the Victorian Greens (@SamanthaRatnam) January 31, 2020
“I’m still working out the logistics for when the baby arrives,” she says. “I’m working those things out with my colleagues. I have a supportive team at the Victorian parliament. A team environment is very important. They’ve been able to support me when I’ve needed it.”
“As for Parliament, I have a few months off from Chamber when the baby arrives and then return and navigate the transition period back to full duty. At the moment I’m having lots of dialogues and thinking about alternatives.”
“Our jobs as politicians are hard to define. Each week is different. We have long, demanding days requiring intense sustained focus. I try to calibrate my schedule and be flexible with my approach where I can. It’s very important to be clear with communication so that people understand what’s going on.”
Dr Ratnam is hopeful that whatever the next few months present she will persevere.
“Knowing that I’ve gone through challenging things in the past has given me more strength to know I can face things in the future.”