You can use the office to breastfeed if you like.
The offer is generous and thoughtful. But I feel deflated as I sit amongst the computers and paperwork, while my Pilates session continues on without me.
I don’t actually have a problem breastfeeding in public. I have fed Quinn in cafés and restaurants, on trams and trains, in art galleries and sitting in a pew at church. I have breastfed while walking along the street, which takes a certain amount of boob-jujitsu but once I got there I felt like a goddess.
But now my baby is crying and I know he is hungry and that he couldn’t care less that I still have 25 minutes of paid-for Pilates time ahead of me. You can use the office to breastfeed if you like. Something in my Pilates instructor’s tone makes it sound less like an option and more like an instruction. I scurry obediently into the staff office with my crying Quinn, leaving my exercise class behind me.
I see, through the glass doors, that the ‘informal morning tea’ is actually set up like a board meeting, and I am about to be the subject of an unexpected panel interview. A screaming baby, upset from being transferred from the car, is strapped to my chest. I’m not sure whether they were warned about the baby. I wonder how this will go.
I have decided to use my time on maternity leave to go through an official Uniting Church process that will help me work out if I want to be a minister, and equally whether the church wants me as a minister. This is my first time meeting this committee. A group of older men and women are stationed in a serious fashion around a large table, peering over halfmoon glasses and drinking cups of tea as they go about the business of the church.
I open the door, interrupting their meeting with my child’s wails. Everybody looks up. But it takes only a second for surprised looks to turn into grins. Immediately several people stand up to greet me and my baby. Boy or girl? How old? I have a grandson around that age. A gentleman asks how I like my tea and a woman offers me a plate of Arnott biscuits that somebody has spread icing over the top.
Quinn is out of his carrier now and in his favourite spot on my shoulder, so he’s no longer crying. The Chair has a certain look on her face that is becoming familiar to me in women of a certain age, and I know to hand the baby over. She holds Quinn for the entirety of the meeting, jiggling and swaying and ensuring that he can see his mum at all times, who is addressing the committee and speaking to their many questions.
The meeting is light and jovial as though Quinn’s presence has beckoned the Inner Children of the room to come out and play. I find that the words I need to speak come to me easily. If I ever had a façade it was pulled away when I walked into the room with a crying baby, and if the committee members ever wore masks they took them off so that they could smile in the baby’s presence. Communication, therefore, is easy, and I wonder why we don’t always do this, when the presence of a child seems to improve the way we do business and make it more efficient in a way; clearing away some of the things that stop us saying what we mean, snow drifts evaporating in the sun.
The Speaker of Parliament in New Zealand has a baby in his lap. He is babysitting, bottle in hand, while he carries on his Speaker duties and the mother, an MP, carries on her MP duties. Somehow the business of government is coexisting in the same place as the business of children and parenting.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand gives birth while in office. This is a glimpse of a new world that makes me sit forward, bright-eyed with hope – a world where children and mothers are not shut off and separated, but are seen as integral to life, work, politics, everything.
Who knows – maybe even Pilates.