Iowa lawmaker closes chapter on bringing newborn to work
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa lawmaker has closed an unusual chapter in her work life: Bringing along her newborn baby to the state Capitol.
Rep. Megan Jones, a Republican from the northwest Iowa city of Sioux Rapids, started bringing her daughter, Alma, to the Des Moines statehouse just a few weeks after giving birth on Jan. 24.
Alma was often spotted snoozing on her mother or observing legislative action from the vantage point of a portable bassinet in the Iowa House of Representatives. Jones announced last week that Alma is now headed to her next adventure: day care.
“It’s very emotional because she’s moving on,” Jones said as she left the Capitol on Thursday while holding a car seat with Alma inside. “The support from my colleagues has really been wonderful.”
Jones, 31, said her decision to bring Alma to work was driven in part by necessity. Her husband is a farmer with an early morning schedule, and Alma wasn’t initially old enough for day care. Jones wanted to represent her constituents during Iowa’s relatively short legislative session, which runs from January until about April.
“I knew I wanted to be here,” she said.
Experts say as more women run for state and federal office, expectations will shift on how politicians should balance their family lives. In Iowa, more than 95 women are running this year for the Legislature, Congress and statewide office like governor, a new record.
Motherhood in politics still has some thorns. U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, made headlines earlier this year when she announced she’s pregnant. As the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office, Duckworth said she’d work to change rules that now prohibit her from bringing a baby onto to the chamber floor.
In Wisconsin, the Eau Claire City Council banned children from their meeting platform last year after a councilwoman said she wanted to breastfeed her baby there during sessions.
Other women are turning that narrative around. A Democratic candidate for Wisconsin governor posted an online campaign video last month showing her breastfeeding her infant daughter. In Maryland, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate also released a similar campaign ad.
Elizabeth Brown, a Democratic councilwoman in Columbus, Ohio, was seven months pregnant when she decided to run for office in 2015. She’s now pregnant with her second child and plans to take 12 weeks of maternity leave, though she’ll still attend Council voting sessions. Brown, who has pushed for paid family leave, said local governments must be more accommodating to women.
“The more that we encourage women in all stages of life to feel it’s within reach to run for office and serve in office, I think the more women will actually do that,” she said.
For Jones, it meant sorting out logistics. She drove in Mondays with Alma and stayed in a Des Moines suburb during the week. The pair would return on Thursdays to their family, which includes Jones’ 2-year-old son. As assistant majority leader for the chamber, Jones had access to a private office to nurse and always carried a bottle of milk in case Alma got fussy during legislative meetings.
Jones said working mothers have similar challenges daily. But she added: “If we inspire people to run for office, that’s great.”
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, the top Republican in the Iowa House, said Jones reached out last year about her pregnancy and presented a game plan for how she would work while bringing her baby to the Capitol. Upmeyer said legislative leaders saw no reason not to be accommodating. Upmeyer, who became the first woman elected speaker in 2015, noted she raised her children before running for the state Legislature.
“When I was in Megan’s stage of life, that would not have been something I would have considered an option,” she said. “And clearly that’s changed, and I’m glad that’s changed.”