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Pregnant and in power: Meet New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Elected last fall, Ardern surprised everyone when she announced she was pregnant months later.
by Eun Kyung Kim / / Source: TODAY

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Jacinda Ardern is the third female prime minister in New Zealand. She’s also the youngest female leader of any nation in the world.

But her policy decisions aren’t why she's making headlines around the world. It’s the policy she’s about to take: a six-week maternity leave.

“I'm looking forward to the day when we won't have new stories about that because it won't be nearly as unusual,” she told NBC’s Cynthia McFadden in an exclusive interview. “But for now I accept that that's just the way it is.”

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Ardern, 37, is pregnant with her first child, due in June. She will be only the second elected leader in history to give birth while serving as head of state. The first was Benazir Bhutto, who gave birth in 1990 while serving as Pakistan’s prime minister.

Ardern doesn’t think her transition to becoming a working mom makes her that unusual, despite criticism by detractors.

"A pregnant prime minister isn't feminism, it's betraying your voters," British tabloid columnist Liz Jones wrote in January after Ardern announced her pregnancy. "Surely your country shouldn't have to compete for attention with a colicky toddler."

Ardern dismissed the criticism as nonsense.

“Women multitask every day — every single day. The sentiment in that piece suggests that women can only be mothers or 'other,'" she said. "Can I be a prime minister and a mother? Absolutely. Will I have help to do it? Yes.”

New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern on TODAY
Jacinda Ardern took office as New Zealand prime minister in October 2017.TODAY

That help will come at work from her deputy prime minister, who will run the nation while Ardern goes on leave.

At home, she’ll get assistance from the baby’s father, Clarke Gayford, a professional fisherman and broadcaster who has an angling program.

“Clarke will be a stay-at-home dad,” Ardern said.

The couple have been together for four years but wedding bells aren’t in their plans.

New Zeland prime minister, Jacinda Ardern with boyfriend Clarke Gayford
Ardern on marrying her partner, Clarke Gayford: "It's just not something we've really gotten around to.”TODAY

“We never have made a deliberate decision not to get married,” Ardern said. “We're very committed to each other, it's just not something we've really gotten around to.”

She then laughed and added: “We haven't correctly sequenced, perhaps. But no one really takes particular issue with that — except probably my grandmother, probably, beyond the grave.”

Ardern has been serious about government from an early age, joining a political party when she was 17.

"That meant I stood out to my peers because that was not normal," she said.

Neither was how she became prime minister. Ardern, the former leader of the International Union of Socialist Youth, teamed up with the conservative New Zealand First Party. For comparison, it would be as if Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders teamed up with Texas Republican Ted Cruz.

That has led to some comparisons Ardern feels are unjust. She takes issue with a tweet posted last fall by The Wall Street Journal, which compared her immigration views to those of Donald Trump. Ardern said the tweet "infuriated" her.

Like the United States, there are deep political divisions in New Zealand but Ardern appears to have gained widespread support from people who didn’t vote for her. Some in the nation are calling the popularity wave "Jacindamania."

Ardern said if it helps encourage young women to get involved, she’s all for it.

“I see the little girls coming over, you know? If they see a woman in a job like this and it has an effect, then that's wonderful.”

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