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Sen. Tammy Duckworth On Giving Birth As A Senator

Apr 15, 2018
Originally published on April 16, 2018 11:31 pm
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Tammy Duckworth became the first sitting U.S. senator to give birth this past week. Duckworth is an Iraq War veteran who lost both her legs when insurgents attacked the helicopter she was flying. She's now 50, and this is her second child. I spoke to her, pre-delivery, a few weeks ago with my colleagues, Sarah McCammon and Korva Coleman.

First things first, why it's taken so long for a senator to become a mom in office?

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: I don't know why it's taken this long - well, because we don't have enough women in leadership and women in the Senate. I mean, the men have been having babies while they were senators for decades now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And late - there's been no age limit on them.

DUCKWORTH: There's no age limit on men, but we need more women in the Senate. You know, there's only 22 of us, and we're 51 percent of the population, so there's a problem right there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And you will be 50 when you give birth. You know, as I'm sure you're aware, Senator, that's older than average. What did you think about when deciding whether to have a second child now?

DUCKWORTH: Well, we really wanted more than one child, my husband and I. And, you know, we started this process just before I turned 40. And it took us 10 years of struggle with infertility, just under 10 years to have our daughter who I had at 46. And then I had to wait 18 months because I had as a cesarean and then after that, it took another 18 months. And so here I am, you know, pushing 50. Although, I swear 50 is the new 40.

(LAUGHTER)

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Preach it, please.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, really.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I had my daughter when I was 40, and I have a lot of friends now who are making different choices about their fertility. There's all these things that you can now do with the assistance of medicine to be able to have children longer. And especially for working women, you're building your career, and then all of a sudden, the clock is ticking. Do you think that's why we're seeing this explosion of women now sort of coming out and having children later?

DUCKWORTH: I think the technology has caught up to us. When I was in the house, some of my colleagues were about 10 years older than me who said, you know, I always wanted children, but I just never had a chance because the in vitro technology just wasn't there. I had a gynecologist who looked at me and said, you know, we give up our fertility for our professions. And I certainly did that, you know, during my years in the military because I was climbing the military ladder. I was - I wanted to be a platoon leader. And so if I was going to do that, I couldn't take time off to be pregnant because it's a six-month grounding condition. You can't fly. And then my unit was deployed to Iraq. And then, you know - and then I was wounded. And next thing I knew, my 30s were gone, and I was 40, 42 trying to get pregnant. Then suddenly, you look on your chart, like I did, and it says geriatric pregnancy on your medical chart.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As someone who is also an older mom, you know, we talk a lot about the risks of pregnancy and some of the issues with being an older mom, but what do you think the good things are?

DUCKWORTH: I'm really much more calm than I was when I was in my 20s. It takes a lot more to fluster me, and I think I'm so much more patient and tolerant than I would have been. And I'm in a better place in my career. I'm in a good place where I have more authority, and I can look at my team and say, you know what? This is parent teacher conference day. I'm going to it. I couldn't have said that as a young platoon leader in the Army to my boss.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, you obviously through your military service, you know, had this sort of exemplary story, career, and have had to go through a lot of different things. And I'm wondering, are there issues with being a mother at this age with a disability that people should know and understand? Is it different, or is it just really part of the same thing?

DUCKWORTH: It's both a challenge, and it is part of the same thing. I have to do the same things, but I have to learn how to do them in different ways. I have, for example, reduced function in my right arm, and so breast feeding was a little bit more difficult with how I would hold the baby because I can't really hold her on my right side very well. You know, the heartbreaking things - I wasn't the person to teach my daughter to walk because I couldn't hold her hand and walk alongside her, and that was really sad for me. On the other hand, she's got great balance. And she sits on my lap, and we just scooch around in my wheelchair and go as fast as she wants to go.

(LAUGHTER)

DUCKWORTH: And we're little terrors - so there are positives to it as well. But yeah, there are a lot of things that I couldn't do, you know, like other moms. And I can't chase after her on the playground very well. And I'm not the person climbing up the monkey bars after her. But on the other hand, I will be the chief diaper changer and all of that because that's just - you know - moms end up doing more of that. So I do the same things, just in different ways. And then there are some things that I can't do that is hard because of my disability.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Senator Duckworth had a healthy baby girl, and she named her Maile Pearl. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.