Members of Parliament Couldn’t Take Maternity Leave, Until Now

Stella Creasy is a Member of Parliament (MP) for the U.K.’s Labour party. She’s also 37 weeks pregnant, and is the first woman to take maternity leave in Parliament. Stella said the independent program that regulates standards of behavior for MPs told her they do not “recognize” maternity leave. “I never thought parliament would tell me to choose between being an MP and being a mum.”

Stella is due at the end of the month and recently hired Parliament’s first “maternity cover:” Kizzy Gardiner will resume Stella’s campaign work while Stella takes hersix-month maternity leave. This is a positive step forward for Parliament—but there’s still a long way to go when it comes to treating pregnant MPs with dignity and respect.

At the beginning of this year, Tulip Siddiq, another Labour MP, had to postpone her C-section in order to cast her vote for or against Brexit, the highly controversial deal that separated the U.K. from the European Union. Tulip’s doctors told her that because she had gestational diabetes, she should schedule a C-section at 37 weeks—on January 15, the same day as the Brexit vote. She couldn’t miss the vote, so she arrived to Parliament nine months pregnant in a wheelchair. Three days after she had the C-section, she was back at work.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), the organization that holds standards for MPs and allocates the budgets for their campaigns, “have gone backwards,” Stella said. “Humiliatingly, it is making me beg for extra staff funding – or give up any chance of spending time with my child to make sure my constituents don’t miss out.”

In order for her to take leave, and to appoint her temporary replacement, IPSA forced Stella to submit medical certificates stating she was really pregnant (despite being visibly so at nine months along) and paperwork stating that her leave would not affect her constituents. Stella’s road to pregnancy was tough as she suffered from several miscarriages during her time as MP and even worked through those devastating times. After her first miscarriage, Stella went to a protest “aching and bleeding.” After another, she led a public meeting on gang crime.

“What’s been heartbreaking, and I’ve spoken very publicly about this, about the difficulties I’ve had in getting pregnant, and the miscarriages I’ve faced, [is that I] was then talking to the Parliamentary authorities who were like, ‘We don’t recognise that MPs go on maternity leave,” Stella said. She didn’t speak publicly about her miscarriages until this summer, for fear that Parliament and her constituents would think she was letting the trauma of the events impede her ability to work.

Despite all this, Stella is determined to stay in politics once her baby is born and she returns from maternity leave. “I’d be mortified if people thought that quitting was the best way to make their kids feel safe,” she said. But given her past fertility struggles, Stella’s main concern right now is her baby’s health—and we hope all goes well for her and she continues to be a beacon of inspiration for other women in Parliament!