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Tulip Siddiq MP: I felt forced to go back just weeks after emergency birth

OPINION: Tulip Siddiq MP tells how her young son 'played a part in dragging parliament into the 21st century'

19 November, 2021 — By Tulip Siddiq MP

Tulip Siddiq MP had an emergency c-section

I REMEMBER when I found out that I was pregnant with my first child in 2016.

I had been elected as the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn the year before in the most marginal seat in the country, and I knew that I had to have a proper plan in place if I wanted to take a few months off with my new baby and continue serving my constituents.

I decided to ring Parliament’s authorities to find out what my options were. They seemed to be entirely shocked that I was even asking a question about maternity leave.

To my dismay, I found that there was no baby leave for MPs and no way of casting a vote by proxy or electronically. Parliament’s structures were truly archaic and no one made any apology for it.

After months of demanding reform, I ended up back in the office six weeks after giving birth. I felt I had no choice.

What was even more unfair is that I was told that if I wasn’t around to vote, I would merely be marked as “absent” on my voting record.

My voting record wouldn’t say “maternity leave” or, as it turned out in my case, “recovering from an emergency C-section”.

This had real consequences for mothers who were new MPs.

My colleague Lucy Powell was included in a list of the Top 10 Laziest MPs while she was on maternity leave and wasn’t around to vote.

Parliament was quite unforgiving to me in the days after my first child.

Votes were often called at midnight and meetings were scheduled early in the mornings. I relied heavily on my husband to do the childcare and, as a result, my daughter became much closer to him than to me.

Along with a handful of colleagues, I lobbied for changes to the backwards procedures of Parliament that would address the late-night debates and the lack of proxy voting.

It’s quite depressing to admit, but I received pushback from a lot of MPs who were resistant to change.

Some older women MPs even scornfully said that they had managed just fine with a small baby so why couldn’t I. It really felt like they missed the point.

By the time of my second child in 2019, nothing had changed.

This pregnancy was harder. I had gestational diabetes and other medical complications. My doctor at the Royal Free Hospital emailed me to say that I had to bring the date of my C-section forward by three weeks.

The date he picked was January 15 – the same date as Parliament’s first “Meaningful Vote” on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

I drew a sharp breath when I saw the date and emailed him back to ask if I could delay the caesarean as there was a really important vote in Parliament.

He emailed back and said “Well, you’re lucky I’m a Remainer!”, before going on to give me medical advice.

I know a lot of people were outraged that I chose to prioritise politics over my baby, but that’s not how I saw it. If delaying the birth of my son meant a closer relationship with Europe, it was worth it in my eyes.

Within two weeks, a system of proxy voting was introduced for new parents.

It’s hard to say exactly what role I played in this, but I know my decision and the spectacle of having to be wheeled into Parliament to vote was a catalyst for change.

All I can say is that at least my son played a part in dragging Parliament into the 21st century.

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