EXCLUSIVE

Canberra Liberal MLA Elizabeth Lee on pregnancy after miscarriage

Elizabeth Lee didn’t realise how much she wanted a baby until she lost one.

The Canberra Liberal MLA is 20-weeks pregnant with her first child. Until now she’s been hesitant to share the news too widely as her first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and this one is deemed high risk.

Elizabeth Lee is pregnant with her first child. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Elizabeth Lee is pregnant with her first child. Photo: Jamila Toderas

But being halfway, it’s getting a bit tricky to hide.

Her first pregnancy, the one that ended in miscarriage in June last year, was a harrowing experience.

“Having never been pregnant before I don’t even think it entered my radar, and then when it happened to me, I started talking to girlfriends and close friends and there was so many women who said they’d had one or two miscarriages, or however many it might be. I realised that it is a lot more common than anyone thinks it is,” Ms Lee said.

“For me it was during the estimates period and I was on the estimates committee.”

She said it was surreal fronting up to work the very next day to question the minister. “But I’ve got a job to do, and that’s what you have to do," she said.

Ms Lee said she was lucky to have the support of her partner, Nathan, and her friends and colleagues during that time.

Prior to that experience, children were never really on the table; but they were never off it, either.

“It’s funny because I don’t know if this is unique to migrant children or not, but when you’re younger you have this view of that white-picket “Aussie dream”, and you just assume the natural order of things is going to be to go to school, go to university, get a good job, get married and have kids," she said.

“As I grew older I realised 'hold on, I can make a decision about this'. I saw myself pursuing more of a career-driven path in the beginning. Kids weren’t on the agenda, but I assume most women around their mid-to-late 30s start to consider their options.”

The 39-year-old said it was during months of discussion with partner Nathan about whether or not to have children that she accidentally fell pregnant for the first time. While that pregnancy ended abruptly, the longing continued.

“I didn’t realise I wanted a baby until I lost one, if that makes sense. It sort of really honed it in.”

Coming in to the second pregnancy, the couple was nervous but excited.

In November, less than a month after they found out she was expecting, Ms Lee was targeted by the teachers' union for speaking out against violence in schools.

She received thousands of robocalls accusing her of using personal stories of violence in the classroom for political point scoring after she cited the experiences of educators in Canberra - including one of a pregnant teacher who was punched in the stomach repeatedly by students.

“It was just a lot of worry in the beginning and it also didn’t help that the second half of last year was professionally probably the most stressful time that I’ve experienced, so I was very conscious of not letting that impact the health of my unborn child,” Ms Lee said.

At 11 weeks, the couple found out they’re having a baby girl.

Ms Lee said her daughter’s upbringing will be very different to what she experienced.

“The childhood I had was a really big mix, I grew up in a Korean monoculture and moved to Australia where back then at the school I went to there wasn’t many Asian faces, so I think I was a little bit intriguing to the other children.

Elizabeth Lee and partner Nathan are expecting their first child in June. Photo: Supplied

Elizabeth Lee and partner Nathan are expecting their first child in June. Photo: Supplied

“My child’s experience of course will be very, very different. She will be carrying with her some Korean heritage, as well as Australian heritage and, way back, some Scottish heritage from my partner. I really hope she’ll be able to embrace those cultures.”

“She will have probably some of the most doting grandparents in my parents in the world, as it’s their first grandchild so they’re pretty stoked.”

Ms Lee’s two younger sisters and her parents live in Sydney but she said they visit all the time. She expects them to do so even more often when the baby is born.

The support will prove helpful when she returns to work in the Legislative Assembly.

The first challenge when the baby is born is that it will be June, smack bang in the middle of estimates.

Ms Lee said she’s been seeking advice from the mums and dads in her office - and while she’s had to reassess her thoughts on coming back to work almost immediately after the birth, she’s keen to return for the sitting weeks at the end of July or those in August.

“As soon as I can. It is going to be tough, I’m not unrealistic, and there are a lot of variables as well, but I'm up for the challenge," she said.

She’s very mindful that her position impacts her constituents in Kurrajong.

“I’m very lucky that we have so many parents in the Legislative Assembly, on both sides. We've had a lot of pioneers in terms of being able to get some advice on how to manage parenthood, especially with babies and working life as an MLA."

She said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was a role model for all women, particularly those in politics or those thinking about a career in politics.

“It’s got to be a pretty crazy life, but that’s pretty empowering I think for many women," she said.

“It’s all about balance. I was very lucky that my mum stayed home to look after myself and my sisters full-time, but I am in a different situation. I have a responsibility and a duty to the people of Kurrajong.

“I would hope that my daughter will grow up to admire that, to see me as hopefully a good role model for her to pursue her dreams, no matter what they might be.”