Raquel Batista is running to represent the Bronx in the New York City Council. For much of her campaign, she has been pregnant, which some people considered jarring on the campaign trail. Echoing that sentiment, an older man recently asked her while she was handing out campaign literature at a train station how she was going to hold a public position and look after a newborn at the same time.
“I told him, ‘I’m standing right here,'” Batista said with a soft laugh.
On August 14, Batista gave birth to a girl named Carmen.
Not many women run for public office during pregnancy—at least women who are openly or visibly pregnant. But rather than downplay the issue, Batista has spoken to the press about campaigning while pregnant
and has taken a public stance on the recent closure of a labor and delivery unit at a hospital in her community. She recently spoke with Rewire about her experience running for public office while pregnant, and then as a new mom. An edited version of that discussion follows.
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Rewire: You recently tweeted, “While some thought I should have not campaigned while #pregnant I did not see it that way. #womeninpolitics don’t & won’t stop. #bronx.” Why did you disagree?
Raquel Batista: When I started to tell people about my pregnancy, a lot of questions started to come up:
“How are you going to knock on the doors in the summer?” Everyone was like, “H ow are you going to do it?” I was like, “I’m just going to do the best I can.” All campaigns rely on more than just the candidate. The people around me have been very supportive of my race. It’s possible.
Rewire: It is interesting that you connected the issue of pregnancy discrimination to the inclusion of women in politics in general. So often you see pregnancy issues referred to as women’s issues, but only for women who are pregnant. What message do you hope a proudly pregnant candidate and now a proud single mother candidate, sends to other women thinking about running for office, regardless of their desire to have children?
RB: There’s this whole Lean In movement to keep going. Even when I was in a moment when I wasn’t thinking of having a child, but I was thinking about my career, sometimes I was thinking I shouldn’t do that because I want to have a family. Sometimes we may well self-sabotage ourselves and not really give ourselves the opportunity. My experience [running for public office] has shown me there were a lot of challenges besides my actually being pregnant—everything from getting onto the ballot, and getting matching funds in New York City—every step along the way there was always a moment where I thought I shouldn’t do this. People around me were like, “Wow, you shouldn’t do this.” We always made it through to the other side. I think that’s what I’ve learned in this whole experience. Really it’s taking the risk, putting myself out there, and also being OK with letting the chips fall where they may. Just doing it.
Rewire: What message do you hope running a campaign during pregnancy sends to the general public, including men?
RB: The message is clear that it can be done, and it can be done successfully, especially when a woman is supported by her family and friends. It’s not impossible to be at the table and to have a family. There are ways. Of course it’s a challenge like everything else, but it’s definitely possible.
When we’re thinking of issues around pregnancy, families, work, work/life, how can we create a balance for people to be able to have their family life and be able to provide for their families?
Today [a pregnant candidate for city council in Minnesota] wrote to me. She has been getting a lot of negative backlash as well. I wrote her back, encouraging her to keep going with her campaign, because she’ll definitely add to the debate. There is a group of women out there that have taken on the feat of running for political office while being pregnant.
Rewire: Recently, a labor and delivery ward at the North Central Bronx Medical Center was closed with three days’ advance notice, and you chose to speak out about it. Why is this an issue for the entire community and not just the women who had been planning to deliver there?
RB: Just being in New York City period, there are a lot of hospitals that are closing. It doesn’t mean the need isn’t there. Women need access to basic quality health services. This goes to a larger issue of where are the priorities when it comes to providing health-care services in New York City. In the Bronx, there aren’t many hospitals to begin with. To lose such a major service, it will diminish services to women and families and children. We need to see how we can keep the services open.
Rewire: You have a background as the executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. How do you see immigration and racial justice issues intersecting with the representation of pregnant women and new mothers in public life?
RB: What I’ve seen in terms of my experiences living in the Bronx, being a woman of color, having been in immigration services, is that there really is a critical need to do a lot more education around birth, around diet, what are the rights of the mother if she is going into a hospital to give birth. The Bronx is one of the poorest communities in New York state and has the highest rate of single mothers as well. The Bronx is like ground zero of all these issues.
Rewire: Some of the issues you are campaigning on include prioritizing full-time pre-kindergarten in the city’s budget, food justice, and affordable apartment buildings. How, if anything, do you think being a new single mother gives you insight into these issues?
RB: I’ve been a new mother for only like 20 days, so I’m definitely learning every minute and every moment, but I’ve been doing community work for over 15 years, and I’m very sensitive to the issues of the constituents in my community. There is a lot of need for being able to provide resources for the family. A lot of women in the Bronx struggle with getting child care, wanting the best food for their kids. They are the ones making all the decisions in the lives of their children, so it’s even more important. I do want to work on the quality of pre-k for kids in the Bronx. The Bronx has some of the highest dropout rates in the city, and there have been school closures from elementary schools to high schools. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to ensure that kids get the quality education that they need to be successful in the future. Definitely, I will become more aware as my daughter grows up in the Bronx.
Rewire: One of your opponents congratulated you on the birth of your daughter and then said he hoped you had the “time-management skills” to raise a baby and run a campaign. How will you explain this statement to your daughter when she is older?
RB: I’ll tell her I managed my time quite well, thank you very much. It is a delicate balance, especially with a newborn, but it’s happening! It’s a matter of just doing it. Campaigns are campaigns, whether you have a child or not.
Rewire: Based on your experiences, do you have any advice for others who may be thinking about running for public office and starting a family?
RB: You have to be ready at all levels—I mean emotionally, spiritually, financially—to be able to take that plunge in both areas. If you’re planning on doing them at the same time, even more. Enlist the support of people closest to you, whether it’s your family or your friends. People can encourage you. You can encourage yourself, but it really matters to have that support system around you. Don’t be scared. Just go for it. There is nothing to lose. There is nothing to lose in running for office and starting your family.