U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth Talks Mothering, Senatoring, And Couponing | WBEZ
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U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth Talks Mothering, Senatoring, And Couponing

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois is one of only 52 women to ever serve in the Senate. Currently, there are 23 female senators, an all-time high. 

“There are not enough women,” Duckworth told Nerdette podcast.

“We’re 20 percent of the Senate. That’s it. That’s wrong. We’re 51 percent of the population, yet 20 percent of those who make the laws that govern our lives.”

Duckworth, 50, also recently became the first sitting U.S. senator to have a baby while in office when she gave birth to her daughter Maile on April 9, "and I was celebrated like it was some great achievement," she said. 

She talked with Nerdette host Greta Johnsen about motherhood, political polarization, and an interesting personal obsession: extreme couponing. Below are highlights.

A ‘mundane’ milestone

Greta Johnsen: You were the first sitting U.S. senator to give birth to a child while being in office. As a woman who hosts a podcast, as a woman in media, as a woman in the world, I’m really interested in the first women to do things. I think it’s a really fascinating barrier to break. But in this case, I think it’s so fascinating because it’s also like — I mean giving birth obviously is a huge life thing — but it’s also fairly mundane, right? 

Sen. Tammy Duckworth: Yeah!

Johnsen: A great many women before you have given birth. A great many women after you will give birth.

Duckworth: Yes.

Johnsen: How do you feel about achieving a milestone like that?

Duckworth: Well, I say this. And Dick Durbin, our senior senator from Illinois, he always rolls his eyes at me. Who knew getting knocked up would be such a big deal?

Johnsen: [Laughter]

Duckworth: And he’s like, “Tammy, you can’t say that. You’re a senator now.” I’m serious though! Here’s the thing: I got celebrated for something that working families go through all the time — and working moms struggle all the time — and I was celebrated like it was some great achievement. 

And for me personally, it was, because I struggled with infertility for 10 years. But the fact of the matter is it’s 2018. We should’ve been having more female senators so that this should’ve been an ordinary occurrence. But it isn’t. Because we don’t have a representative government. Our Senate and our House of Representatives — our halls of government — do not reflect the American people. 

‘We give up our fertility for our professions’

Duckworth: I basically, in the early part of my life during the times when I was building my professional life in my 20s and 30s like so many women, I was focused on my job and I put off my child-bearing, thinking, “Oh, I’ll do it when I get into my mid- to late-30s.” And then I got sent to Iraq. And I went through all of that and all my recovery. And then I struggled for a long time before I was finally able to have Abigail and now Maile. ...

When I first went in, I was 39 going on 40 and I said, “You know, I want to try and get pregnant.” [My doctor] goes, “Let’s try for a year.” And 18 months later we still hadn’t conceived, and she said, “Well, we need to refer you for infertility treatment.” And I said, “Really?” And she said yes.

This is what happens to professional women. We trade our fertility for our professions. And she said, “It happens to all of us.”

Nerd obsession: Couponing

Duckworth: I think my best haul so far was I once bought 64 jars of peanut butter for $0.30 each. 

Don’t ever come between me and a good coupon or me and a penny on the ground, because I will stop and pick it up. I am not embarrassed. I am not ashamed. That is money.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated Sen. Duckworth's age as 51. She is 50.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was produced and adapted for the web by Justin Bull.

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