They're bringing the pitter-patter of little feet to the corridors of power Representive Parents

July 24, 1995|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun

Washington -- Rep. Enid Greene Waldholtz plods through the Capitol clutching a leather folder to her chest. It sort of disguises her shape, but mostly helps fend off the inevitable tummy-patters.

With her pregnancy just about reaching full bloom, the 36-year-old freshman Republican from Utah is struggling to maintain her dignity and play down the novelty of her condition in a world still overwhelmingly male.

Things couldn't be more different for another member of the Utah delegation, Rep. Bill Orton, a first-time father who doesn't have any qualms about flaunting his new role as a parent. He shows up at work pushing his 3-month-old around in a stroller and wearing a Mickey Mouse pacifier clipped to his lapel.

In the self-proclaimed "family friendly" Congress, Mr. Orton and Mrs. Waldholtz are the most visible symbols of a new era. But they also validate the adage that -- in gender relations at least -- the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Mr. Orton knows he can get away with flouting tradition with his Mr. Mom performance. Mrs. Waldholtz knows she can't.

She was deeply embarrassed the other day when her swollen feet would fit only into oversized white sneakers that seemed to glow beneath her demure navy dress like giant clown shoes. No assurances from her sister lawmakers could persuade Mrs. Waldholtz to succumb to this comfort. She immediately ordered all new footwear: dark-colored pumps wide enough to go the distance.

A no-nonsense member of the important Rules Committee, Mrs. Waldholtz tries to ignore it as many of her colleagues develop that fumbling awkwardness pregnancy seems to inspire.

"It's kind of a humanizing element," she says. "I just use it as a way to get into discussions about other issues."

She wants people on Capitol Hill to think of her as a lawmaker, not a mother. She doesn't plan to bring her baby to the office, except for occasional visits or slow Friday afternoons. And her determination to maintain a business-as-usual air seems to be having the desired effect.

"You'd never know she was pregnant except from looking at her," says Rules Committee chairman Gerald Solomon in a comment he intends as a compliment.

If it sounds like Mr. Solomon hasn't had much experience dealing with pregnant colleagues, it's because he hasn't. Mrs. Waldholtz, a former businesswoman and corporate lawyer who married a Republican activist two years ago, is only the second House member ever to bear a child in office -- and the first in two decades.

"I think this demonstrates that Congress is starting to be more reflective of society as a whole, not only in gender but age as well," says Mrs. Waldholtz, who was elected last year in the crush of 87 newcomers -- most younger than 45. "It won't be another 20 years before we have the next pregnant member."

The transformation is coming slowly. The House is still nearly 90 percent male, and the average age is 51, a little older than was the case 20 years ago.

But Mr. Orton, a three-term Democrat, says the change is more a matter of attitude.

"I think we're catching up with what the rest of the country is doing," he says. "We're recognizing the importance of parenting, and we're putting a priority on that."

The congressional culture clearly has evolved since then-Rep. Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, now a member of the Los Angeles NTC County Board of Supervisors, became in 1974 the first pregnant House member.

When she learned of Mrs. Waldholtz's pregnancy, Mrs. Burke had this advice: "Introduce all the bills you want to because everyone will be afraid to debate you."

"I don't think that's true now," Mrs. Waldholtz says. Concern for her condition cools, she says, when discussion of issues gets hot.

Pregnancy and power

But pregnancy and power still don't mix all that well. The reaction to Mrs. Waldholtz' impending motherhood has been a little disturbing to Rep. Susan Molinari, 37. She recently married fellow New York Republican Bill Paxton and is contemplating starting a family of her own.

"I just don't think they should be slapping her on the stomach," Ms. Molinari says of her fellow House members. "But that happens everywhere."

With her baby due Sept. 21 -- just as the House is scheduled to take up major budget legislation -- Mrs. Waldholtz is determined not to miss votes or committee work until she absolutely has to.

When the House was kept in a rare overnight session several weeks ago by Democrats demanding a series of procedural votes, the congresswoman waited between roll calls in a tiny hideaway in the basement of the Capitol where former Speaker Thomas S. Foley used to listen to his stereo when he was House Majority Whip.

The hideaway was close enough to avoid walks to her office on the fifth floor of the Cannon building but too small for her to stretch out, as some men were doing in the lounges off the House floor.

"The last thing she wants is for anyone to think she's being treated differently because she's pregnant," says Kate Watson, the congresswoman's press secretary.

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