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Goodwin juggles lawmaking, newborn in NC House, 2nd Ld-Writethru, NC

May 14, 2008 GMT

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Rep. Melanie Goodwin is taking the role of working mother to a new level at this year’s session of the North Carolina General Assembly.

Earlier this month, the Democrat from Richmond County became the first lawmaker in North Carolina history to have a baby while holding office. Now she is bringing her newborn son daily to the Legislative Building, where she’s working to meet both the needs of her constitutents and of 2-week-old Jackson.

She was in her seat on the House floor when Speaker Joe Hackney brought the General Assembly to order Tuesday for the first time since last September.

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“I hope that young women who are concerned about serving in the Legislature and having a small child see this as an opportunity and wouldn’t let it stand in their way,” Goodwin said. “I think we can do both. We can be mothers and public servants at the same time.”

Goodwin, 37, is one of a growing number of women entering politics earlier in life, when the challenges of public service and raising a family can overlap. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin gave birth to a son last month and was back at work three days later. Former Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift gave birth to twin girls in 2001.

Goodwin didn’t want to miss any days representing the 66th House District. So she asked Hackney if he could find a place for her baby during the session, and his staff located an office in the General Assembly complex that’s usually set aside for an intern.

Her family decorated the office before the delivery with a bassinet, changing table, rocking chair, wall hangings and rugs covered with animals and bright colors. Goodwin hired a nanny — with personal funds — who is caring for Jackson in the nursery while she attends committee meetings and receives visitors in her legislative office.

Juggling work and motherhood isn’t new for Goodwin. Her daughter Madison was born before she took office five years ago, and she added a nursery at her law office in Richmond County.

“Having been through this once before, I knew I could make this work,” she said, speaking in the nursery as the nanny changed Jackson’s diaper and swaddled him in a turquoise blanket.

Still, Jackson arrived in a frenzied month for the Goodwin family. Her husband, Wayne, won the Democratic nomination for state insurance commissioner in last week’s primary. Then there was Mother’s Day and a ballet recital for Madison before the new session. At least she didn’t have to campaign: Goodwin was unopposed in her bid for a third term, and will be again in November.

Carol Teal, executive director of Lillian’s List of North Carolina, which works to elect and support female Democratic candidates to the Legislature, said the accomodating environment Goodwin and the House have created for Jackson probably wouldn’t have been available even 10 years ago.

“We’re really happy that with a support system that she can still be there and do the great job that she’s done,” Teal said.