Carolina Bescansa arrives with baby. (AFP / Pierre-Philippe Marcou)

A baby in parliament

Madrid, January 15, 2016 -- Photographing parliament sessions is never particularly exciting -- they usually involve sitting through hours of discussion and rarely do you get a non-institutional picture. Unless of course a deputy spends the session with a five-month-old infant on her lap.

That is what happened on January 13, when the Spanish parliament met for the first time after a December election that saw two parties -- the liberals of Ciudadanos and the far-leftists of Podemos -- enter the legislature on the back of the economic crisis.

Right away you could feel that youthfulness had been injected into the assembly -- some of the new deputies arrive on bicycles; others in T-shirts.

A Podemos deputy. (AFP / Pierre-Philippe Marcou)

I notice the woman pushing a pram as I'm photographing the arrival of Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias. The woman turns out to be Carolina Bescansa, a cofounder of the party, but I don't recognize her right away as I haven't covered her before.

At first I think the pram is a symbolic gesture -- one of the things that Podemos wants is free childcare -- and that there isn’t an actual baby inside. But then to the surprise of many, Bescansa picks up a baby boy out of the carriage and sits with him on her lap.

The scene is obviously a dream for photographers, who start snapping away. We knew that the elections brought in a more youthful parliament but this has surpassed all our expectations.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias with baby. (AFP / Pierre-Philippe Marcou)

At first I start taking closeup shots, but then I realize that since it's a minor that may not be the best idea. So I start taking more wide angle pictures to show the contrast between the solemnity of the parliament chamber and the little boy in his mother's arms.

As I take the shots, I ask myself what will happen if he starts to cry in the middle of the session. I have two children myself and I know that it's tricky to try and calm down a five-month-old baby who decides to make himself heard.

(AFP / Pierre-Philippe Marcou)

In the end, the little boy behaves like an angel during the entire five-hour session.

During the session, Bescansa discreetly breastfeeds him and during a pause in the proceedings steps out for a bit, I imagine to change his diaper.

At the start of the session Bescansa asks photographers to blur the baby’s face. It's a strange request from a deputy who chooses to bring and show her baby in the most public of public spaces, parliament.

Furthermore, the act of bringing her child to the proceedings likely has a political purpose -- women’s rights is at the heart of Podemos’s platform in a country where working days can be very long and where the work/life balance is at the top of the political agenda.

An unexpected arrival at parliament session. (AFP / Pierre-Philippe Marcou)

During the election campaign, Bescansa brought her newborn to all the meetings and debates in which she participated. Her bringing her baby to parliament reminds one of the former Italian Euro deputy, Licia Ronzulli, who regularly brought her daughter to the European Parliament to draw attention to women who have difficulties combining motherhood and work.

Euro MP Licia Ronzulli at the European Parliament. October, 2010. (AFP / Frederick Florin)
Euro MP Licia Ronzulli at the European Parliament. November, 2012. (AFP / Patrick Hertzog)

In Spain, the presence of the baby in parliament has stirred debate. On social networks, people come out either for or against the deputy for her actions. The interior minister, the conservative Jorge Fernandez Diaz, says that parliament is not a place “best suited for an infant” and says that there is a “magnificent” nursery in the building. 

One of the photographers with whom I spoke told me that he found it a bit shocking that a leftist deputy would allow herself to bring her baby to work while he had to pay 200 euros per month for childcare for his children.

Personally, I don’t have a strong opinion on the issue. I’m just very happy that I could take some interesting pictures that stand out from the usual parliament shots.

Pierre-Philippe Marcou is an AFP photographer based in Madrid. This blog with written with Roland de Courson and translated by Yana Dlugy in Paris.

Entertaining baby. (AFP / Pierre-Philippe Marcou)