Paul Murphy: We don’t want to limit our baby by saying you’re a boy or you’re a girl. Let them decide

Parenting in My Shoes: As a politician and a father, the TD says he’s conscious of respecting Juniper’s privacy

Paul Murphy is not getting much sleep. The People Before Profit TD and new dad says he was warned about the lack of sleep before baby Juniper’s arrival, but “it’s a different thing to live it”.

Fatherhood wasn’t always part of the great life plan for Murphy. “When I met my partner Jess in 2015, we didn’t want kids. Neither of us wanted kids, because the truth is that being a socialist activist is much, much more than a full-time job and it takes up an enormous amount of your time. We didn’t feel that we needed kids to fill our lives.

“That changed around 2019. Whenever you’re beginning to look forward at the rest of your life, do you imagine children in your life or not? If you do and you don’t do something about it, the clock is ticking.”

The couple were trying to conceive for over a year before seeking help. “We were trying IVF for about a year and a half before the successful implantation,” Murphy says.


“There were two big disappointments of implanted embryos that didn’t work, but also there’s other disappointments along the way. In our case, thankfully, it ended up in a big success, but it is a road that’s paved with disappointment.

If you say you’re a boy, then great you’re a boy. Or if you say you’re a girl, then great you’re a girl

—  Paul Murphy

“You have your hopes raised each time. There’s a whole number of hurdles that you pass at each point of the process – you get a number of good eggs, great. You get some embryos, great. You implant them and implantation went well, great. You have all these positive hurdles, so you are built up, and then, when it doesn’t work, it’s definitely very disappointing and sad.”

The pressure of going through IVF was very difficult, Murphy says. “There’s a huge amount of drugs, a huge amount of hormones, while of itself it’s a very emotional time. You’re taking a chance. You’re hoping it’s going to work. The whole period of time where you’re really focusing on having kids, even when you’re just trying naturally, is stressful. It creates a pressure on your relationship.

“There is a real imbalance in it inevitably – and we did everything we could to try to balance that out – in the sense that it’s all on Jess. I didn’t have to do anything. I just had to put semen in a cup. But she had to take all the hormones.”

On the third try, Jess became pregnant with Juniper. The couple had decided on the baby’s name before the birth. “Regardless of whether it was male or female, it was going to be Juniper. I think it’s a gender-neutral name.”

Murphy is not “gendering” Juniper. “We’re not gendering it. So we’re not describing Juniper as a boy, we’re describing Juniper as a baby, but it is male.

“We live in a deeply sexist and gendered society which creates certain expectations for boys and certain expectations for girls. And those things are changing in a positive direction, but there’s a very, very long way to go.”

Murphy will be using the pronoun ‘they’ for Juniper. “We’re not going to be out there correcting people’s pronouns. If people call Juniper a boy and say he and him, that’s fine, we’re not going to be correcting them. We’re not going to fight against society. But to the extent that we can, in our home, in our own relationship with Juniper, we don’t want to limit the kind of future they will foresee for themselves, the role that they will perceive for themselves, the type of play that they will perceive for themselves by saying ‘you’re a boy or you’re a girl’. Just let them decide for themselves.

“You want to dress in pink? Fire ahead. You want to dress in blue? Fire ahead. You want to play football? Brilliant. You want to go dancing? Amazing... it’s just not to limit. Obviously, the vast majority of parents do gender their child and I’ve no criticism of that whatsoever, no judgment. But it is true that if you put the label, boy or girl on your child, you definitely increase the chances of them going down one road or another.”

I am determined that in rearing this child I am going to take 50 per cent of the burden and the responsibility, that we’re not going to have the sexist, very gendered division of labour within our relationship

—   Paul Murphy

Murphy says if Juniper decides at the age of three that they are a boy “then we’ll say he and we’ll just say, ‘oh yeah cool, you’re a boy, excellent. And you’re free to change your opinion and you’re free to change your gender identity in the future if you want. We’ll respect that and we’ll change the pronouns that we use. If you say you’re a boy, then great you’re a boy. Or if you say you’re a girl, then great you’re a girl.’ But we don’t want to make that choice for Juniper. That’s for Juniper to discover their own gender identity as opposed to us to assume based on their sex.”

Murphy’s close friends and family are supportive. “I think people understand the gender roles are changing and gender is a more fluid thing than the way people would have historically thought about it. It’s an interesting thing, when you get the cert in the hospital, which says the sex of the baby, it says gender as male or female – when it means sex. It’s wrong. It’s the wrong word. What they mean is sex. They’re talking about their biological characteristics.”

When it comes to logistical challenges, Murphy says he’ll tick the box. “You go apply for a creche place. They’ll want to know is it a boy or a girl and they don’t have a space for other options. And it’s fine, we’ll say, ‘oh it’s a boy’ and we’ll go on to explain. When a lot of people ask is it a boy or a girl, really they mean, is it male or female?”

As Murphy approaches his 40th birthday he says there are pros and cons about coming to parenthood later in life. “We’ve a very stable relationship. I think we’re much more patient people than we would have been 20 years ago – we have much more patience with the baby who’s crying all the time and all of that,” he laughs. “Financially, we’re reasonably secure. We’re going to be able to provide the baby with everything that they need in a way that when you’re younger, you just don’t necessarily have those resources.”

When it comes to the negatives, he says “if we had started to try to have a baby 10 years earlier... obvs our chances would have been much higher. That’s a real thing, where society is changing much faster than biology is going to change through evolution.”

He points to the comparative difference in energy levels between his younger self and now. “But I think on balance, I’m quite content with the fact I’ve lived a certain type of life. I’ve had a long youth, in a sense.”

As a politician and a father, Murphy says he’s conscious of respecting Juniper’s privacy. He’s also conscious of the time pressures that go hand in hand with the public role. “It’s an advantage in politics not to have children. It’s obviously an advantage in politics not to be a woman, in the context of this sexist society that puts most childbearing and children rearing on to women.

“Now I have a child and I am determined that in rearing this child I am going to take 50 per cent of the burden and the responsibility, that we’re not going to have the sexist, very gendered division of labour within our relationship. That’s going to be very complicated.

“At the moment I’m officially in the Dáil. There’s no such thing as paternity leave, but I treat myself, and People Before Profit treats me, as an average worker. So, I get average worker’s wage and I get average worker’s entitlements. At the moment I’m effectively on my two weeks of paternity leave and then after that I will be taking some time of parents’ leave.”

As a parent, Murphy says he’s going to “have to continue to find ways of reducing my workload and being around to help raise Juniper”.

Murphy sees the need for change in societal expectations of mothers and fathers. “In other countries you can have six months’ paternity leave that men have to take – they either take it or they lose it. You don’t transfer it to your partner so that the woman can do all the jobs. All of that creates an environment where it’s the woman who does all the difficult rearing jobs.

“We all know of the basic model that it’s the mother who is the disciplinarian who looks after the kids, nine to five, and the dad comes home and gets to be the nice guy. He just comes in after work and gets to play with the kids. That’s the basic model. And that is fostered by the idea that it’s women who are off to mind the kids and the dads go back to work”.

Murphy and Jess have one frozen embryo left from their IVF treatment. At the moment, they have no plans for any more children, but, he adds “we’re not about to defrost and throw away the embryo just yet. I think we would give it the couple of years.

“I tend to think, but this might be new dad of two weeks speaking, that we won’t use that second embryo”, he says laughing. “That’s currently what we’re saying to ourselves, that we’re not going to. And I think we’ll most likely stick to that, but it’s obviously too soon to say.”

Parenting in My Shoes

Jen Hogan

Jen Hogan

Jen Hogan, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family