PORT TOWNSEND — Ariel Speser held in her arms her newborn daughter, all wrapped up in a blanket and sleeping peacefully.
Speser, 35, knew when she ran for Port Townsend City Council two years ago that she and her husband, Nat Jacob, likely would start a family.
When she was elected, Speser didn’t want to put their plans on hold.
Speser and Jacob welcomed Ilana Coho Jacob at 5:15 a.m. Jan. 5 at Jefferson Healthcare hospital. She was born two weeks early and weighed 6.78 pounds, “but was definitely ready to rock and roll and is very healthy,” Speser said.
Ilana is a family name that means “tree” in Hebrew, Speser said.
In addition to celebrating salmon, she said Coho has a deeper meaning.
“They go out into the depths of the ocean, but they always know their way home,” Speser said.
Speser is the first woman in at least the past 15 years to have a baby while seated as a City Council member, city staff said.
Midway through her first four-year term, she said she welcomes the opportunity to be an example for other women who may be balancing motherhood and a career.
“I really felt strongly that women shouldn’t have to wait for their careers,” Speser said. “Their career should accept women, and I’m hoping to demonstrate to others it can be done.
“It’s certainly possible to do it.”
Speser works for the state Attorney General’s office in Port Angeles, and Jacob, 34, is an attorney with Jefferson Associated Counsel.
While they both get the benefit of the state’s new Paid Family and Medical Leave law that went into effect Jan. 1, Speser said it’s her civic duty to continue to serve the public in her elected capacity.
In fact, she appeared by teleconference during last week’s City Council meeting, barely 36 hours after Ilana was born.
“One thing I continue to be inspired by is Ariel’s strength and perseverance,” Jacob said. “With her going through the labor process and everything, I didn’t think it was possible to care for my wife more than I already did, but I grew in my respect for her during that process.”
Speser and Jacob both highlighted support they’ve received from friends, family members and the community.
Speser also pointed to past examples of women in local elected office who had school-age children, including former council members Freida Fenn and Sheila Westerman, current mayor Michelle Sandoval and Jefferson County commissioner Kate Dean.
“Women have been having children and having their careers without the support system, too,” Speser said. “I feel really grateful to the women who came before me.”
She said a lot of social progress has been made to be more accepting of women through their child-rearing years, but one area that still needs work is in leadership roles.
“What I really value is when they give you the choice, that you still have an option and you’re not just written off as someone not capable of doing it,” Speser said.
When she asked her fellow council members if she could attend January meetings by phone, she said they asked, “Are you sure?”
Just a day after Ilana was born, council approved the action and told Speser she could take more time if she needed it.
Speser plans to attend meetings in person again in February and said she may even bring Ilana with her once the flu season passes.
“I want to bring her as long as it’s not disruptive or distracting,” she said.
In terms of her committee work, Speser sits on the Jefferson Transit Authority Board and was expecting a representative to stop by her house Friday afternoon with documents to sign.
“I’m definitely available by phone and happy to field calls when needed,” she said of her council duties.
Speser served last year as the chair of the council Rules Committee. She also served on the Jefferson County Mental Health and Substance Abuse Advisory Committee and the Peninsula Transportation Regional Planning board.
Committee assignments for this year’s council likely won’t be finalized until later this month.
Jacob said he’s never seen Speser bat an eye at her civic responsibilities.
“I’m impressed, not surprised, with how ambitious and capable she is,” he said.
“She’s really blossomed into this great public servant, and as I’ve had a chance to sit and reflect, not just as her husband but as one of her constituents, I’m really proud.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].