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Sen. Tammy Duckworth (center) is all smiles seeing a Bell UH-1 helicopter in the SIU Helicopter Lab Facility while on a tour of SIU's facilities at the Southern Illinois Airport with Mike Burgener (left), Aviation Department chair, and Andy Ju An Wang, dean of the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, in August. Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot, first learned to fly helicopters in a similar aircraft.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth is expecting her second child, a girl, in late spring. She would be the first U.S. senator to give birth while serving in office.

Duckworth said she and her husband, Bryan Bowlsbey, are “just really, really happy” about the pending arrival of the newest member of their family. Duckworth gave birth to the couple’s now 3-year-old daughter, Abigail O’Kalani Bowlsbey, on Nov. 18, 2014, while she was serving as a member of the U.S. House.

“We’re thrilled,” Duckworth told The Southern Illinoisan in a telephone interview on Tuesday afternoon from her office in Washington, after first breaking the news to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet.

According to Sweet’s column, only 10 members of Congress have given birth while in office — a number that includes Duckworth — and all of them while serving in the House. Duckworth said the fact that she’s the first U.S. senator expected to give birth while holding office speaks to the need to elect more women to the upper chamber — and public office generally.

“There’s only 22 (female) senators,” she said. “This is why we need more women — because of issues of things like family leave, and child care, and you know, working moms, and all of that stuff.

“I love my male colleagues, but until you get more women in leadership who have gone through the struggles of being working moms, you know, going home and trying to make dinner and do all of those things, it’s just not going to be the same representation as if we had a 50-50 split in the halls of Congress as we do out there in the real world.”

Duckworth said she and her husband have not picked out a name yet. When she was pregnant with Abigail, Duckworth said she reached out to former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii for recommendations for a middle name. The middle name he suggested was O’Kalani, which means “gift of the heavens,” she said. Duckworth, who attended high school and college in Hawaii and first met Akaka while a patient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, said she plans to ask him for another recommendation for her second daughter’s middle name as well.

Duckworth is a retired lieutenant colonel who served 23 years in the Illinois National Guard. She lost her legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq on Nov. 12, 2004. Duckworth, 49, was sworn into the U.S. Senate in 2017. She served two terms in the U.S. House prior to that, from 2013 to 2017, representing Illinois’ 8th district.

Duckworth said she plans to deliver her baby in Washington, D.C., at George Washington University Hospital. Duckworth said she plans to have her baby in Washington, rather than Illinois, so she doesn't miss many votes.

After welcoming her daughter into the world, Duckworth said she will be able to be home and take care of the baby, and also remain available for critical votes. Duckworth said that while she and her husband have kept the news relatively private until this week, they are excited to now share the “good news" with everyone, she said. 

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in a statement, said that Duckworth, as someone who has overcome grievous combat injuries and lead a full life with courage, is someone who “inspires us all.” “When she told me several weeks ago that she and Bryan were expecting a baby to join their little Abigail, I was speechless,” Durbin said. “I have learned to never underestimate Tammy Duckworth. I am proud to have her as my Illinois colleague, and prouder still that she will make history by being the first U.S. senator to have a baby while in office.”

molly.parker@thesouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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Molly Parker is general assignment and investigative projects reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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