2013: why I failed and why it’s okay

Apologies for the long gap between this post and my last post! I have no excuse other than laziness and procrastination. And so today I’ll be touching on that same laziness and procrastination.

As I’ve said before, I sat my Leaving Cert twice. Once in 2016, and once in 2013. Obviously I was a lot more successful on the second try! But I’ve been thinking about what went wrong the first time.

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I have never been particularly studious. I know I’m intelligent and more than capable when I put my mind to it. But I had always done the bare minimum amount of work. I was pretty sure I was going to get the points that year, and get my place, and go off to college alongside my friends. I would be qualifying as a midwife this September instead of starting the course. It’s a strange thought.

But clearly, that didn’t happen. About this time four years ago, I was offered a place in the Pre-Nursing course. I remember it so well, I picked up the post on my way to a study session in the school (it was the easter break) and the letter was there. I bounced into the library and was congratulated. I wonder did I get even more  laid back from there? Was I doing any work at all before that point? Or did I, as my mother predicted, sit back and relax with the security of having somewhere to go that autumn?

 

I remember getting my Leaving Cert results that first year, and feeling sick. I threw myself into helping my friends add up their points, congratulating every single girl near me, avoiding the teachers who would ask how I did. I went home and got back into bed. I had a really, really long cry. I went out and got a hundred kinds of drunk over the next eight days (not a suitable coping mechanism). I avoided checking my email when college offers came a week later.

I felt like the biggest failure. I struggled to be excited about starting the one year course. After about ten days, I just had an intense feeling of relief. At least I had somewhere to go, something productive to do for the next nine months. It would at the very least get me a job (which it did), and the best that could happen would be it got me into midwifery (which it didn’t).

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I think the point of this post is to not let one failure feel like the end. I have more failures to ramble on about, 2013 is the first of many. But as I see offers and rejections in the UK rolling out, I do sometimes get pulled back to that feeling. I can only speak for myself, but I am quite glad that I didn’t get what I wanted in 2013. I believe that everything happens for a reason. Now, at twenty two, I am so much more experienced than that eighteen year old girl. I am stronger. I am smarter. I have finally started to grow some kind of backbone, and stand up for myself in professional settings. I don’t take things so personally. I’m happier too, and I think that’s so important. If you get rejected from one or more university, if you don’t get your first choice (or any of your choices, like me), it is absolutely fine to fall apart for a little while. The key part is getting yourself back in one piece.

If you find yourself facing rejection, I have a few tips to offer:

  • Let yourself feel sad. It’s okay. You can wallow for a while, this is tough stuff.
  • Do something to make yourself feel good. Do your hair or your nails, get up and dance, go to the ocean or the mountains.
  • Do not lock yourself away.
  • Do not give up. Look at this as extra time in the journey – what experience can you get between now and the next try? What can you do for yourself?

So, accept failure! It is definitely a learning experience. If you have stories to share about failure in your college applications, job applications, anything at all, leave it in the comments (you never know who it could help). If you want to chat about anything I’ve brought up, please let me know!  ❀

 

Talk about it: “What’s holding Irish women back from getting our boobs out to feed our babies?”

First of all, I should explain what this “talk about it” thing is. We all know it’s important to keep up with the newest information and evidence out there. It’s important to discuss things, exchange ideas, and listen to each other.  So I have decided to dedicate some time every week to discussing what’s new, what’s old, what’s working and what isn’t. I’d love it if you got involved, got a bit passionate about things (while being respectful of course!) and maybe inspired a few people.

 

What I’m talking about this week is an article from the Sunday Independent Life Magazine (read it here) about breastfeeding in Irish society. It was a really interesting read, a really thorough look at how we see breastfeeding and react to it. Siobhan O’Connor speaks about her own breastfeeding experiences, and talks to other mothers. Unsurprisingly they all come to the same conclusion: breastfeeding can be very difficult, requires confidence and there is not enough appropriate support available for people who choose breastfeeding.

The initial thing that really struck me about this article (apart from the beautiful photos accompanying it) was the first stand out words on the front page and on the by-line: “battle” “guilt””struggle” and “desperation.” I just felt sad that these are the words being associated with breastfeeding for so many women in Ireland, that this is how people describe their experience. It’s not fair on women, on babies, or on wider families. Or on healthcare providers, now that I think of it.

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Siobhan O’Connor puts it perfectly “On paper, it sounds so natural. It sounds like the only option any woman would choose, but that’s not always how it happens. It’s every mother’s right to feed her baby the way she chooses, be it breast, formula or pumping. And while, of course, we should be supported if we choose to breastfeed, we should not be chastised or breast-shamed if we choose not to.”

 

This is my big issue – the shaming. You get shamed for not breastfeeding. You might get shamed for pumping instead of having baby attached to you for every feed (some people actually still enjoy personal space after having kids). You are pretty likely to get shamed for breastfeeding in public (although there are laws protecting breastfeeding in public, read about them here). I hate shaming of any kind. It’s not nice, and I don’t think anyone has the right to judge another person.

However shame seems to be really ingrained in Irish culture. I was shocked to learn from the article that the HSE officially recommends discretion while breastfeeding, as in throwing a scarf around yourself and your hungry bub. But why? Why should the natural function of the breasts be covered up? Why should anyone cover their head or have to hide in a separate room to eat? If that’s what a person wants to do, that is absolutely fine, but it shouldn’t be expected.

An interviewee says “in old Catholic Ireland, we’re made to feel ashamed,” and there might be something to that. The BMJ Global Health journal is mentioned earlier in the article having stated that breastfeeding rates are higher in areas where the proportion of Roman Catholics are lower. Might there be a link between Christian views of sexuality and pleasure, and the sexualisation of women’s breasts, be what’s making people feel so awkward around breastfeeding.

 

I always knew that the rate of breastfeeding here was shockingly low here, but I never realised that 70% of babies are put straight onto formula. I respect that everyone has the right to feed however they like, but 70% just seems so high. Is every person in that 70% completely educated on breastmilk vs formula milk? If they are, that’s fine, because it means an informed decision has been made. But I’m more than a little bit dubious that our system works that well, that every single person understands the differences. We all know that the HSE is overrun with service users and dangerously understaffed, so how can every pregnant person be getting the full information and the full extent of support in that system?

The article states that in Holles Street, the National Maternity Hospital, there are one and a half lactation consultants for the 9,000 births a year when the recommendation is one full time LC per 3,000 births. To me that doesn’t sound manageable, or efficient, or even really safe. A high workload means high stress, which means mistakes are more likely. And I’m sure the NMH isn’t the only maternity hospital with those kinds of numbers.

 

So it looks like it isn’t just the exposed feeling, or the odd or rude comments from strangers that is putting new mothers off of breastfeeding. The system that is supposed to help them may be an obstacle instead. The system that is supposed to teach them, build up their confidence, and be there when help is required, doesn’t seem to do that. We all know that breastmilk is liquid gold, but do we know where to get help when there’s trouble producing it?

I am a bit worried that this comes off a bit rambling, and maybe even uninformed. If you think so, let me know! If you have an idea, or an argument, or a story to share, please do in the comments  ❀

 

*image via Getty*