Why I’m Marching #ARCMarch17

It’s that wonderful time of year again. The leaves are turning all kinds of beautiful colours. The nights are getting longer and cosier. AW colour schemes are in the shops, alongside my favourite holiday decorations – halloween! And then there’s the delicious atmosphere of solidarity and revolution in the air. It’s time for the annual March for Choice. I have only been to one, to my shame. Last year, Rise and Repeal, was my maiden march. That’s me there, with my sign. My sign that was made with water based paint and therefore melted in the rain.

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This year is quite a big one. It’s the sixth year it’s run. It’s grown from a crowd on O’Connell street to a network of caring, sound, funny, intelligent people (I know I’m biased because they’ve been like an online family to me since I started researching and campaigning) all across the world. There are solidarity marches from Canada to Australia. There are countless groups who march under countless banners – students, politicians, midwives, lawyers, mothers, artists. There’s always a bit of contention about numbers, but it’s a really big crowd. Even in the rain, with a bus strike going on, there were thousands out for bodily autonomy.

 

 

 

Now, the point. What is a student midwife doing at a march for abortions? Big issue number one: this is not just about abortion. Over the last few months it’s become increasingly upsetting to me that the experience of so many pregnant women is swept away because people understandably get caught up in the very emotional issue that is abortion. There are a whole heap of issues, that I’m still learning about, around maternal consent. We’ve had so many cases in Ireland that have broken my heart: Savita Halappanavar. Mrs B vs the State. A. B. C. X. Y. Women’s experiences reduced down to a single letter. Those are the big stories, the public ones. I’m in a lot of facebook groups – maternity consumer groups, regular mammy groups, various “for choice” groups, where I’ve read lots of personal stories. I’ve cried at many of them.

The reasons that I’m marching are actually quite difficult to condense down into a single blog post, now that I’ve sat down to write. I’m marching for myself. I would someday like a family, but I am too terrified of being pregnant under the 8th Amendment and all it’s strings. If the 8th remains, I would leave the country. So it impedes my personal plans. I fully believe it impedes my ability to be the kind of midwife I want to be. I am marching for the families that will grow under my care. Birth trauma should be reducing. Consent should be a given, not a question mark. Informed consent  should be the norm. I haven’t been out in practice, but what I’ve heard from parents, what it should be is not what it is. And it’s not right.

 

It was actually in an emotional text to a friend that I found my reasons. I am on this earth to be a midwife. I am here to be with women, at their side, wherever they need me, to help them do the most badass thing they can do. No midwife or expectant mother wants to be faced with a rupture of membranes that wasn’t consented to. I’ll be faced with pregnant women who, for whatever reason, do not want to be pregnant but are unable to make that happen. I can’t imagine how I can make that better. And when you go into the caring profession, that’s what you’re aiming for, you are there to help people and make things better. I can’t see how after a procedure, explaining to a woman that her lack of consent wasn’t listened to because it wasn’t legally required.

The role of the midwife is, to my understanding, wrapped up in trusting women. We give people the information to make a decision, and they decided what they want to do. That’s what informed consent is, in a nutshell. Knowing benefits and risks, and deciding what’s best for your situation. In my heart, I believe that we should be trusting women through the entire pregnancy continuum. From conception to termination if that’s what someone needs. Or from the first kick to the first kiss.

 

I hope that makes sense to someone. This post probably can’t be called measured, or objective. But I think it’s an accurate representation of how the campaign is now deeply rooted in my day to day. The 8th has become a state of being for me. It’s a constant fear and frustration. My organs feel like they’re shaking when I speak publicly on it. I feel physically ill at some of the hurtful comments that are thrown in online discussions. If I could have a wish for this campaign, it would be that it is carried out with kindness on each side. That’s incredibly sappy. But kindness goes such a long way in such a loud debate. This is not a college essay, more a train of thought. But maybe seeing into the thoughts on either side of the 8th is what will help.

 

If you’re marching, feel free to come up and talk to me. I’ll be carrying the same sign as I did last year, pictured above. I managed to salvage it with an entire roll of sellotape. If you’re posting about the march, please remember to use the hashtag #ARCMarch17.

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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*