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.

woman-breastfeeding-baby

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*

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My Path to Midwifery

I was always fascinated by pregnancy. I just didn’t realise that there was a job to go with this passion, until shows like One Born Every Minute and Call the Midwife came on tv. While they obviously aren’t all that realistic, they showed me that there was something in the world for me to do with passion.

It was a little bit like a stereotypical “calling.” It was as if all the pieces of myself – the fascination with everything from conception to toddlerhood, the empathy I was able to feel for people, and the giant lump of feminisim –  came together to form this picture of me, the midwife.

So I took up biology for my Leaving Cert (Irish version of GCSE, A level, SAT type exams I think) and in 2013, I didn’t get the marks that I needed to get a place. I was devastated.

But I was very lucky and had a place in level 5 Pre-Nursing which was one year long. I ended up with ten Distinctions (80% or more).

From that course, I was able to start working in elderly care in March 2014. I’ve worked in care at home and nursing home care.

I got an offer for Intellectual Disability Nursing that year and in a slight panic about ending up with no job and doubts that I would never get my dream, I accepted the place. I completed the first year but my heart just wasn’t in it, so I left.

I went back to repeat my Leaving Cert. I was in regular classes five days a week, grinds on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings. It was hard. But in August I got my results, great results that I am so proud of and that were worth dragging myself around the place for a year. I was 100 points up from my original exams and I was offered my first choice, Midwifery in Dundalk Institute of Technology. I’ll be starting there in September 2017, and working and saving up money until then.

So this post is in part, an introduction, and in part just to show that it is achievable. It may take time, and you may have to go the whole way around the system (like I did) to get there. But if you can keep going, do. You will arrive at your dream with so much experience and even more passion than you thought possible.

 

Please feel free to share your stories and your journeys in the comments! Whether you’re just starting out on your application, you’re on your fourth cycle, or you’re about to qualify (or retire) I would love to hear about it ❀

 

 

the big Offer

I can’t quite believe that my offer was six months ago today – and that I almost forgot about it!

Here is a little entry I made about that day back at the end of August, when I originally planned on starting this blog.

Monday August 22nd offers day. Since 2013, offers day has been painful and difficult for me, either not getting what I wanted or getting nothing at all (I don’t know which was worse). I had knots in my stomach about it from the minute I finished the exams in June. I had spent the weekend keeping myself as busy as possible, trying not to think about what I would do if I didn’t get Midwifery again. But Monday morning came, and I woke up at 06:08am beside my partner, who was fast asleep. I very quietly checked my emails on my phone, and felt my heart sink – no email. Hoping very hard, and trying to breathe normally, I logged into the CAO. And there it was, DK877 Midwifery, you have been offered a place. I went downstairs, texted my mother, emailed admissions to tell them I would be coming in September 2017 and to please defer my place thank you thank you thank you very much. I got back into bed just after 7am. Himself woke up, and I told him I had done it, and it was then that I felt a big rush of feelings and started getting weepy. He dozed off, and I checked out the course modules. I texted my dad, my friends. Throughout the day and the next few weeks I got messages of congratulations and support from people who I might not have spoken to in a few years, and I was really truly touched. I am unashamedly so proud of myself, because I worked hard to get here.

fullsizerender

So that’s it! A quick slightly emotional paragraph. I’m still proud, and sometimes a bit disbelieving that it has finally happened for me. I have saved up €5,470 of the €13,000 I will need for first year (there will be a post about how I managed that coming up!) so I’m halfway there.

Let me know in the comments what your offer was like and how you reacted. I believe that looking back on those memories can make long weeks filled with assignments and 13 hour shifts seem a bit better ✿