"Helen has been an amazing support this past 8 months. She reached out to me after I posted on Letterkenny babies looking for help. I didn't have a clue what I was doing and I was very close to giving up. Her advice and encouragement was amazing and only for her I'm still feeding my wee man 8 months in. She helped me to understand that everything I was experiencing was totally normal and has a wealth of knowledge on all the little growth spurts and times when my son needed me more than usual. Even now, if I have a question, I message Helen and she is always there to help. When you meet her in person it all makes sense. She is this ball of energy that lights up a room. You automatically feel at ease in her presence and she has a magic touch with babies! Thanks for everything Helen."
Every single person's birth and parenting journey is different and how you decide to parent is your choice.
(Waiting to meet my son, 2011)
There is a common thread that runs through this process no matter how well prepared you are.
It is utterly exhausting at the beginning.
Once you come down off that high of meeting your new baby and you are just sitting back thinking you've been through the birth now surely its time to relax a bit.. Nope! You are now a newborn mother and your journey is only beginning.
(Around 4 weeks postpartum, 2011)
I felt cheated at the start of my journey because I didn't have the birth I wanted or the breastfeeding experience I had hoped for. I felt isolated and alone. I mostly felt like I had failed.
I needed answers to why I didn't have the birth or breastfeeding experience I longed for, but mostly I needed to know I hadn't failed.
People kept telling me that it wasn't my fault, yet the more research I tried to do the more of a failure I felt.
After my son's birth which was my third birth experience, I felt at my most vulnerable.
I now had two children alive and one not. I knew the circumstances of why I had lost my second baby and that it was absolutely beyond my control.
Yet the grief was still there and nobody had prepared me for how I would feel when my son would arrive safe.
At around five months postpartum I attended a Breastfeeding Peer Support training group. I was so happy to see one of my favourite midwives who was teaching the course.
I loved the information and felt I had gained so much from this that I was happy to offer more support out into the world.
Then the opportunity arose to become a Cuidiu (Irish Childbirth Trust) Breastfeeding Counsellor. At first I truly believed I didn't have much to learn. That I had already gathered so much knowledge and I was able to help mothers who needed it.
I signed up and the training began.
2 years of intense training covering 10 modules. I adored every minute of it and I loved the facts that were coming thick and fast.
I became immersed in a community of women who I felt I could really bond with. The tutors were also so giving of their time. I felt I was beginning to heal and learning not only about lactation but birth too helped me understand why I had the experiences I did.
(Receiving my Cuidiu Breastfeeding Counsellor badge with Ger Cahill IBCLC and Fiona Rae IBCLC, 2015)
What I gained from my training in lactation opened up a whole world of knowledge and a new outlook for me. I really truly love supporting women on their lactation journey.
Running support groups locally and online groups that are busy with lots of questions.
Now also in our sixth year of offering Breastfeeding Support at a large Arts Festival here in Northern Ireland. Stendhal Festival of Art is packed with young babies. Its a pleasure to be in such a fun vibrant setting.. Bringing lactation to the masses and normalising in a non clinical way.
Setting up pages on social media that offers fact based evidence.
Taking all that learning and putting it out there for all to see.
I went on to train as a doula, an infant massage instructor and baby/toddler yoga instructor.
I wanted to be able to offer families the full package. Not just breastfeeding related but within these programmes I knew I could still project a positive message about lactation without anyone feeling judged about their feeding choice.
The counselling skills are as important as the fact based evidence.
Knowing how important wording is when you know that the woman your talking to is feeling vulnerable and that she needs your help.
Knowing that you can help and make a huge impact on not only her life, but her whole family's life is very special.
Living in a place with some of the lowest statistics for breastfeeding in the world is challenging.
But I think if your going to get into the role of support for women around birth and breastfeeding then you need to be prepared for what that brings. It can be very tough when you feel you don't connect with someone you feel really needs your help. Your hopeful that they will reach out to someone else.
I can't explain why we as Lactation supporters feel so passionate about what we do.
Maybe its all the Oxytocin!
(With Nancy Mohrbacher IBCLC, 2018)