For international women’s day, Rachel reflects on Belfast’s theme of “No woman left behind”, what that means for Mother’s in a society that assumes babies can be left behind and her personal plans to #PressforProgress…

Just because I breastfeed doesn’t mean it’s ok to forget me.

Just because I breastfeed doesn’t mean I don’t want to join in.

Just because I breastfeed doesn’t mean I have nothing to say.

Just because I breastfeed doesn’t mean I am no longer me.

Becoming a mother is daunting but becoming a breastfeeding mother in a society that doesn’t see it as the norm can be particularly challenging. Setting aside the anxiety that can go hand in hand with public feeding there are also the feelings of isolation. I found, as a new mum, that I could no longer go and do the things that I used to and that took a lot of getting used to. I quickly felt cut off from the outside world, my life had changed and no longer did I feel like a valued member of society, I had become ‘just a mum’.

Now don’t get me wrong I love being a mum but when everything you do revolves around your children, mums & tots groups don’t help to make you ‘feel yourself’ the way doing adult things does. In the early days, you need to be close to your baby, to respond to their needs and feed on demand. It is this bond, this dyad that makes breastfeeding so special but in today’s society, it is misunderstood and not appreciated.

Soon after having my first baby I realised that not only could I not go out for any evening meals with girlfriends but that I actually didn’t want to if it meant leaving my baby behind. I was caught between wanting to reconnect with friends and following my need to stay close to baby, that felt so natural to me. After a while, people stopped asking me to join them on nights out because they knew I would say no. It makes you feel isolated from the outside world, you lose yourself and become something new, which is both life-affirming and life-denying. I used to think, what if I could bring him, would it really be that bad....

I began studying for a master’s degree in Health Psychology when my son was 10 months old. It was a distance course that was all online so perfect for a stay at home mum. My only problem was that I started to receive emails about interesting conferences and events relevant to my studies but I couldn’t go, I was breastfeeding and he was still very much attached to me. I didn’t want to leave him with someone else; I knew he wouldn’t be happy without me. People might think, “surely he is old enough to be left” and yes, for many women returning to work it is a necessity to leave their baby. They describe how their baby is happy taking expressed milk from a bottle or cup whilst they happily munch on new foods. My little man however wouldn’t take a bottle and to be honest, for him, it was much more than food. For us breastfeeding was his comfort, his security, his nutrition and my innate need to be close to him. In hindsight, I should have emailed to see if I could attend with him but it wasn’t something I thought possible which says it all really.

I am now on baby number two and tandem feeding. I continue to love the connection I have with my first born and the bond that my children have which I am convinced is cemented by their shared experiences of feeding together. However, I have now been stuck in a child’s world for over two years and I want to see some change. I would love to see a society that is inclusive of all its members including the little ones! There are so many ways that women who choose to be with their babies, can be supported to be the women they are, the women they can become, the women they want to be both inside and outside of their motherly duties. In the meantime, I have promised myself not to be afraid of asking about baby tagging along, I want to push the boundaries and break down the barriers which prevent me from living my life the way I want to. I am a breastfeeding mother and I have a voice with something to say which isn’t all nappies and milk!