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Podcast: Ep 30 - Breastfeeding stories ... breastfeeding and community

Skye's story of breastfeeding their six children

Jessica chats with Skye, who shares their story of breastfeeding from starting as a young mum through to supporting others with her know-how over 6 babies. They talk about how friendships and being part of a community has helped and shaped the experience.

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Skye's story of breastfeeding their six children

Jessica chats with Skye, who shares their story of breastfeeding from starting as a young mum through to supporting others with her know-how over 6 babies. They talk about how friendships and being part of a community has helped and shaped the experience.

Links to resources and information discussed in this episode:

Credits: This episode is presented by Jessica Leonard. Featuring Skye Stewart. Audio editing by Jessica Leonard. Show notes by Belinda Chambers. Transcription by Caitlin Sabjan. Produced by Belinda Chambers, Jessica Leonard and Eleanor Kippen.

Episode transcript

SKYE: People often talk about relationships like your partner is your significant other. But for me, like always, I've never felt that… like I've always felt that my friendships were just as valuable as my significant other, just as valuable. But just in different ways.

JESSICA: Welcome to Breastfeeding … with ABA. A podcast brought to you by volunteers from the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Breastfeeding … with ABA is a podcast about breastfeeding, made by parents for parents.

So, in this episode we're chatting with Skye about her story and feeding her babies and other people’s babies. This podcasts records in different parts of Australia. We acknowledge the Traditional custodians of the lands we’re recording on and the lands you are listening on, we pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging and to any Indigenous people listening, and we also acknowledge the long history of oral story telling on this country and of women supporting each other to learn to feed their babies. 

My name is Jessica and I’m a breastfeeding counselor with the Australian Breastfeeding Association, and my pronouns are she/her. Today I am speaking to you from the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation in my home, in the north of Melbourne and today I'm speaking with Skye. So, Skye, would you like to introduce yourself and a bit about your family?

SKYE: Yeah, so I'm Skye, I'm a midwife, I'm an advocate, and most recently a researcher which is a little bit confronting, but good. My pronouns are she/her, they/them, I don't really mind. I probably feel more agender so I, you know, I'm OK with any pronouns and all, often interchange between them at any given moment talking about myself so I won't get offended. I’ve got 6 kiddies, varying ages from the youngest is 9 and the eldest is 20, which is a little bit hard to believe, got two of them living with me. I'm also a fairy godparent to a bunch more excellent young people, which really enriches my life a lot. I'm on Wergaia country which is my own country, so I'm an Aboriginal person and my lands are Wergaia and Wemba Wemba, so that's the Mallee Victoria region and it… it's Jiba and Direl Country, which means Star and Sky Country. It’s really flat out here, which you know makes for like extraordinary sunrises and sunsets and starry nights, and we were their first astronomers and lived with the stars and the country. So yeah, we're also like to acknowledge my people and pay my respects to them.

JESSICA: Fantastic, thank you so much. So, the other thing, I just want to double check with you in regards to your sort of pronouns and gendered language, do you have any particular preferences for words like mothering, parenting, breastfeeding, nursing, anything like that, or is it the same as what you said with pronouns, that you're happy with anything?

SKYE:  For myself, it's fine, I don't mind.

JESSICA: Fantastic, OK, beautiful. Just wanted to make sure that we're on the same page and using, you know, respectful language, which is great. So we're just going to talk a little bit about your journey with breastfeeding and mothering and parenting. So tell me about having your first bub. How old were you and what happened?

SKYE: I was 19 and I think of that a lot recently because he's recently turned 20 and I look at him and go, gosh I was a parent at that age. To me, he's still my baby so he's still little. And so you know, going in I was 19 years old. I had left home when I was 16 so I was living with my partner at the time in Melbourne. It was a tricky time. So I was doing year 12, in a… like a ‘VC for Adult’ program, so it was a flexible program, loved it — and I fell pregnant with my big boy two months after my brother passed away, so it was full of feelings, full of emotions, and it was tricky. 

Pregnancy itself was amazing. I loved the journey. It was good for my mind, I loved the changes of my body, I loved feeling this like very very active little baby kicking around and like… I loved the whole experience. I went to a young mums’ program so, antenatally, and they were incredible. They're incredible because they were safe and kind. Which seems like, you know, kind of basic human needs, but it doesn't always pan out that way, even in health care, and they were incredible. So they supported me through my whole pregnancy with him, but then that care didn't kind of translate into birth and postnatal. 

So when I went into new labour and then in the postnatal ward, it was just, you know you, the regular ward and staff. My experience of that… I had a natural birth with my big boy, super fast like 2 1/2 hours for my first baby — well he like, he flew out and breastfeeding came easy with him, which was great. I think a turning point for me, my experience with my big boy, was seeing the way that I was cared for during the antenatal period with these incredible… you know it wasn't just the midwives, like there was a whole team around us, you know they were helping people get their L plates or they were linking them in with dietitians and like, just like, mother groups and all these kinds of things that made you feel connected.

And then going labour and then postnatal, it felt very disconnected and fragmented and there was a lot of judgment around being young. And they're just offhand kinds of comments, so it's things like — I said I felt too dizzy to get up to give my baby a bath and, you know, the comment of ‘Oh well, this is your life now you know. A lot of young mums say this, this is just, kind of, the way. You just have to get over it’. 

And it was those kind of comments that, you know, when I left hospital with this tiny little baby in my arms, I was just thinking, gosh, it would… It's such an amazing honor and privilege to be with someone while they're having a baby, and I just didn't quite understand how the midwives and the people that were supposed to be caring for me behaved like that. And there's a part of me that thought you know, how we just do this job so much better than them. 

So I did, so that’s… I took my baby, breastfeeding him like, took him back to school with me and finished, you know, finished year 12, so then obviously ended up going and doing midwifery. And I just breastfed him throughout classes, on the train to and from school, and I didn't even think about it, like there was something… like there was something in my mind that I didn't, I didn't feel like embarrassed, or I didn't think it was… like I needed to cover up. There wasn't even that perception that other people could be looking at me thinking, but I'll still… was weird or strange. It just felt normal to me from the, from the get-go. So that's… to have that as the first experience of breastfeeding, it was like 20 years ago now, um as a 19-year-old, I was pretty, I think, incredible.

JESSICA: So it sounds like you had a pretty good start to breastfeeding, even though you had some really challenging times at the hospital. Can you tell me a little bit about your experience of breastfeeding as it relates to being Aboriginal?

SKYE: Yeah, I think a lot of it actually came down to you, just do it. And you know, thinking back — as a child you know, we had a big family, like my mum was one of seven kids and then… so there's like cousins everywhere, all the time. And I was one of the eldest and sometimes I can remember seeing you know, like an aunty breastfeeding or talking about it, but not a lot, and I think it was just snippets that, when pregnant with my first baby there wasn't even a discussion around what I would do. And you know, I think there was just no question — it’s just there, like it's just present in our life that it's not something that we hide away from, or it's not something that we even overly talk about, it's just something that we do. And so I think with that mindset, for me anyway, in my head I just thought well I’m gonna breastfeed and so I did, without… you know, at that point not understanding how difficult it can actually be for some people. But for me as an, as an Aboriginal person, it was almost like it was expected, but not even spoken about, for my family at least.

JESSICA: Do you feel like you had support from family and community when you had your baby as well? Or is it more that sort of unspoken support?

SKYE: Yeah there's more that unspoken support, like you know, go back, cause I was in Melbourne, mum still in the Mallee, and some of my family members and I would go back and visit them and then just feed my baby like… and again it was a not thinking about it, not feeling self-conscious, not you know, definitely didn't have any of that sting in my mind around having to have a baby on a schedule or anything like that. I think the only thing that my mom ever said to me is ‘Put the baby on, its gonna start crying soon’, and that was it, like that was… that was probably the one thing that my mom would say to me about breastfeeding. When I was actually pregnant with my first baby I do remember asking mum about it and she said, she's like ‘I don’t know, I just did it’, breastfed my brother for 12 months and then breastfed me for 2 1/2 years like… this is back in the 1980s.

JESSICA: I know that you've also mentioned to me that you have shared breastfeeding with your community as well, so both by breastfeeding, babies and friends, and by donating breastmilk, So tell me how did that start?

SKYE: So you kind of started because the group of friends I had, you know, we were just really close bunch of friends — like, you know, we were having our babies at the same time, we were often at each other’s birth. I was a midwife by that point so everyone was like, come, come and be at my birth, so we were close, and people often talk about relationships like your partner is your significant other. But for me like always, like growing up, like I've never felt that… like I've always felt that my friendships were just as valuable, as you know, my significant other, just as valuable, but just in different ways. And so we supported each other through some incredibly amazing and some incredibly dark times, and I guess it was almost second nature to me. And I remember the first time that it happened, I did breastfeed one of my friend’s little bubby. She needed to go away from her baby from a medical reason for like 5 hours and I was going to be looking after her bub, and she just was freaking out about what to do around feeding. And I just said well I can just feed her and it just shifted something in her. She was like ‘Oh yeah of course you can’, cause I think our babies were maybe which… I'm trying to think which babies it was, five months apart from each other so they were close and for me it was… it just felt like second nature. And then for a couple of us in our friendship group it just it didn't happen often, but we were available and we knew that we had each other to count on for something like that, which became our normal, which I thought was pretty great. And in terms of donating breastmilk, it is like one of those just word of mouth, you know, hearing someone in the community that was struggling… You know there was one woman who had had surgery so she wasn't able to breastfeed and having a community around her that was, you know full time donating breastmilk too, for this baby. There was a bunch of different scenarios of why a mother or a parent chose to give breastmilk to their baby that wasn’t their own and you know, I found it so easy. I always had plenty of milk. I'm like, I can do this within my capacity. I never did anything that will take too much away from me on my own baby, but where there's capacity, was definitely just willing to help, because, you know, know how, what it is.

JESSICA: And I think the key to that is really what you said about one community, and knowing that there are people out there who need extra help. And I think that, yeah, donating breastmilk is such a powerful thing to do as an active community and supporting other mothers, babies, families, parents and I really just, I resonate so much with what you said about friendship, particularly in my case, female friendship, is my closest female friends, the relationship with them. And a lot of them are people that I've met while we were, you know, sitting down or breastfeeding our babies, having a cup of coffee next to each other, but those relationships are just so strong and powerful.

SKYE: Yeah yeah, and I think that it's something that, as a society, that we really undermined. But I think they held me and they still continue to hold me, and we hold each other through all of these life experiences and seeing these babies from when they’re first born. And then what… and being able to be with them like, you, you become, you become family and it's not even that we need each other but having each other makes life so much more meaningful and connective because you know, you got… you got your group.

JESSICA: So you had your first baby, you’ve donated breastmilk, you've supported a lot of other people by being there and helping them with their pregnancy and birth along the way, how long did you end up breastfeeding for in total?

SKYE: There's about 14 years straight and — so six of my own children, five other children, and plus, like, a lot of donated breastmilk and so I didn't tandem feed. I did tandem feed through babies number four and five, and that experience was amazing, but challenging at the same time because, you know, I had just had my 5th baby and you know, there's a lot of babies.

JESSICA: And what was the age gap between the two of them, babies four and five?

SKYE: Just under 2, so 22 months and so, Sage (she said I'm allowed to say her name) so she's baby #4. She was always held in a sling so, or she was just always close to my body all the time, and so when baby number 5 came along breastfeeding was still her way to feel connected to me 'cause she was still attached to my hip all the time. And you know, I think about when I was in labour with baby #5. I had her at home and I had… two of my friends were there with me and I remember just looking up at this one moment between contractions 'cause in my mind I was thinking ‘I don't know how Sage is gonna go’, to the point that I like had a top on 'cause I didn't want her to walk past see my boobs and want to attach on while I'm in labour or having a contraction, because she would, she would walk past and see me and then just kind of… like you do a U-turn to my chest, and so I did wonder how she was gonna go in times of being awake. And I had this moment of like, looking up, and I just saw my friend had her cradled, it was like 3 in the morning, she had little Sage like cradled in her arm and was like breastfeeding Sage while I was in labour and it was just this moment. Actually had my baby not too long after that probably because that moment of like oxytocin of seeing those two made the contractions come hard and fast. But it was, it was like… just it's a really pivotal moment and I could see it in my mind like as clear as day today, just that connection of having, having someone that's in my community, that's so it connected and intuitive and would do what it takes to keep my baby safe and well and nourished. I think, you know, it speaks volumes.

JESSICA: So what do you think other parents need to know if they're sort of going into the journey of feeding their babies for the first time?

SKYE: Keep asking for help and I know it's easier said than done, but you're worth it and your baby’s worth it. And you know, you've already done a lot of the hard yards of being pregnant and birthing this baby and you know, we make a lot of choices and a lot of decisions for our babies, and we always want to make the best choices, and I think sometimes we can feel overwhelmed if we feel like we're not doing it right, or if we're not feeding your baby enough, or you don't want to be looked at as though we're doing the wrong things. So it can be hard to ask questions, but I think if you can just try and remember that you're worth it, and your baby’s worth it, and you're doing this for yourself and your baby, then just keep asking for help. And if the first help that you get, you feel like it's not good, just try again.

JESSICA: Such fantastic advice, is there anything else that you think that you would like to talk about?

SKYE: I just think, the support for breastfeeding is game-changing and you know for me, my experience was so easy and like I didn't, I didn't worry about it, I didn't really think about it. I just did it. And I've been a midwife for 15 years. Just seeing the amount of effort and strength and pain, and a lot of these things that a lot of mums and parents go through to try and feed their babies just shows you, like, how resilient people are and how incredible people are at wanting to do the best by their baby. And so I think, you know, just remembering that when we're supporting families in breastfeeding that you know it can actually change their life.

JESSICA: Well, thank you so much for speaking with me today and just sharing so much of yourself and your experiences. I've done a lot of these podcasts and I've spoken to a lot of people, and I've got to say that this is the first time that while you're speaking, I actually got emotional few times just sort of really feeling, yeah, everything that you shared. So, thank you so much for sharing yourself and the stories of your family and your babies and feeding.

SKYE: Thank you, thank you for ABA for being a supportive space for all these parents and their bubbas.

JESSICA: You can find some links to information in the show notes if you want to read more. Head to our website if you want to find a local group to support you. If you want to speak to a breastfeeding counsellor, the National Breastfeeding Helpline is available on 1800 686 268, so that's open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. And our LiveChat service is another option, so you can check the website to see when that's open. Thanks heaps for listing, we'd love it if you can rate, review and subscribe to the Breastfeeding … with ABA podcast, wherever you're listening.

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