Human milk-infused glass breasts on display for National Breastfeeding Week

The 'Nature does not bloom in private' installation was created by artist Helen Hancock
Human milk-infused glass breasts on display for National Breastfeeding Week

Louise Walsh

Three large human milk-infused glass breasts are being exhibited over the next week to encourage new mothers to feed their babies naturally.

The 'Nature does not bloom in private' installation in Donegal was created by artist Helen Hancock and marks this year's National Breastfeeding Week.

Ms Hancock is the first glass artist to infuse human milk into hot glass, and the Co Derry mother is also a dedicated Cuidiu breast-feeding counsellor and trained Doula.

A former NCAD graduate, she previously worked with renowned glass artists including Dale Chihuly in Seattle in the United States.

Ms Hancock re-embraced her skill at glassblowing after experiencing childbirth and breastfeeding trauma, as well as the loss of her second baby at 26 weeks.

Ms Hancock re-embraced her skill at glassblowing after experiencing childbirth and breastfeeding trauma.

'I needed to become the person I wished I'd had'

Now the 46-year-old offers her talents to provide support for bereaved families and give an everlasting glass creation to mothers, infusing precious ashes as well as breast milk for those who were able to save some.

Ms Hancock, who lived for ten years in Donegal, also aims to encourage new mothers when beginning their breastfeeding journey using her training as a Cuidiu specialist.

"I had my daughter in 2009 after an emergency C-section and my attempts at breastfeeding were excruciating. I felt my body had let me down," she said.

"Then on my second pregnancy, I was told at the 21-week scan that my second daughter was not compatible with life. I felt alone, isolated and broken.

"A year later, I had my now 10-year-old son, yet again experiencing birth trauma and breastfeeding trauma with little support.

I had completely given up on being an artist

"I needed to become the person I wished I'd had by my side during these difficult experiences and so I qualified as a Cuidiu breastfeeding counsellor after two years of training in 2015 and then as a birth Doula and by this time, I had completely given up on being an artist.

"I hadn't blown glass in 15 years and out of the blue, an old friend rang me and asked for my help in that field.

"I had heard of a lady in Canada who was creating blown glass vessels for catching breast milk and after contacting her, I decided to try infusing breast milk in glass.

"I was no longer producing my own milk so I tentatively approached some mothers in my breastfeeding support group to ask for 50mls of milk and I was inundated for then, with mothers from all over the world asking me to infuse their milk into paperweights, vases, bowls, pendants, baubles and etchings."

To Ms Hancock's knowledge, her concept of directly infusing the milk into hot glass is a world first.

World first

To Ms Hancock's knowledge, her concept of directly infusing the milk into hot glass is a world first.

"After many attempts to show the thread-like delicate milk strands, it worked. Each piece is totally unique to that mother's milk and the feedback has been incredible," she said.

"I make glass for families who have dealt with great loss and trauma. Losing a baby can leave a huge void and somehow the glass has been able to offer something physical and visual."

Ms Hancock also makes glass pieces infused with ashes, placenta, baby teeth and umbilical cord to help give families a lasting memory in a physical form.

During breastfeeding week, which runs from October 1st to October 7th, Ms Hancock is urging expectant and new mothers to seek good informed support.

Shaming mothers for not breastfeeding is not what trained support does

"Cuidiu, ALCI, La Leche League and Friends of Breastfeeding are only a few of the many incredible resources available in Ireland," she said.

"My work is thought-provoking, often opening up conversations around breastfeeding and reducing the stigma. Trained breastfeeding supporters know we need to open the conversations and share informed knowledge.

"Statistics of breastfeeding in Ireland are still very low and I feel driven and passionate about using my breastfeeding knowledge and creative skills to try and change this.

"Every mother deserves to feel supported regardless of how they birthed their baby or how they feed their baby. It can be such an isolating time.

"Shaming mothers for not breastfeeding is not what trained support does — we offer kind, knowledgeable information. Mothers should know they are not alone."

'Nature does not bloom in private' is currently on exhibit at Letterkenny Medical Academy during National Breastfeeding Week from October 1st to 8th, before travelling on to Galway Medical Academy with further centres yet to be confirmed.

October also marks the beginning of Baby Loss Awareness month.

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