Diane O’Connor has mined the breastfeeding experience for her stand-up comedy show, writes
The ups and downs of breastfeeding are comedy gold for comedian Diane O’Connor who has built a unique comedy routine around her experiences feeding her baby daughter, Eliza.
But while going for the laughs, she’s also breaking down barriers around stigma and hoping that she’s doing her best to make people feel more comfortable about the, “most natural thing in the world”.
The Dublin comedian is touring around Ireland with her one-woman show, Breastfeeding Al Fresco, where she illustrates all aspects of breastfeeding including general new mum struggles and triumphs and some of her shows are matinee performances where mums and tots and buggies are the norm.
“It’s not about pushing breastfeeding, non-breastfeeding mums also come, sometimes a few helper dads come too, sometimes parents come without children, it’s just about normalising the whole process of breastfeeding,” she says.
In Ireland breastfeeding rates are still very low compared to international figures. Some 46.3% of mums are breastfeeding exclusively on discharge from hospital (HSE 2016) but the World Health Organisation (WHO) would like Ireland to be 50% exclusive breastfeeding infants for the first six months by 2025.
Diane says we’re still an awkward nation when it comes to women, “getting their boobs out”. It was only this summer that a Mayo mother broke down in tears over trying to breastfeed her baby in the stands of St Conleth’s Park, Kildare and being stopped by a GAA steward.
Diane says she’s never personally experienced any serious anti-breastfeeding sentiment but she’s heard plenty of stories where women have told her they’ve been, “escorted into another room in a private house”.
“I don’t think people always mean to be unsupportive; sometimes they might think they’re giving you privacy. It’s only in more recent times that my own dad will stay around and have a chat when I’m breastfeeding, he used to run out of the room,” she laughs.
There’s a whole generation out there who never breastfed, some by choice, others would have liked to but weren’t supported; I think that lack of familiarity has been a problem in Ireland, but hopefully that’s changing bit by bit.
“For me, I remember there was some awkwardness at the start when it’s all new and a bit finicky and you’re trying to get the hang of things, people in public sometimes don’t know where to look, whereas you just have a hungry child who needs feeding, I wanted to talk about all of it and the best way for me was through comedy.
“Now my daughter is 25 months and I’m still breastfeeding a little and breastfeeding a toddler is different again, I’m trying to be brave about it, if it would make her happier I want to be able to give her a bit of a feed and be able to tell myself, let people think what they like.
“So far feedback from Breastfeeding Alfresco is very positive, mums say it’s lovely to just sit there and be entertained in a social setting and that it’s hard to get out sometimes and find places to go with a child and meet other adults.”
Comedian Sharon Mannion, who plays Concepta on TV show, Brigid and Eamon, agrees that there’s still a lack of things to do for parents when they are in charge of small children. Sharon was pregnant with her second child, Eva when she first ran the Comedy Coffee Mornings along with colleague, Anne Gill.
“We ran them as ‘normal’ comedy gigs but with tea and coffee, we just wanted to do something more adult-centred, mums came, dads came, people breastfed or didn’t, younger kids had space to move around. You have mum and baby groups but we wanted to do something focussed on adults, something that they’d enjoy, sometimes we’d do a bit of improv too, you see these kind of adult/family events happen in the UK a fair bit, but you need the right venues as well, we hope to do more Comedy Coffee mornings for parents, maybe for festivals,” she says.
Lesley Anne Liddane, owner of Chez Le Fab, Limerick, which runs comedy events, says parent comedy gigs are an untapped resource for both comedians and venues. “I breastfed my two and I know it isn’t easy and sometimes people can still throw you the eye as if to say, ‘You’re not going to do that here are you?’
“I saw Diane was doing this show and thought it’d be amazing and feedback from parents was great. I was seeing these kind of gigs being advertised in London and wondered, why aren’t we doing this here? We’re lucky that we’ve a venue with enough space for buggies and to make parents comfortable.”