Turning breast-milk into mementos for mums

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Media captionTurning breast milk into special mementos

The word jewellery conjures up images of precious materials like platinum, rubies, emeralds and diamonds.

However, it can also be made from something that is much more precious for babies – breast-milk.

Parents across Northern Ireland are using the bespoke pieces to celebrate and commemorate their breastfeeding experiences.

Image copyright Bramwell family
Image caption Baby Rhys died three months ago

Rhys Bramwell was only seven-and-a-half months old when he died from a heart condition.

His parents, Kelly and Paul, have kept Rhys’ memory close to their hearts by creating special mementoes, including a ring, earrings and a heart-shaped memory stone – all made using Kelly’s breast-milk.

Image caption Kelly’s ring has seven breast-milk gems signifying the seven months her son lived

“We were very aware, not of what we were facing, but of how things could go following our 20-week-scan,” said Kelly.

“Throughout Rhys’ short life I was able to breastfeed him, which was so beautiful and remarkable as the doctors didn’t think it would be possible.

“In his memory we wanted to create a piece that showed everything that we feel for him and the unending love we have for him.”

Image caption Kelly and Paul had a special piece made in memory of their son Rhys

Kelly added: “This piece is everything we could have wanted. It means everything.

“It’s only because Rhys and I worked so hard together at breastfeeding that we have these pieces.”

Kelly’s husband Paul also had a special pendant made, which features the front cover of Rhys’ favourite bedtime book, with a picture of him on one side, and breast-milk on the other.

Image caption Paul, Kelly and their three year old son Reuben with a special teddy bear containing baby Rhys’ ashes

“It might not be for everyone, but it’s a nice keepsake for me to have,” he said.

“It’s around my neck all the time.”

‘Special journey’

Kerry Miles, who has a degree in fine art, makes the bespoke pieces.

She said it was a privilege to work with families like the Bramwells.

Image caption Kerry Miles with her children Daisy, aged 20 months, and Poppy, aged 3

“Losing a baby is a very sad time, however this is a way to make it into a positive experience,” she said.

“It’s a way that families feel that they still have a piece of their babies, and can keep their memories with them.”

She began making her own breast-milk jewellery after her youngest daughter endured a bout of illness when she was breastfeeding.

Image caption Some people travel to Kerry’s house, or choose to send their milk in sealed packages in the post

“I was going through such a tough time that I wanted to make something beautiful out of my experience,” said Kerry.

“I knew that you could send your milk away to be made into jewellery, but I wanted to do it myself. “

Image caption Once the milk is dehydrated it is turned into a powder

Some of the pieces Kerry made for herself soon caught the attention of members of her local breastfeeding support group who then wanted their own.

“Breastfeeding can be such a special journey,” she said.

“Most people want to celebrate that journey, or just kind of say thank you to themselves, or to give to their children in later years, or to have something beautiful to remember their time breastfeeding.

Image caption Other parents prefer to have keepsake stones made from placenta

“When your baby stops feeding it can be a bit of an emotional wrench, so it helps you to remember that bond for however long it is.”

Reminiscing

Dr Hanratty, who lectures at Queen’s University, is involved in the organisation of Belfast Breastival and said she had two pendants made to remind her of when her baby was small.

Image caption Dr Hanratty wearing her ‘tree of life’ necklace made from breast milk

“When I was pregnant, I always thought breastfeeding was something I would attempt, because my mum had breastfed me and my siblings,” she said.

“But it’s not an easy thing to do, but I was proud that I was able to do it for my little lady.

Image caption ‘Tree of life’ jewellery represents the process of breastfeeding between mother and baby

“I wanted to have these pendants made because they reminded me of a time when I was able to provide my baby with the essentials she needed.

“Through the process of breastfeeding my baby, I felt that my boobs became much more mine, as they served a purpose for me and my family,” she added.

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