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Don't Panic -- We Have the Skills!

Faye Straus
Lafayette CA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 41 No. 4, August-September 2005, p. 90.

It could have been the La Leche League meeting envisioned by Leaders in our more anxious moments. Three different women became distressed and tearful about their situations. All were complicated breastfeeding issues that remained unresolved after visits to lactation consultants. Persistent nipple pain was described that resisted the usual remedies; concerns about milk supply had already led to formula supplementation. A baby was balking at attempts to wean her off of a nipple shield, and family tensions had been evoked by the introduction of a new baby into the dynamic. Taking a collective deep breath, the five Leaders of the Alamo/San Ramon Group in Northern California, USA responded to the challenge, supported by the mothers attending the Group meeting.

Five Leaders at a meeting might seem like oversupply, that the mothers would be overwhelmed by the surge of information and suggestions. In this case, however, supply equaled demand. It took all of our experience, skills, and talents to address the needs presented by the mothers. Among the five of us, we have roughly 50 years experience as La Leche League Leaders, many years of lactation consulting background, plus our professional and life experience. We have adult children, school age children, and babies in arms. Most importantly, we have the benefit of the philosophy of empathy and acceptance for babies, mothers, and ourselves that we have learned in LLL.

As Diana proceeded to lead the meeting with ease and confidence, the first mother offered the gift of tears. She just found out she was pregnant and was told by her doctor to wean her nine-month-old. Her tears demonstrated that our circle was a safe place for the sadness and frustrations of motherhood, as well as its joy and rewards. She would leave armed with information from THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK, a reference to ADVENTURES IN TANDEM NURSING, and the experiences of our Leaders, Jenni and Kimberly, who had nursed through pregnancy. She was reassured by a Group member's description of gently weaning during a high risk pregnancy.

The tears of the first mother enabled another to express the depth of her confusion about her parents' unexplained anger toward her. I spoke about how the birth of a baby is a powerful event that causes family relationships to shift and unresolved issues to emerge. As if to present a living example of this, a grandmother who had accompanied her daughter to the meeting shared her distress at not knowing the best way to help her daughter through her breastfeeding difficulties. Thanks to her, the other mothers left the meeting with a better understanding of how their own parents might be feeling.

A four-month-old protested our efforts to observe him nursing to determine the cause of his mother's persistent nipple pain. Connie took the mother and baby out of the room and applied her understanding and knowledge of mother-baby interaction to the situation, which was enriched by her experience as a nurse and lactation consultant. As the meeting continued, Kimberly offered suggestions with Delilah Belle, a pink bundle of sweetness, in her arms. She was an embodiment of motherhood as two little boys decided to climb all over her as she spoke. The milk supply issue was found to be perceived, rather than real, the baby growing well. The mother with the nipple shield was given ideas on gradually weaning the baby off and assurances that time and patience would pay off.

After we adjourned the formal part of the meeting, I began to observe the other mother with persistent nipple pain. I looked up to see Jenni standing in the middle of a bevy of new mothers, demonstrating the use of a baby sling. Baby Maren leaned back against Jenni's chest as her mother pulled the sling tight. At four months, she was a pro at riding in the sling. Then another mother approached the breastfeeding duo that I was observing. She empathized with the difficult situation and provided encouragement to continue, exemplifying one of the most moving aspects of our Group.

Every La Leche League Group that I have attended, as a member and a Leader, has possessed a personality of its own. The qualities of the Alamo/San Ramon Group have remained consistent even as the membership has changed. I have been awed by the acceptance that the mothers show toward the choices made in response to breastfeeding challenges. A mother who comes to our meeting with a bottle because the baby cannot latch on, or because of severe nipple pain, will not be met with judgment. She will be supported with information, resources, and empathy. The mothers acknowledge difficulties and the grief that comes from life not going the way we expect. They expose their own vulnerabilities as they admit having "been there." They share in the enthusiasm when breastfeeding proceeds easily and when difficulties are overcome. They listen, nod, and delight in each other's babies.

Many times I have come to lead a meeting tired or stressed. I always leave energized by the power of mothers nurturing their babies and each other. This meeting was no different. It could have been the embodiment of our apprehensions. Instead, it was La Leche League at its best.

Faye Straus has been an LLL Leader for 17 years. She is married to Sandor and has two children, Aaron (26) and Anna (20). Kimberly McKnight, Jenni Rhee, Connie Sickafoose, and Diana Torp participated in leading the meeting described in this article. Brandel D. Falk is Contributing Editor for Leading Meetings. Please send articles or ideas to Brandel at Pal Yam 34, Tsameret Ha Bira, Jerusalem, ISRAEL or ImaBDF at inter dot net dot il.

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