Returning the Favor
Bellevue, Washington, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 35 No. 4, August-September 1999, p. 91
It all began with one desperate phone call. Now La Leche League is a very important and rewarding part of my life. I have deep and abiding gratitude for the support, information and understanding I have received as a member. It has become my mission to “return the favor" as a Leader.
Through the tears, I could barely choke out the words to explain my difficulties over the phone. The Leader on the other end was calm and understanding. She asked me lots of questions and gently coaxed me into a less agitated state. She made several helpful suggestions and provided me with the information I needed to turn a distressing situation around.
As a result of the phone call, I attended my first LLL meeting when my daughter was four weeks old. There I found many like- minded mothers and support for my parenting style. My daughter and I became a well-established nursing couple through the guidance of mother-to-mother support.
When my daughter was a year old, I became interested in becoming accredited as an LLL Leader. Throughout my preparation for leadership, my mentor Leaders were there to offer suggestions as well as provide support and gentle nudges to help me move toward accreditation. I became a Leader a little over a year later, after my son was born.
One of the basic responsibilities of leadership is helping mothers by phone. I had great trepidation at even the thought of taking a call. However, I was encouraged by the well-seasoned co- Leaders in the Group to just jump right in. That's exactly what I did. What an intense growing experience phone helping has been for me! It has been challenging for me to "think on my feet." I don't know how many times I've called a mother back just to add one more thing. Most mothers really appreciate my efforts and are understanding when I "get back to them."
Phone helping is often an emotional experience for me. I have received calls that have brought me to tears, for example, one caller had miscarried and needed information about anesthetic drugs and their possible effect on her nursing toddler. When a mother tells me she has been told to wean in a situation where it is not really necessary, I feel anger at this seeming attempt to sabotage the nursing relationship. I also feel great pride when I know I really helped a nursing mother.
Just the other day, a new mother called me in tears, barely able to choke out the words to explain her difficulties. I tried to be calm and understanding. I asked her lots of questions and gently coaxed her into a less agitated state. I made several suggestions to help her solve the problem and encouraged her to follow her heart. How amazing that everything has come around full circle.
The mother called me back a few days later to thank me. She said that without my help, she would have given up nursing. I praised her for her courage and perseverance and shared with her that not long ago I had been the one in tears on the other end of the line. She provided me the opportunity to "return the favor" so I thanked [b]her[/b] as well.
My mission to "return the favor" has since expanded to helping mothers online by using Help Forms. There is less pressure to "think on your feet" and many of the "answers" can be readily accessed on the Leader's Web site in the section called Help Form FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). When you receive a Help Form, you can just zip over to the Web site, copy the FAQ that is applicable, spend a few minutes tailoring and personalizing your response, then send it off.
Just recently I authored a FAQ about foremilk/hindmilk imbalance because that answer was not available on the Web site. It was not a difficult thing to do, since I already had to answer the question for a help form. I just depersonalized a copy of what I sent to the mother and sent it off to the FAQ editor. We'll see if it merits "publishing ” on the Web site. Even if it doesn't, I have still learned a great deal by reading and doing my own research to provide nursing mothers with up-to-date information and support.
While I may not experience the "warm fuzzies" that I often do from phone helping, I have received many emails of thanks. One mother wrote, "I am impressed with the promptness and responsiveness of LLL Leaders. You have made me feel like I am not alone. Thank you for all of your help."
I encourage any accredited LLL Leader in good standing who is considering Help Form volunteer work to just jump right in. You can email the help form coordinator at hfcoordinator at llli.org and ask to "try out" answering just one help form with no pressure to commit to more.
There is nothing like the challenge of phone help and online help to accelerate the process of developing a core of knowledge and experience. I am now more confident and more comfortable in my role as a Leader. I may still worry a little about preparing for a meeting but it doesn't seem as insurmountable as before. I am looking forward to many years of service in La Leche League, helping mothers to nourish and nurture their babies at the breast. After all, I'm just "returning the favor."
[Note: this article has been updated slightly. January 8, 2001, December 4, 2001, and September 13, 2006]