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A Conference Connection: Poland’s Home Away from Home

From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 6, December 2001-January 2002, p. 138.
Loretta McCallister
Roselle IL USA

I would like to share with you some of the beauty and magic that can happen when you attend a La Leche League International Conference. I am an Illinois, USA Leader living near the Chicago area, which is populated with many ethnic cultures. I was raised in a Polish home—speaking, reading, and writing in the Polish language. Since, I became a Leader a little over a year ago, I have been working hard to form a Polish-speaking group for the mothers in the Chicagoland area. Kathy Baker, LLLI Peer Counselor Program Manager, has been encouraging and supporting my efforts. We have been brainstorming ideas on how to find these mothers and offer breastfeeding support and information within the Polish community. One of the major tasks entails having some pamphlets in the Polish language. This would require hours of translation. Fortunately, as I was about to embark on this task, I had the most magical connection. I attended the 2001 La Leche League International Conference in Chicago.

Before the Conference, I submitted my name to La Leche League International’s volunteering to translate for any Polish attendees. Rebecca Magalhães, the LLLI Director of Action and Development, informed me of the Multi-Language Learning Cluster sessions that would be set up to accommodate anyone who speaks a language other than English. Once I arrived at the Conference, I reported to the LLLI Conference Headquarters and registered my name and contact information for any Polish attendees. But this is not how I met Monika Mikulska.

After a day of no inquiries, I searched through the Conference booklet for Polish names. I found Monika listed as one of the poster presenters. I then sought out the Multi-Language Learning Cluster sessions where I found Rebecca Magalhães, who was co-leading the session on global connections. I introduced myself and inquired about Monika. She informed me that later in the afternoon, all presenters would be at their posters presentations to answer questions. I arrived at the Poster Sessions roaming the aisles searching nametags and ran into Monika! “Dziendobry,” I said (hello in Polish). She was taken aback and we began conversing immediately. I think she no longer felt so far away from home. It was at her poster presentation that I learned of her profession: a doctor! I had no idea. Dr. Monika Mikulska traveled all the way from Katowice, Poland. Her strong belief in skin-to-skin contact between newborn infants and their mother was the subject of her poster presentation. She was instrumental in converting her hospital to the first Baby-Friendly Hospital in Poland, where she works as a neonatalogist.

I invited Monika to join me on the final night of the Conference for the Gala Banquet. She didn’t have a ticket. I insisted that she attend as my guest. The following day we met up at lunchtime where we discussed some of the activities at the Banquet. She agreed to help me sing a Polish lullaby during the Banquet closing, when people sung lullabies from all over the world. This was a great relief to me since singing in front of a large group was not something I felt I could do alone. We had the afternoon to practice and learn more about each other. We found out that both of us recently lost a parent and resolved to dedicate our performance in honor of them, “to our parents who sang to us when we were babies.” This was very difficult and moving for both of us but we did it with grace. Powerful emotions were expressed from two friends who just met. We hugged, cried, rejoiced and left the stage.

In conversing with her about my future plans for a Polish-speaking LLL Group, I mentioned the Polish version of Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Sztuka Karmienia Piersia. I inquired about any literature she may have about technical breastfeeding information. Dr. Mikulska responded by telling me she had the perfect book. This book contains information on the many situations that can be a factor in some breastfeeding relationships. This news was a major breakthrough in my plans for generating informative pamphlets for Polish-speaking mothers.

Monika has promised to send that book to me upon her arrival home. In return, she has asked me to keep her updated on the next La Leche League International Conference. She truly enjoyed seeing all the babies cuddled with their mamas.

In addition to the most up-to-date breastfeeding information, she would also like to see the addition of La Leche League Groups throughout Poland. This would allow the mothers and babies who had been under her care a place to go in order to continue receiving accurate breastfeeding information. It is important that a mother make an informed decision about breastfeeding. Dr. Mikulska believes that it is in the best interest of the mother and baby to continue their breastfeeding relationship. The loving support of mother-to-mother groups helps that happen.

Loretta McCallister is a Leader for Bloomingdale/Roselle, Illinois, USA. She and her husband, Dave, are the parents of Madison, 5; and Francesca, 3. For breastfeeding information in Polish, call 1-800-LaLeche or write to Loretta at: 19 W. Granville, Roselle, IL 60172 USA, or to mcretta at flash.net (email).

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