Connection and Reflection
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 1, February-March 2002, p. 21.
Most inhabitants of the earth have access to television, and even though they may never have set foot in New York City, feel somehow like they have been there. All of us by now know the streets, the views, the frantic rhythm of that city: China Town, Little Italy, all the boroughs. I suspect that this constant media exposure is one of the reasons many feel touched so deeply by the tragedy of September 11, 2001. By now businesses are open again, the Stock Exchange has started its operations once again, and life goes on, with many missing pieces, but it goes on. I still feel the lump in my throat every time I hear any mention of September 11. I know that is understandable. But there is something that, for me, goes beyond the enormity of this tragedy.
I have lived in different cities and in each I have been happy. But there is something that binds me to New York City in a very special way. You see, I once was one of those hurried executives with my coat and tennis shoes, walking quickly with my portable headphones from my apartment in the 23rd story of one of the many skyscrapers to my office in the 31st floor of a different skyscraper. On Sundays I would take walks to Central Park. Over time, I (who up to this point had only thoughts for myself) started to notice children and began to look forward to pushing a baby carriage of my own in that park.
Finally, it was my turn to buy a pregnancy test in a corner drugstore and then go to the next corner’s bookstore to buy books on pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. Among the books I purchased was one that had a title that seemed so special to me: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. I thought I would thumb through it when the baby arrived. I bought the maternity clothes in a little boutique called The Executive Mom and I started to collect items from Baby Gap for my new baby. I bought the stroller at a store on the Lower East Side. My colleagues threw me a baby shower in a conference room in the United Nations building with a view of the East River.
The nurse that was with me during my labor and delivery stayed beyond her shift. She wore glasses with a stork and baby on them and just when I was in serious transition, another nurse arrived. She was an enormous woman who, with a distinct New York accent, asked me, “OK, you’re saying you want a c-section? All right, imagine this kind of pain for three more days . . . that’s a c-section and that, honey, that is pain.” I didn’t have a cesarean and I delivered my baby, Inés, after a little more work. The applause and cheering that followed rivaled that of a baseball game.
On the way home with my daughter in my arms, the porters who worked on my New York street greeted us. When I started shopping again, the employees at my supermarket, who had seen me when I was pregnant, came closer to see my baby. And from my apartment, with very sore breasts and crying in despair, I called a number with an area code 212 (Manhattan) asking for help. An LLL Leader answered that call. An angel, anonymous until now, who for the next 45 minutes was my mother, my father, my sister, my friend, my doctor, my mentor, and according to her parting words, she was “new at this.” She worked at the Stock Exchange, she had a three-year-old daughter and did this as a volunteer, for free.
Another 212 number connected me with a woman who brought over a pump I rented to see if there was “any” milk there and she showed me how to use it. The pediatrician was also from New York City. He was an older gentleman, short and stout. After asking me if I was going to pay with a check or cash, he started playing with my baby, to stroke her skin as a grandfather would for the longest time before doing his slow, loving and meticulous examination.
In that melting pot that makes up this city, I breastfed my daughter on buses, on park benches, on the stairs in the museums, and in the fitting rooms inside the stores on Fifth Avenue. The New Yorkers, always seeming to be rushing, completely enthralled in their own little worlds, gave up their seats on the bus, touched my baby’s little feet, and of course, offered me their advice on everything: the way I was holding her, the fact that she had too little or too much clothing on, or if she needed a hat or socks. I never knew the person who lived in the apartment next door, but when I left my apartment with my baby in my arms it was like having twenty million inquiring neighbors.
In this city it is very hard to walk with a baby carriage, there is so much traffic and noise and everyone is lost in their own thoughts. The winters are so cold even your ideas freeze in your head. But the mother part of me was born there thanks to this “angel-Leader.” The LLL Leader part of me was also born there. My motherhood, linked since then and forever to La Leche League, has a lot to do with New York. And that is why those airplanes that attacked the place that holds so many memories for me, also hit me.
Lavinia Belli has been an LLL Leader since 1995; she was originally from Nicaragua and has lived in Madrid, Spain since 1997. Lavinia and her husband, Bjørn Moldskred, have two daughters, Inés (8) and Sofía (6); and one son, Matías (4). Lavinia writes, “I have an MA in Communications and got my IBCLC last July. I do have the original essay in Spanish if someone would like a copy.” You can contact Lavina at molbel at pobox.com (email). Editor’s note: This article was originally written to the Spanish speaking Leaders list, EnLLLace (for subscription information, contact Monica Tesone at monicate at ciudad.com.ar ) and was translated from Spanish to English by Norma Escobar.