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The Birth of Slovenija

Ksenija Soster-Olmer
Orinda, California, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 3, June-July 2001, p. 61

The "pregnancy" was long and complicated with many challenges. Working in a foreign language, it was a problem finding Applicants who were willing to tackle THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING and THE LEADER'S HANDBOOK written in English. Many times the process slowed down because letters between the Applicant and the Associate Coordinator of Leader Accreditation had to come to me first for translation. There were a few false alarms when interested mothers became Applicants but their applications stalled when they had new babies or began new jobs. My spirit was nearly crushed when one Leader Applicant, after completing the Preview, decided not to sign the Statement of Commitment because starting a new Group seemed overwhelming to her.

But after years of dreaming, planning, hoping, searching, and scheming, on February 22, 1999 I became a proud "godmother" to a tiny "baby," LLL Koper, in a small town on the Slovenian coast. I held my breath when the "baby" took its first breath at the long planned and hoped for first meeting. Eight mothers and babies attended that meeting led by the first Slovenian Leader, Tanja Potocnik. When she emailed me her enthusiastic report, I sighed a sigh of relief but dared not relax and stop worrying. The "baby" was so tiny and growing in an isolated area of the country. I wondered, "Will it thrive in this environment? Will it be accepted by a society not used to nongovernmental volunteer organizations? Will it be threatened or stifled by the medical establishment, so used to being the only authority on matters medical and parental?" But the "baby" charmed the new mothers, and even some medical professionals who came to visit, with its simple and heartfelt messages: "Breast Is Best" and "Support For Mothering Through Breastfeeding." Soon the word spread and more mother and babies came to meetings, building a solid base for the Group.

I knew one "baby" [Group] was just a start. We needed a tribe of healthy sibling Groups thriving in a close-knit, strong family. I relentlessly pursued any leads. I approached mothers who attended my summer lectures in my old homeland. I wrote to any breastfeeding mother who contacted the parenting magazine to which I am a contributor. I called old high school and college friends who nursed their babies and expressed an interest in sharing the joy of breastfeeding with others. I kept visiting the maternity wards and contacting doctors, nurses, and midwives who were reported by mothers to be supportive of breastfeeding.

The birth of the second "baby," as it usually is, was easier. LLL Ljubljana was started in the capital and this coincided with the establishment of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) under the auspices of the Slovenian UNICEF. One of the Leaders from this LLL Group also became a member of a local Breastfeeding Task Force. Now I felt that I could relax a little, the two sibling Groups supported each other and worked hand in hand. Soon all the meetings were very well attended, some nearly unmanageable with over twenty mothers and their babies and toddlers eager to learn and share.

When the third sibling Group followed in the north of the country as LLL Maribor, I started worrying about sibling rivalry and good communication. Then I started wondering about my "loving guidance." Was I hovering too much or neglecting the eldest? Sometimes I felt like a mother hen, trying to keep all my ducks under my feathers, translating reports, purchasing and sending books, Lansinoh, and breast shells for the Groups, overseeing public relations efforts, encouraging, helping resolve small misunderstandings, and emailing back and forth.

Then in 2000, I knew the time had come to let go; they could "walk" on their own. During my annual summer visit to Slovenija, I finished the Preview with the last original Applicant who began her application with me some years ago. She was expecting her fourth baby and her house was brimming with her family, my children, and the other Leaders' children - a perfect setting for doing the Preview! After a few hours filled with laughter and camaraderie, we welcomed our eighth Slovenian Leader and the beginnings of our fourth LLL Group.

During our celebratory dinner I announced, "From now on I am on the sidelines. Now it's your turn to work with the second generation of Applicants. The future of LLL in Slovenija is in your hands." I felt totally confident that they would manage on their own and I had no trouble letting go. I have to wonder if I will feel such ease and confidence when my own three children are ready to go into the big world all by themselves.

The eight LLL Leaders in Slovenija are doing a marvelous job. They are working with eight new Applicants; organizing and registering an umbrella nonprofit LLL Slovenija; publishing the first issue of their Area Leaders' Letter (ALL) Zibelka (Cradle); starting work on a Web site; and inundating Slovenian newspapers and magazines with articles about breastfeeding and the work of the local Groups.

I am still available, willing, and happy to lend a helping hand. Mostly, though, I am just offering a gentle word of encouragement, a small piece of advice, or praise for a new accomplishment. I am so proud of all that my LLL sisters and mothers from my homeland have achieved and are striving to accomplish. Quietly I am basking in the sweetness of a dream come true, forgetting the pain as mothers do, and joyously.

Leaders in Slovenija

Ksenija Soster-Olmer writes "When I joined LLL 13 years ago [in the USA], I immediately began dreaming and scheming about [a potential] LLL in Slovenija."

Over a decade passed before her dream became reality, but the most intensive work (such as recruiting Applicants and translating materials) came in the last five years. LLL of Slovenija would not be possible without the Slovenijan Leaders and Groups' devotion and perseverance.

Here are the Leaders in Slovenija:

  • Tanja Potocnik and Natasa Jurca; Koper Group
  • Spela Hleb Babic; Maribor Group
  • Jana Elouissi, Ursa Savodnik, Irena Dvojmoc Kotnik and Mateja Kropec Sega; Ljubljana Group
  • Irena Rupar; Skofja Loka Group

Ksenija Soster-Olmer, Leader Reserve, is a mother of three daughters (13, 11, 8), a freelance writer, a parent educator, and an Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) enthusiast who lives in Orinda, California, USA. Originally from Slovenija (part of former Yugoslavia), she credits LLL for showing her the path of mothering from the heart; she is grateful for the skills developed as a Leader that enable her to contribute to the well-being of mothers and babies on this and the other side of the ocean.

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