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Encounters

Heidi Mischke
St. Paul MN USA
From LEAVEN, Vol 43 No. 4, October-November-December 2007, p. 92

I had been looking forward to the 2007 LLLI Conference for months so that I could attend lectures by some of the luminaries in the world of breastfeeding, childbirth, and parenting. I was also looking forward to being in the presence of the LLLI Founders. Never did I suspect that the Conference would be a life-changing event!

During the Conference, I signed up for one of the Founders' Parlors. This was an opportunity for seven women to sit with two of the Founders for half an hour. There I met Mary White and Mary Ann Kerwin.

The Parlor was conducted much like a Series Meeting, with each of us introducing ourselves and explaining how we came to be a part of LLLI. Two of the Leaders told an amusing anecdote of how, at a previous LLLI Conference, they had met Mary White in the hotel elevator and borrowed her car to visit a tree they had planted in Wilder Park several years earlier to commemorate LLLI's 25th Anniversary. When their story was over, Mary White, sharp as a tack, announced to us, "Sorry, I don't have my car with me today!"

Mary and Mary Ann were both very gracious. They spoke little of themselves and their accomplishments, but asked questions, listened to us, and told us how grateful they were that we had become Leaders. They appeared to be as thrilled to meet me as I was to meet them!

After the Parlor, I attended Peggy O'Mara's session. I have admired Peggy for her work with Mothering Magazine and wanted to tell her personally. Following her session, Peggy greeted me warmly with a hug. I thanked her for being a strong and eloquent voice in the wilderness. I also admired her hair, which is even more spectacular in person than it is in pictures!

Later that morning, I found myself standing next to Edwina Froehlich! I was still walking on clouds after meeting Peggy, Mary, and Mary Ann, and I could not believe that I was now shoulder to shoulder with another Founder! A woman with a camera said, "I need to take your picture with Edwina," and we allowed her to do so. I managed to thank Edwina for all of her contributions to LLLI and she thanked me for being a Leader.

A short while later, this same photographer arranged for me to sit next to Edwina at lunch. Also at the table was Jan Riordan, the author of Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, among other books, and a great contributor to LLLI.

Several people had stopped at our table to have their picture taken with Edwina, and I complimented her on her ability to smile beautifully for each shot. Edwina told me that during a long photo shoot just prior to Friday's Opening Ceremony, she had smiled so much that her jaw became sore!

At the World Faire I had another star sighting. Dr. Jack Newman, one of my breastfeeding heroes, was there wearing a large cut-out heart around his neck with the words "I Love You" (obviously a gift from another adoring fan!). I tried to introduce myself, but was so overwhelmed with emotion that I could not speak. He smiled at me and waited patiently as I composed myself. I then told him that five years ago I had emailed him for advice about recurrent plugged ducts. He recommended treating them with ultrasound. As a physical therapist, I had easy access to an ultrasound machine and was able to treat myself. Dr. Newman asked, "Did the ultrasound work?" I told him it had, and thanked him for helping maintain my ability to breastfeed. At the end of our conversation, Dr. Newman gave me a big hug and again, I was walking on clouds.

I had registered for a lecture by Ina May Gaskin and I set my sights on meeting her. Taking a seat right in front at her lecture, I was mesmerized for two hours. Ina May is a dynamic speaker with many beautiful stories to tell. After her session, I waited in line with many others for a chance to talk to her.

When my turn came, I introduced myself and told Ina May that I had read Spiritual Midwifery. I thanked her for giving me the one word that had guided me during the labor and delivery of my two children. She asked me what that word was, and I replied, "Open." She smiled and said, "That would be the one."

I had special encounters with other speakers, including Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Linda Smith, Lu Hanessian, and Martha Sears. What struck me about all of them was how accessible they were to Conference attendees. Each of them made me feel very special, and none of them had a big ego. These people had encouraged me with their writing during some of the darkest, most frustrating periods of motherhood, and they exuded this same caring spirit in person. Their steadfast passion for breastfeeding and motherhood has ignited a passion in me, strengthening my desire to work for the cause and to better my life and the lives of those around me. Thank you, La Leche League!

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