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Memories from the 2003 LLLI Conference

Jane Tuttle
Kansas USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 5, September-October 2003, pp. 166

Strength Through Diversity-Creating One Breastfeeding World was the theme for the 18th La Leche League International Conference held in San Francisco, California, USA on July 3-6. Being part of the Conference was an affirming experience that celebrated all stages of parenting. Our numbers at the Hilton Hotel totaled more than 3,000 including 1,216 children. Yet, attendance only tells part of the story. Every person there had something to offer as we came together to learn and share the wonder of breastfeeding and parenting.

Our personal goals for the three days together may have been different; yet, our shared belief that one breastfeeding world is attainable united us. We were relative strangers who formed a breastfeeding community for these few days. There were smiles of hello, smiles of encouragement, and smiles through exhaustion. The maze of halls at the Hilton was filled with babies in slings, toddlers in hand, and adults enjoying the wonder of it all. Sometimes, there was music and one could not help but sing along to the familiar tunes. It is hard to find adequate words to describe the diverse yet unified breastfeeding community that we were for three days in San Francisco.

Our diversity was more than the colors of our skin. Mothers from 42 countries attended the Conference. Our diversity of mothering experience was apparent. The Conference attendees represented the entire parenting continuum: from a mother pregnant with her first child to great-grandmothers. The diversity of our LLL experiences represented new members, new Leaders, and long time Leaders. This Conference honored the LLL volunteers from newly accredited Leaders to seasoned Leaders.

Opening Night

The opening night activities were a celebration of parenting. As we filled the Grand Ballroom, uplifting music was playing and a slide show from the 2001 Conference was shown. Seeing the slides reminded the viewer of the excitement of that Conference and foreshadowed the same for this Conference. Sheryl Scheubles of Hemet, California, USA, explained, "Just being here brings tears to your eyes-seeing people from all over the world and feeling the camaraderie." The magic of an International Conference was contagious as many registrants were veteran Conference attendees. Going once is not enough, according to Cinnamon Welland from McLean, Virginia, USA. Attending one International Conference makes you want to keep coming back for more.

The Ballroom filled with families and the anticipation grew. There was a feeling of awe as six of the Founders wove their way into the ballroom and onto the stage for the opening. Mary White was unable to attend the Conference, but she was there in spirit. The music changed, Marcia Lutostanski, chairperson of the Board of Directors, called the Conference to attention and welcomed the Parade of Nations.

This was not an ordinary parade of nations! It was a parade of children often dressed in native garb carrying signs for each country where LLL has a presence. A parade of fathers who carried babies; a parade of mothers and grandmothers! This was a parade that brought chills as we witnessed one breastfeeding world. As Katie Young, 13, from California summed it up, "This is fun!"

The main speaker for the opening night was Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. Dr. Rosenberg's message was one of parenting through nonviolent communication. His mixture of humor and concrete examples proved to be a mesmerizing approach. As he donned a pair of giraffe ears for part of his presentation, Dr. Rosenberg explained that non-violent communication is the language of the heart. Because the giraffe has the largest heart of any mammal, Dr. Rosenberg refers to nonviolent communication as giraffe language and reminded us to always use our giraffe ears. He also sang songs that capture the essence of his relationships with his children. Laughter is also part of giraffe language. Giraffe ears could be spotted throughout the Conference long after Dr. Rosenberg put his pair away.

Some of his message can be found in his publication Raising Children Compassionately and his book, Non-Violent Communication. Parents need to connect with the beauty in one another and to understand and meet their children's needs. When a child is in a dangerous situation, Rosenberg suggests that the protective use of force allows parents to control the environment that their children are in and not control their children.

Dr. Rosenberg's speech paved the way for three days of intense sharing and learning in a compassionate environment. The first morning's general session was opened with another parade. This parade, too, was special as it featured newly accredited Leaders and Leaders with more than 20 years of experience. This parade showcased the strength of LLL. The keynote address, given by Dr. Elisabet Helsing, focused on the progress made in recent years toward increasing rates of breastfeeding worldwide.

After the keynote, the concurrent sessions began, the exhibit hall and bookstore opened, the activities in the Alumnae Room started up, the Rock and Rest and Playrooms teemed with activity, and the Tech Room became fully operational. While most mothers come to an LLL Conference for the informational sessions, it was the additional features of the Conference that gave it an energized feeling. There was always activity in the halls. Operated by the Online Communications Staff, the Tech Room was a hub of activity as selected speakers participated in interactive chats via the Internet with people who could not attend the Conference. Imagine being at home and being able to ask questions of Dr. Thomas Hale, Peggy O'Mara, or Diana West! Those in the Tech Room could follow the chats on a big screen. The Tech Room was a buzz of activity as Conference participants moved in and out.

Another hub of activity was the Exhibit Hall. No Conference experience can be considered complete without a tour of the Exhibit Hall and visiting with the many exhibitors. The family friendly businesses filled the room with samples of their wares and/or services. Many brought promotional items for distribution and others held daily drawings. A Silent Auction was also available in the Exhibit Hall.

The Bookstore occupied a spacious area and featured the newest releases from LLLI as well as many of the books from the LLLI Catalogue. Speakers' books were also featured and those who enjoyed a session often rushed to the Bookstore to buy a copy of a speaker's book so they could learn more. There were authors' autograph sessions, where many shoppers added value to their book purchases with an author's signature. Outside of the Bookstore was the Lucy Shares Project, which allowed Leaders to make a request for books and for shoppers to fill that request. To learn more about Lucy Shares Program, see

Down the hall from the Bookstore was the Alumnae Association's headquarters. Leaders of all ages stopped by the room, as a unique anniversary Leader pin was available. Others stopped by the room to attend some of the rejuvenation activities or to make a quilt square for the Founders' Gift Quilt. The activities in the room were varied and continuous and the atmosphere was most welcoming.

Enjoying the Luncheons

Each day's lunch brought a new opportunity to share a meal with new friends and to hear a guest speaker. Sitting at a table with nine others gave us an opportunity to compare Conference experiences. Seated right across the table might be Kathy Dove of Waco, Texas, a grandmother, or Kalee Tock of Mt. View, California, an expectant mother and a first time Conference-goer. Lunch was an opportunity to interact with people from all over the globe.

The first day's luncheon speaker was Dr. Miriam Labbok of UNICEF. Dr. Labbok spoke about how breastfeeding can help mothers all over the world obtain optimal spacing of their children. Other women at the La Leche League Conference were often introduced by mentioning their children. Labbok, who has no children, said, "I am the mother of LAM." LAM is the lactational amenorrhea method of child spacing. Labbok has helped make the world aware that exclusive breastfeeding, on cue, with no supplementation with food or artificial nipples, is as effective as hormonal birth control methods for the first six months of a baby's life, providing mother's menstrual period has not returned. In this talk, Labbok presented research that indicates that a child spacing of three to five years appears optimal for the health of mother and baby, even though many women in the US and Europe have their children more closely spaced with no problems.

The second day's lunch gave all Conference participants a preview of the US Government's initiative to increase breastfeeding rates. Dr. Suzanne Haynes of the Office of Women's Health introduced the National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign that will utilize the expertise of the well-known Ad Council. This three-year plan will be available to all US media markets and promises to heighten awareness of breastfeeding and encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby's life.

Following Dr. Haynes was Dr. Lawrence Cohen, a psychologist from Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Cohen's topic was playful parenting and his engaging delivery style-as well as his content-had the audience in full attention. The benefits of play for both parents and their children cannot be discounted. Active play helps children gain confidence, develop mastery, and learn coping techniques when things do not go as planned. He underscored the importance of playing what children like to play and not what we want them to play. He explained that when a parent refuses to play a game or activity that the child loves, the parent sends an indirect message that the child's idea of fun is unacceptable to the parent. Dr. Cohen suggested that parents connect with children through play and that we take every opportunity to play with our children.

The final luncheon speaker was Anne-Marie Kern who shared images of breastfeeding. She presented slides showing images of breastfeeding mothers throughout the history of art.

Sessions and Activities

There were over 195 concurrent sessions offered at the Conference. Ghia Johnson, of Covena, California said, "The Conference just gets better and better. The Storytelling session by Jim Weiss was so good." Later in the Conference, when asked how she was keeping up with the pace of everything, Ghia responded that she had so much information that she wanted to share with others. "I can't say which session has been the best because I've learned something in each one."

Theron Tock of Mt. Vernon, California and his wife, Kalee, are expecting their first child and attended an LLL Conference for the first time. Their introduction to LLL was a full one! Theron heard the session, "Busy but Balanced," by Mimi Doe and was impressed by all the practical suggestions that were offered as he knew things would change once the baby arrived. Kaylee had just come from the "Thirty Day Gourmet" and was excited to get home and try some of the cooking techniques that she heard.

Amy Macumber, Kernersville, North Carolina enthusiastically recommended Peggy O'Mara's panel on Teens. Leah Wilhjelm of Morrisville, Vermont found herself in many of the Continuing Education offerings to absorb the technical information about breastfeeding. Monica Tesone of Argentina found the Spanish interpreter services at some of the sessions a real plus for her.

Cheryl Peachey-Stoner of Hesston, Kansas said the entire Conference experience renewed and enthused her. Elaine Shirron of Acton, Massachusetts summed up her Conference experience with, "It was perfect to be in the midst of such wonderful people." Cristina Eury of Gainesville, Florida enjoyed connecting with other Spanish-speaking Leaders and building her vocabulary skills.

Yet, there was more to the Conference than informational sessions. One of the beloved features of the Conference was the World Faire. The Faire was an evening festival where many Areas, countries, and LLL Divisions had displays and featured items to sell or give away. Everyone entering the Faire received a passport that was stamped at each display. It was hard to determine who had more fun: those collecting the passport stamps or those stamping the passports.

There was entertainment for all including a stilt walker, storytelling, and face painting. At the Kansas table, one could get a bag of sunflower seeds; at the Great Britain table, there were breastfeeding stickers; and at the Utah table were logo pins in a beehive design. The LLLI office staff sold overstocked items from previous events at bargain prices. The Faire was a mixture of carnival and street vending! The evening ended with music from the Disney movie Mary Poppins and many people spontaneously began to sing the chorus of "Let's Go Fly a Kite." It was an evening to delight the child in all of us.

An Afternoon with the Founders

The Afternoon Tea on July 4th was a special tribute to the Founders and recognition of Leaders with 25 years of service. It was an elegant, child-friendly affair that included a light meal of sandwiches with dainty pastry desserts. Each person also received a commemorative hand fan as a souvenir.

During the tea, each Founder shared her memory of a person who was significant in her life. In this warm, intimate setting, the Founders brought both tears of laughter and tears of sorrow. This was a true gift from each Founder to those in the audience. Each also selected a favorite song that Frederick Scheff and Welda Hoerz sang.

The Alumnae Award was given to Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, founders of Attachment Parenting International. After the award presentation, the names of those Leaders in attendance with 25 years or more service were read. It was heartwarming to acknowledge these seasoned Leaders.

Framed gold certificates were also presented to the Founders by a cross-section of LLL Great Britain Leaders and members: a group mother, a brand new Leader, a long-standing Leader, BOD member and several Directors, including the Chair of the Council of Directors. The certificates read, "On behalf of many grateful mothers, LLL Great Britain wishes to say thank you...for sharing the joy of breastfeeding-you made a real difference."

The Tea ended with a memorial presentation honoring Leaders who have died. The tea is a Conference feature not to be missed as it celebrates our humanity as Leaders.

Lasting Memories

The Conference was not just about babies and toddlers in slings. There were many teens at the Conference. Some served on the Teen Staff where they performed various tasks for the Conference staff. Other teens, such as Rachel Shirron, 15, of Acton, Massachusetts, USA offered their services to harried mothers who needed a Mother's Helper or a babysitter for a few hours. Toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children were enchanted by the variety of playrooms.

The days of the Conference were packed with information and activity. If one was in the hotel lobby early, one could see the early morning walkers returning from their walk with smiles and looking revived. Each day brought new registrants who were eager to attend the sessions and easily got lost in the hotel. The faces of many participants reflected fatigue and exhilaration at the same time. It was easy to lose track of the days and even an American could almost forget it was the Fourth of July, even though fireworks could easily be seen from many rooms on the upper floors of the hotel.

The Conference Closing Session was bittersweet because it signaled the end of a unique experience. The children who learned a dance routine at Chance to Dance entertained us. We were invited to attend the 2005 Conference in Washington, DC. We were reminded that we can create a breastfeeding world and that our strength comes from our diversity. The 2003 Conference memories will last long after the fatigue fades. The invitation to attend an International Conference is one that should always be accepted, as it is a magical experience that defies words.

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