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One Day to Change the World:

LLL Leaders Make a Difference

Catherine Powers Özyurt
Boston, MA USA

Imagine volunteering your time and altering the course of history in 24 hours. As a humble mortal it seems much too grandiose, like the plot of an action adventure film. As impossible as it may seem, La Leche League Leaders do it every day, one mother and one baby at a time. A ‘typical’ day for Leaders might include counseling new mothers, meeting with pediatricians at a local clinic or even briefing researchers for a United Nations’ AIDS conference! We followed La Leche League Leaders for a day and learned how hundreds of voices and one dream are shaping the lives of women and children across the globe.

As the dawn broke across the beautiful South African landscape it was just another busy day in the lives of LLL Leaders Jacquie Nutt, Jane Maasdorp and Loraine Hamm. Conversations with mothers ranged from the challenges of breastfeeding twins to discussing the concerns of an epileptic mother whose doctor was encouraging her to wean. A visit to a local clinic provided the perfect opportunity to counsel mothers on the value of breastfeeding exclusively for six months. One of the mothers, who stopped breastfeeding her infant at 2 months because she had ‘no milk’, received one-on-one relactation counseling. Even the clinic gardener benefited from the visit, receiving LLL pamphlets for his wife.

One South African leader spent the day developing breastfeeding policies for staff and parents at a local health clinic, while another Leader met with a pediatrician about HIV research. Leader Jane Maasdorp’s day included a discussion on advancing research on breastfeeding and HIV for a UNAIDS conference with Dr. Anna Coutsoudis, a professor and microbiologist from the University of Natal in Durban, South Africa.

The new day in Luxembourg looked promising as LLL leader Ute Rock telephoned one new mother, given breastshields at the hospital, about her progress and offered support and advice to another pregnant mother experiencing discomfort while nursing her toddler. "With so many things to address, where does one start?" exclaimed Anita Dennis, La Leche League Leader, as she described her encounter with a pregnant mother with a toddler who recently arrived in Luxembourg. "She doesn’t know many people and she doesn’t have a driving license." Anita explained. "She was particularly worried about the forthcoming birth and what she would do with her little girl when she went to the hospital with her husband. Her first birth experience had not been a good one and her milk had dried up after only three months." Anita patiently listened to the mother’s concerns, offering her advice and support, and after a long and fruitful discussion the mother was even considering hosting the next series of La Leche League meetings!

In Rochester, Great Britain, Deborah Robertson had reason to celebrate. Her Lactation Consultant Certificate arrived from the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBCLC). Deborah noted that her 8 years as a LLL Leader really helped set her up for the exam. In Shrewsbury, Jaqui Maclean led her first meeting after arriving in Great Britain, while Jill Unwin in East Berks, wrote a bibliography for a new leaflet she is working on for the LLL publications department. In Suffolk, Jan Storey met with a Leader Applicant and provided support for her ongoing challenges with her two year old. The "twos" were not so terrible for Leader Jennifer Knouth, who welcomed three new breastfeeding mothers, two of whom were pregnant, to an Oxford toddler meeting.

As the sun stretched across the Atlantic to welcome a new day to Brazil, the mothers of Santo Amato in Maceió, Alagoas were in for a day of theatrical proportions. The LLL Leaders of Maceió and nutrition students from the Federal University of Alagoas put on a play about the difficulties and challenges of the first postpartum days. After the theatrical production, LLL Leaders and nutrition students from the Federal University held a question and answer session for the pregnant women. The women were encouraged to express their questions, concerns and doubts about breastfeeding and infant care.

In Puerto Rico, LLL Leader Maria Santos gave a talk and provided information for parents at a neighborhood Montessori school, while two other Leaders held a meeting for mothers at a local toy store. Raquel Torres provided one mother information about a support group, while sending another mother information about breastfeeding children with Down’s Syndrome. Carmen Cabrer and Luz Velez provided training and information on breastfeeding to doctors and healthcare professionals. The sense of mission Leaders have extends beyond group members, as Damaris Crespo demonstrated when she visited her neighbor, the mother of a three-month-old baby, to encourage her to continue breastfeeding and postpone solids.

The Greater Baton Rouge La Leche League, comprised of three active groups, held a pot luck social for Leaders, applicants and interested mothers. The group also donated 5 copies of the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding to local libraries after carefully inscribing them and covering them in clear plastic. The group also designed and printed bookmarks inscribed ‘we wrote the book on breastfeeding’, with local LLL phone numbers and website information. Another Louisiana Leader was interviewed by The Advertiser, a local newspaper.

At an Atlanta-Emory Group meeting in Georgia, Leaders and members were discussing the history of LLL and the network of support for mothers and babies. One new mother lamented that she was dealing with soreness, cracks and weight gain problems. "Just as we Leaders were looking at each other and muttering about thrush," Leader Anne Marie Miller explained, "one of our core mothers spoke up and discussed that she had been through the same situation two years ago…and she could provide knowledge and support to another new mother who has never nursed before." "I have been a Leader since 1979" Anne Marie noted "…it has been fun to watch mothers mature in their skills over the years."

On this day Marian McCabe re-enlisted on the area council of La Leche League of Virginia/West Virginia. Marian McCabe joined LLL in 1975, after the birth of her first daughter. "My first daughter Margaret was born in July 1975. I was 31 years old and had never held a baby or baby-sat. I knew absolutely nothing about babies or mothering. Then I went to my first La Leche League meeting and my life and my family’s life changed totally." Marian went on to become accredited as a Leader in 1979 and served as a Leader in Virginia, Texas and Ireland. When the demands of her college classes began to conflict with her La Leche League District Advisor responsibilities, Marian reluctantly went on Leader reserve. She attended her first La Leche League International conference in July, "intending it to be a farewell", as she was planning on retiring. While sitting at the conference. Marian kept looking at the La Leche League International banner with pride realizing that "I too, was part of that incredible organization." Inspired by the conference and reaffirmed in her commitment to breastfeeding and attachment parenting, Marian decided to return to active Leader status.

Leader Mary Mann, continuing the great tradition of breastfeeding into the next generation, spent the day with her daughter, Emily and 12 day old grandson, Theo. Mary proudly reported that Theo is exclusively breastfed, as was his mother, Mary’s daughter Emily and all of her siblings. As a child, Mary’s daughter attended La Leche League conferences with her mother in 1979 in Atlanta, 1981 in Chicago, and 1985 in Washington, DC "It must have helped", Mary mused. No doubt, Theo, who nursed immediately after birth and gained 2 lbs in 16 days after birth, would agree wholeheartedly.

In Ardmore, PA, Leader Emily Coplon handed out cards with information on new research in breastfeeding. Emily and her co-leader Lisa Mandell led a lively discussion among the 12 mothers who attended the meeting. In Peoria, Illinois, Leader Trisha Noack, helped with a series seminar at her local library and donated the $25 honorarium back to the library to purchase books on breastfeeding, including the WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. A group of 25 mothers and 24 children, active members and LLL Alumni, participated in a lively discussion about extended breastfeeding. Leaders held a drawing and gave away a copy of MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER and World Breastfeeding Week magnets.

One Boston Leader’s dedication to breastfeeding promotion extends to her everyday activities on the job, where she manages a professional testing center. When pediatricians and obstetricians come in to do testing, she always mentions breastfeeding. If a woman taking a test is pregnant, she tries to initiate a conversation on breastfeeding. "One day I talked to a woman taking a dental test. She planned to breastfeed, but no one had mentioned it to her at the hospital where she worked and planned to deliver. I sent her a packet of breastfeeding information."

"Without those wonderful and visionary mothers, who knows where we would be today," wrote Judyth Stavans, LLL Leader from Yorktown, New York, as she sent thank you letters to the Founders and followed up on a mother and baby with persistent thrush. Lee Galasso, her co-Leader worked with the producers of the SIDS - Back to Sleep pamphlet to ensure that more accurate information about breastfeeding and SIDS prevention was provided. Cincinnati, Ohio Leaders Karen Kerkoff Gromada and Dee Keith continued doing one of the things they enjoy best: leading the Cincinnati Multiple Moms Group.

Sue Rericha celebrated her leadership role in a unique way by giving birth to her fourth daughter, Edythe Anne. In perfect rhythm with their fellow Illinois Leader, the Oak Park-River Forest group hosted a regular series meeting on ‘The Baby Arrives’. The meeting included guest speaker Mary White, one of the seven original Founders of La Leche League, who spoke about breastfeeding in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Mary White also signed copies of SEVEN VOICES ONE DREAM. The group presented a plaque to Mary White, which read: " a mother’s first gift is life. The second gift is love and the third gift is understanding.’ A local newspaper covered the meeting and printed the story. Area Coordinator of Leaders (ACL) Emily Dent-Harris held an indoor picnic with local mothers from the Northeast Lake County group. She also emailed all of the Leaders in Illinois to thank them for their hard work and dedication.

Because there is no La Leche League Group in Mountain Home Idaho, the site of an Air Force base, Linda Worden thought it was especially important to spread the word about breastfeeding to local mothers. She donated several copies of The WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING to the air base facility and local library. Rebecca Scheele of Roseville, Minnesota was reminded ‘how La Leche League is such a helpful beacon for breastfeeding mothers, even those that live quite a distance from any Leader or Group,’ after she helped locate a meeting for a nursing mother.

One of the great successes of La Leche League is the one-to-one support and personal experience offered by mothers to other mothers. Leader Kim Moss-Allen sent materials on adoptive nursing to a mother who nursed all three of her biological children and plans to nurse her adopted baby. "The coincidence is that there is already one mother in our group nursing her adopted baby. How wonderful to be able to offer not only information and support, but also a connection to other mothers doing the same thing!" Mother and Leader Sara Furr, an APL and AFC for Nebraska spends her working day as a breastfeeding educator at Milkworks, a non-profit breastfeeding resource center. Many of the mothers she works with have medical issues such as thrush, supply problems and the challenges of returning to work. Sara, a self-described cheerleader for the mothers, inspires them to listen to their babies.

The sunrise greeted Norman, Oklahoma with a new member of the La Leche League family, Isaac Richard Braver, who was born at 4:29 AM. Isaac and his mother, Maren Eliason, celebrated his birthday by nursing and resting! The Northwest morning group in Oklahoma City held a brunch/enrichment meeting. The group of new and ‘old’ mothers and children collected donations to buy a new book for the lending library and shared a very special banana bread with LLL spelled out in pecans on the top!

"Even experienced mothers need a sensitive ear, a strong shoulder and impartial sounding board, when we are tired and worried about our children," Mary Honas of Overland Park North, Kansas, wrote after talking to a concerned mother, who is nursing her eighth child. Mary is not only a LLL Leader, she is the mother of 5 beautiful breastfed children, one of whom is still nursing.

Austin, Texas leader Sue Ann Kendall’s children helped prepare favors for their local meeting. The children drew pictures of mothers with babies, which Sue Ann laminated and gave to each mother who attended the meeting.

In New Mexico, ACL Ray Walker, shared the WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, breastfeeding information and a delicious lunch with an expectant mother. "This book taught me that it was OK to follow my heart while mothering," Billy-Bernadine Henderson inscribed in a copy of the WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, for a pregnant friend.

It was a busy day for the Chandler/Gilbert group in Arizona. In addition to conducting several meetings, Billy-Bernadine Henderson helped her husband’s co-worker find a private office to pump and store milk after returning to work; took care of a friend’s child when she went into the hospital to give birth to a second baby and helped a neighbor with a breast abscess. After a long day Billy-Bernadine wrote, "I took the afternoon off to play with my newest toddler and reflect on how I grew in my mothering, and how I continue to grow by helping new mothers nurse their babies."

The Sugarhouse/Salt Lake City group met and talked about the origins of LLL. Leader Mindy Gottesegen and the 30 mothers with their children who attended took turns reading the introduction to Seven Voices, One Dream. Sue Garcia, Southern California/Nevada Leader spent the day honoring her mother’s 76th birthday at a family luncheon. Sue’s mother, a visionary like the Founders of LLL, started her breastfeeding legacy in 1948, with Sue’s birth. She breastfed eight children and was happy to see most of her 25 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren breastfed.

La Leche League groups in Turlock, Modesto and Manteca California came together for a family-oriented fund-raiser at a local restaurant. Fathers, mothers, babies, older children, extended families and friends of the La Leche League family came together to celebrate. In Palo Alto, California Cindy Howard spent the day quietly working on a book review for the La Leche League Evaluation Committee.

The day in New Zealand was the culmination of a flurry of activities. Nineteen different meetings were held across the country and topics included "The Birth of your baby and the Early Days". The Rotorua Group donated two copies of the book Breastfeeding Your Premature Baby to the Special Care Baby Unit at the local hospital. In Whangarei, two Leaders attended the launch of new Maori health initiative, which includes a breastfeeding component. The coordinator’s vision for the project is 100% exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months for Northland Maori and up to and beyond two years!

As the sun set over Aukland, one Leader reflected on the events of the day. "The arduous day confirmed the importance of advocating for babies, yet meeting parents ‘where-they-are’ without compromising my own or La Leche League’s philosophy."

All over the world, every day hundreds of voices and one dream are echoing the chorus of seven voices and one dream that started 46 years ago. Every day these voices make the world a better place…… one mother and one baby at a time.

 

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