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Mentors in Mothering

Patty Jacobs
Alameda, California, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 34, No. 2, April - May 1998, p. 36

I will never forget my first LLL meeting 12 years ago. I was invited by an LLL member I met at the doctors' office. She noticed my new baby and asked if I was nursing. She was nursing her nine-month-old daughter. After chatting for a while we exchanged phone numbers and a week later she called to let me know the address of the upcoming Series Meeting.

I dressed my new baby girl in a pretty pink outfit and I looked forward to an evening out. I arrived carrying her in a car seat and I had her pacifier handy. During the meeting I remember telling about my difficulties with the early weeks of nursing after a cesarean birth, actually getting a little teary-eyed in front of all these strangers. This was the first time I was able to express my grief over the loss of a natural birth experience. Somehow I felt this was a safe place for me. I had come home.

I paid LLL dues that night though money was very tight for our new family. I stayed after the meeting and enjoyed talking to a nice woman at the snack table. I like to tell people that I came to LLL for the breastfeeding information and came back for the snacks.

I didn't analyze my relationship with the other Group members in the beginning. I came every month and learned about breastfeeding and of course stayed afterwards to munch.

The Enrichment Meetings had even better snacks! I learned a lot about good nutrition from the healthy foods that were brought to meetings.

When my subscription ran out on a popular parenting magazine I replaced it by renewing my LLL membership and a subscription to NEW BEGINNINGS. As I read each issue I fed my appetite for mothering knowledge. I took advantage of reading through old copies of LLL NEWS (now NEW BEGINNINGS) in the Group Library, too. My copy of THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING was never far away.

In this process of learning a loving style of mothering I needed to unlearn a lot of things. The unlearning was slow and painful at first because it meant letting go of the way I was parented. I devoured books on parenting from the Group Library and gathered the tools I needed to be the kind of mother I wanted to be. I was hooked on La Leche League. Through the pages of these published materials the authors who shared their mothering wisdom became my mentors.

The mothering information was never separated from the breastfeeding. At that time I didn't know that LLL had philosophy statements. I didn't know that Leaders went through an accreditation process and that there were prerequisites to applying for leadership. What I did know was that I wanted to mother my baby the way the women of La Leche League did. They were my mentors.

The dictionary defines mentor as a wise and trusted counselor or teacher. We sometimes confuse the term role model for mentor. We cannot choose to be someone 's role model, we must be chosen by someone. Yes, we do set an example of breastfeeding and mothering and yes, someone may choose to model their behavior after ours. But a mentor does more than set an example. She has earned the trust and credibility of those she is counseling or teaching. She is supportive, encouraging and informative.

As a Leader I have learned that my actions always speak louder than my words, yet I choose my words carefully. I am aware of conveying our philosophy of mothering through breastfeeding with each mother I help and each meeting I lead.

And 12 years later my favorite part of every meeting is still when we all gather around the snack table, chat about the meeting and get to know one another a little better. I coo over the new babies, play with the toddlers and make myself available to answer additional questions.

And yes, I have become a mentor in mothering to many of our long time members. It was not something I planned on; it just happened. They look to me for guidance, reassurance and empathy through tough times. I've been there. I nursed my babies, guided them lovingly and came through the rough moments, just like each of them. I've learned that LLL philosophy is for real people like me, who came to the first meeting to learn about breastfeeding and came back for the mothering. Oh, and the snacks. too!

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