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A Conversation with the Founders

Alice Edwards
Education Campaign Coordinator
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 35, No. 4, August September 1999 p.81

A Leader's close contact with mothers and potential Applicants, along with her knowledge, observations and use of LLL resources, place her in a unique position to help a mother decide whether or not to apply.

1998 Prerequisite Guidelines

In LLL we are proud that each interested mother is considered on an individual basis for LLL leadership. How is this possible in a large international organization? Because of Leaders like you who take the time to get to know each woman who approaches you about leadership. Because you talk with her, sharing what you know about what we value in LLL and explain what's involved in being an LLL Leader. Because you listen to her attentively as she shares her mothering experience and observe how she interacts with other mothers. Because you carefully consider what you know about LLL and what you know about this mother as you decide whether or not you can recommend her for leadership. In the end, it's a decision of the heart and an act of faith.

In April Paulina Smith and I met with all seven Founders. We discussed reactions to the 1998 Leader accreditation policies during the early months of their implementation. At the meeting, the Founders brought up their concerns and questions, talked about the never-ending search for the perfect set of criteria. They were reassured that LLLI philosophy and the importance of the mother/baby relationship would not be changed. They expressed their comfort with the growth and change in the accreditation approaches, knowing that LLL is, and needs to always be, a dynamic organization. They reasserted their trust in the ability of Leaders to identify future Leaders who can authentically represent LLL. Four of the Founders found time to put their thoughts in writing.

Edwina Froehlich

What motivated the seven of us back in 1956 was our sincere desire to help another mother who wanted to breastfeed her infant. We understood that need; we shared it with her. We knew there was no material reward in it for us. We didn't care. Our desire to help came from the heart. The mothers who have been helped by La Leche League since then often feel that same urge to help another mother who might have that same need.

Despite the fact that being a Leader demands long hours and hard work, it is the desire to help that springs from the heart that enables her to continue to serve even under the usual pressures of everyday mothering. Her reward? It's knowing she has helped at least one more mother to achieve her heart's desire to breastfeed her infant. She has one more time helped get a new family off to a good start in life. A noble effort! And its effects last a lifetime! No question but that a Leader is truly "the heart of LLL."

Mary Ann Kerwin

All through the years, the transmission of LLLI philosophy has been a challenge. With the growth and worldwide expansion of LLL, the challenge has increased. LLLI philosophy is gradually learned and never perfectly reflected by those of us who are proponents. During the 50s and 60s, many breastfeeding mothers were supplementing with formula. They did not know that they did not need supplements. We let them know their babies did not need supplemental feedings nor did they need to start solids at one month of age as was common at the time. We told them our medical advisors had assured us that research strongly supported the information we offered.

Gradually more and more mothers had the courage to overcome the cultural patterns of the 50s and 60s. Many of these mothers wanted to become Leaders and help us. We welcomed them. What we looked for was mothers who indicated their belief in the LLLI concepts and a willingness to try to emulate them. None of us ever achieved perfection as mothers. But we kept trying to do our best as mothers, even after our last baby was weaned from the breast.

Mary Ann Cahill

Under the old policy, as I understand it, an Applicant who didn't "fit" but held promise was sometimes accepted as an "exception." While the outcome could be good, the process itself led to confusion. The new guidelines are meant to be more inclusive by allowing for these situations. This is better policy-making in that it is more workable and less divisive. LLL will be better for this effort in the long run.

Of course we need to consider how to apply the new guidelines, in particular how to define the perimeters. We set the tone for our organization by how we apply our standards. There are important limits in our new guidelines. For example, leadership in cases with extended separation, while not impossible, is "unlikely"-not the usual.

Mary White

The joys and rewards of full-time mothering through breastfeeding for the baby, the mother and the whole family are great. The sacrifices and struggles are more than worth it. I like the thoughts of Harold Voth, senior psychiatrist of The Menninger Foundation.

A baby must have a mother, a mother who is mature enough to attend to its needs and provide so-called object constancy for a minimum of three years. The very foundation of personality is created through this continuous process of infant-mother interaction. Volumes exist which explain the consequences of inadequate mothering during this period, particularly the effects of separation. The mothering function is one of the most important of all human events but unfortunately, one of the least appreciated or regarded by society. Courage, trust, the capacity to experience intimacy, generosity, the ability to stand alone later in life and much, much more are all functions of good mothering.

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