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Helping "Invisible" Mothers

Maggie Heeger
Madison, Alabama, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 34 No. 6, December 1998 - January 1999, p. 126

Nothing is more rewarding than talking with a mother on the telephone and then seeing her at the next Series Meeting. As Leaders, we feel validated and successful; the mere fact that she's sitting in the room with us shows that we did our job well. We feel pride knowing that our telephone help led one more mother to connect with the network of support and empowerment that can come from a La Leche League contact.

But what's your success rate? How many mothers come to meetings as a result of your telephone encounters? Do you see one out of three? Four out of ten? What about the rest? Do you assume that they are no longer breastfeeding and no longer in need of LLL support because they don't attend meetings? These "invisible" mothers may surprise you.

Allison called for information on introducing solids but never attended a Series Meeting. When I met her completely by chance at a grocery store nearly a year later, she told me that she never came to an LLL meeting because she never had a pressing need for additional help.

"I got the information I needed and I continued to nurse my baby," she said. "Everything went beautifully. I'm so glad I called you that day." That was it. Even though she didn't have a need to attend a meeting, she was helped by LLL. She's a breastfeeding success story I never knew about.

Betty called me several times when her son Brett was a newborn. He fussed in the evening and she was frustrated. Over the course of several phone calls she gained a more positive perspective and while she didn't get a magic cure, she did find she was able to endure the rough evenings until they improved. I called her on her baby's first birthday, just to see how she was doing.

It turned out that she never attended a meeting because she lived in a rural community and couldn't easily make the 55-minute drive to our meeting site. With a vehicle that wasn't reliable, Betty didn't want to risk being stranded on the side of the road with a high-need baby. If I hadn't called her, I would never have known how deeply LLL had affected her parenting.

"When you sent me that brochure on fussy babies, I read it cover to cover," she said, "And I sent in my membership money that same week. Reading NEW BEGINNINGS has helped me get through each month. I read the stories over and over for inspiration, especially on really bad days. I ordered several books about taking care of babies and those are the ones I check when I'm worried. We're still nursing even though Brett is a year old."

These two success stories might not be typical of the "invisible" mothers who never attend meetings, or are they? When you don't have an opportunity to meet a mother who calls you, you never know how her situation turned out. You never know if breastfeeding continued, if the obstacles were overcome, if the mother benefited from your help. It's a huge leap of faith to provide information and hope for the best, but really, isn't that what we do in all helping situations?

When a mother lives in an isolated area, our LLL material is vital. It's possible that the information we provide could be the only breastfeeding-friendly message she receives. When Leaders send follow-up information to a mother who isn't likely to attend a meeting, we can help her even more if we also enclose membership information and the LLLI catalogue. This is the link that an interested mother can use to broaden her exposure to LLL information in a community where it isn't available.

As a member of the Leader Accreditation Department, I've exchanged letters with Leader Applicants who have never attended a Series Meeting. They acquired their information from NEW BEGINNINGS and THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING because they lived in an area where meetings weren't accessible to them. Because these women received this initial help, they continued to learn and explore LLLI philosophy and mothering through breastfeeding. Their interest grew to such a level that they not only became members, but were motivated to start an LLL Group in their own community.

Talk about a ripple effect! One mother's telephone call and one Leader's follow-up letter could lead to a new Group in another community. That's a staggering thought.

The next time you get a telephone helping call from a woman, think about the seeds of information you may be planting. Perhaps she won't become a Leader and start a new Group,. but maybe she'll go on to have a more satisfying breastfeeding experience and become an LLL member all because of you.

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