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Reflections: Seven Leaders Compare

Seven Voices, One Dream
by Mary Ann Cahill
Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International, 2001
Available from LLLI
No.1000-12, $12.95
by Kaye Lowman
Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International, 2001
Available from LLLI
No.1046-12, $9.95

Reviewed by Diana West with Susan Mocsny Baker, Johanna Horton, Ellen Helms, Frances Coss, Terry Stafford, and Andrea Kelly
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 1, February-March 2002, p. 15

LLL Leaders have a unique appreciation for LLLI's history. Many of us became Leaders after falling in love with LLLI philosophy and naturally enjoy stories of how it evolved. This may be why Leaders everywhere are talking about Mary Ann Cahill's new book, SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM, and the recently rereleased book by Kaye Lowman, THE LLLOVE STORY. One such discussion recently occurred among a diverse group of Leaders, ranging from recently accredited to the first accredited in her state.

Diana West: How would you compare or contrast the two books?

Johanna Horton: I think they make a good combination. THE LLLOVE STORY presents the basic history of the early days of LLL in a supportive, affirming way and SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM fleshes out the story with perspectives that only the Founders can give. I was impressed at how skillfully Mary Ann captured the nuances of each Founder in the dialogue of the book. I could practically hear each Founder speaking as I read her words. I think the Founders have given us a cherished gift of themselves in this book!

Susan Mocsny Baker: The most noticeable thing about the two books to me was the difference in "voice"-the third person for THE LLLOVE STORY and the first person for SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM. I felt as if I were at an Enrichment Meeting or Conference session while reading SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM.

Ellen Helms: Both books discuss the beginning of LLL; however, SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM gives the reader an account from the Founders themselves. You learn what they felt during the various stages, how they were affected personally, how they interacted with each other during the different phases of growth and learning, how much they looked to Drs. White and Ratner for support and information and how seriously the doctors took them!* (See footnote.)

Terry Stafford: SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM is much more frank. The Founders seem more like real women with real personalities and real challenges.

Andrea Kelly: Maybe our times allow for more frankness than was deemed appropriate in the 1970s when THE LLLOVE STORY was written or perhaps the style of interview used for SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM lent itself to more open answers.

Johanna: I was glad to see the frankness and candor about LLL's several crises in the past fifteen or so years. These have been more like midlife crises than growing pains. To have left them out or treated them casually would have been an injustice. These times caused us to think about LLL's purpose and our role in it. For many of us the bottom line was that we wanted LLL to continue to be there for the mothers and babies who need us.

Andrea: Because THE LLLOVE STORY describes the purpose and structure of LLL so well, I believe it should be required reading for Leader Applicants. (Editor's Note: THE LLLOVE STORY is not a reading requirement for accreditation; this is one person's opinion.)

Susan: I agree. We have passed that time in the organization where everything is passed on by word of mouth. New Leaders are now generations removed from the beginnings of LLL.

Diana: What elements do you think come through from the personal interviews in SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM that illustrate the history of LLL more than was possible in THE LLLOVE STORY?

Frances Coss: I appreciate the format of SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM. It was interesting to read the different views and memories that each Founder expressed about each of the questions.

Ellen: You hear far more of the personal struggles among the Founders. Obviously, with various personalities and changes over time, there will be disagreements. I certainly knew intellectually that not everything in LLL was rosy and sweet, but I must admit to feeling a pang of sadness when Marian said, "LLL lost some of its purity and openness...."

Johanna: I also was touched by their deep respect for each other, even when they didn't agree. I think that is an admirable quality, for them and for the rest of us in LLL!

Diana: I was very touched by this, too. I think they are very candid about not getting along all the time, but they still seem to maintain a gracious acceptance of each other. This makes them so much more human and less "legendary." The example they set is inspiring.

Andrea: In THE LLLOVE STORY, I was struck by how smoothly the progress of the group flowed; I figured either the book wasn't telling the whole story, or the reason for LLLI's success was the almost magical way the Founders had of getting along. One could believe that LLLI grew in idyllic isolation from real-world concerns, with money falling into its lap (as in the Dr. Dick-Read lecture) and seven Founders easily leaping hurdles in unison. Now, after reading SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM, I know they didn't always reach consensus quickly and easily, but they insisted on reaching it and eventually were able to do so, and maybe that's one important factor in their success. The circumstances surrounding the elimination of the office of president and finding funds simply to keep LLLI's doors open bring home the real-life struggles. (Editor's note: Dr. Grantley Dick-Read, the author of Childbirth Without Fear, became LLL's first guest speaker in 1957 when he unexpectedly agreed to give a speech without payment beforehand. The speech was an overwhelming success, becoming LLL's first fundraiser and the precedent for future conferences.)

Francis: I think the Founders' honesty and genuine concern for mothers and their babies was demonstrated most clearly in SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM. I admire Marian Tompson's opinion that LLL should keep its original ideas and not go along with modern society. Yes, the purity of nursing babies gets a little "worn" but the premise of birthing a baby and then nursing that baby is an ageless concept.

Johanna: I think that because of the much later publication of SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM, the perspective of time has enabled the Founders to reflect more deeply and personally on the events depicted in THE LLLOVE STORY, as well as those that happened afterward.

Diana: What did you learn about LLL that was surprising to you?

Andrea: I was surprised at the influence of Drs. Ratner and White.* I think the doctors' influence was essential to LLLI's success. Their information and support helped the Founders have confidence that what they were doing was right.

Francis: The basic concerns of mothers about childbirth and breastfeeding haven't changed. All along women have been struggling to birth as naturally as possible and simply breastfeed their babies!

Andrea: I was very surprised to learn that the Founders were so interested in natural childbirth! Before reading these books, I had no idea that so many of them fought for it, or that they were aware of the negative impact a medicated birth can have on breastfeeding success.

Susan: I had forgotten about the abortion debate! I think it taught us a lot about when we as representatives of LLL can speak up for the importance of something and when we have to allow for differences in peoples' opinions and experience. Mixing causes can only obfuscate the goals of LLLI and alienate those with opposing views. We all have our own personal beliefs and yet the LLLI concepts are broad enough to encompass us all. I think that in itself is not a small miracle!

Francis: I was very surprised that the Founders had met at a religious function. I found it interesting that they chose to make LLL a nonsectarian group given that their personal relationships grew out of a common religious organization.

Ellen: I think it was wise that the Founders saw beyond their own religious beliefs and understood that the goal was to help all mothers. People were less inclined then to push their own individual ideas. There seemed to be more of a sense of what was "good for the order."

Francis: I find great comfort that the Founders are "normal" mothers. They did not have perfect nursing relationships with their babies; they had difficulties, too. This sends the message that the Founders were just seven women, not seven perfect people.

Andrea: I was impressed with the longevity of the ideas LLL espouses. Many of the common themes have been a part of it from day one! For all that they were criticized for being backward, these women were ahead of their time. I was also struck by how little LLL meetings have changed in 45 years. "We sat around exchanging nursing experiences and expressing to each other what breastfeeding meant to us and how really important it was in our lives." It is remarkable that such a large, successful organization grew from women Founders and staff members. This could easily describe my Group meetings today. At the time LLL began in the US, women had only been able to vote for 35 years.

Diana: Do the discussions in either book give you insights into the current issues LLLI is confronting?

Susan: Yes, I have been very impressed by several points in SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM. The first is that I see the Chaordic Initiative as doing exactly what Mary Ann Cahill and Betty Wagner Spandikow discuss when they speak of the Founders being less concerned with following rules and there being too many layers of supervision. It will get rid of some of the bureaucracy that separates us, embracing the diversity of mothers and Leaders.

I was also struck by Marian Tompson's answer about her hopes for LLLI's future. She says, "That we will be here as long as we are needed and I can't see that need going away very soon." I would hate to live in a world that did not have the resources that LLL provides through meetings, phone help, and conferences. Although there are many places to get breastfeeding information today, few acknowledge the role of breastfeeding within the context of the family, the culture, and the planet. "A mother's decision to breastfeed her baby affects us all." I agree with this and believe that there is still plenty for LLLI to do without duplicating services that other parenting, breastfeeding, and medical groups are doing to promote breastfeeding.

Finally, when Mary Ann Kerwin spoke of the need for an international viewpoint, it occurred to me that LLL also needs to respond to different areas within North America, recognizing that regional differences within this large region are as varied as from nation to nation and in smaller areas.

Diana: What other thoughts occurred to you as you read these two books?

Andrea: "We've come so far!" and "We have so far to go!" To imagine that 45 years ago LLL began with a handful of women getting together to talk about breastfeeding and now it is an international organization. It is mind-boggling! At that time, breastfeeding information and support were hard to come by; now anyone can get them, usually with a local phone call. How wonderful! But at the same time, it saddens me that we have so far to go. After 45 years of information and support, one-third of new mothers in the United States are still not even attempting to breastfeed. And even the ones who start breastfeeding do not continue very long. They hear the same decades-old misinformation from family members, medical professionals, and everyone in between, such as "You don't have enough milk," or "You'll have to wean your baby to overcome this problem."

Ellen: I appreciate hearing how these "just wives and mothers" matured into businesswomen running a large not-for-profit organization. They needed to continually educate themselves about the expanding body of breastfeeding information while at the same time keep that basic feeling of mother-to-mother support.

Andrea: Reading SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM gave me such a feeling of camaraderie with the Founders. I was pleased and surprised to see my (supposedly modern) attitudes and beliefs in my grandmothers' generation.

Johanna: Several times the Founders mentioned that there is something in mothers that responds to what LLL believes. I think that's true for mothers today as well as in the beginning.

Andrea: A frequent concern at meetings is that "catering" to the baby's needs will somehow spoil him. I can now encourage mothers with the results of the Founders' childrearing methods. They had a pretty large sample size between them to prove that good mothering through breastfeeding and loving guidance develop children into excellent members of society. THE LLLOVE STORY inspired a deep gratitude to the Founders. They helped make natural childbirth and breastfeeding, experiences I treasure, more accessible to women today.

Francis: Reading these books reminded me of why I became involved with LLL in the first place. I was feeling as though I didn't have much to contribute any longer as our children are past nursing now. These books revitalized me! I realized I could do something else with what I've learned, just in a different capacity!

Johanna: I feel that SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM is a treasured legacy and I am very glad it was written!

* Dr. Gregory White is the husband of Mary White. Dr. Herbert Ratner was Dr. White's friend and mentor. Both contributed medical information and parenting philosophies that were a formative influence upon LLL.

Diana West has been an active Leader in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA for three years. She is the author of LLLI's newly published DEFINING YOUR OWN SUCCESS. Diana has three children: Alex (6), Ben (4), and Quinn (5 months). Susan Mocsny Baker is an active Leader and has been for 20 years. She currently lives in Westborough, Massachusetts, USA with her three children. Johanna Horton was the first Leader accredited in Oklahoma, USA. She has been a Leader for 36 years and lives in Jacksonville, Illinois. Johanna has three grown children and one granddaughter. Ellen Helms has been a Leader for 16 years and currently leads meetings in Annapolis, Maryland, USA. Ellen has three children. Frances Coss has been a Leader for 10 years in Frederick, Maryland, USA and is currently on Reserve. She has three children. Terry Stafford has been an active Leader in Fort Langley, British Columbia, Canada for 28 years. She is a member of the LLL Canada Board of Directors. Terry has three children. Andrea Kelly has been an active Leader for two years and lives in Brookeville, Maryland, USA. She has three children.

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