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Listening Well Enough

Molly Remer
Rolla, Missouri, US
From: Leaven, Vol. 45 No. 2-3, 2009, pp. 24-25

When I was a Leader Applicant, I practiced four of the Preview situations as telephone role-plays. I was very anxious about receiving the first practice call. In fact, I confess to being so anxious that when one of the Leaders I was working with called for the first time to practice and I missed her call, I actually cried.

After that missed call, I had a dream. In the dream, a Leader* called to practice. I said "hello," and received no response. I said, "Hello" again. No response. "I'm not able to hear you," I explained, "you have reached a La Leche League Leader. Do you have a breastfeeding question?" Silence. I tried again, "Let me tell you a little bit about La Leche League, it began in 1956...our services are free, do you want to ask me a question?" Still there was silence, though I was positive that the Leader was still on the other end of the line. Finally, I said, "I am not able to hear you, so I'm going to hang up now. Please feel free to call me back if you need to talk." Finally, the Leader spoke. She told me that I had not handled the call well. I asked her how I was supposed to know what to say if the mother wasn't saying anything. The Leader responded, "That mother told you everything you needed to know, you just weren't listening well enough."

*Please note that this was just a dream and the Leaders who actually helped me with my application were warm, accepting, helpful, and kind!

Now that I've been a Leader for some time, my anxiety over the Preview makes me smile.

However, I think it is important for us to be aware that Leader Applicants may feel stressed out about "performing" during role-playing situations. They may have fears about being judged by the other Leaders as not being warm enough or informative enough. They may fear giving the wrong answer and "failing the test." Aside from this analysis of the practical reasons behind my dream, I feel the dream offers several relevant points that can be shared when working with Leader Applicants (it also offers reminders for our own work as LLL Leaders):

  • A Leader is not a mind reader. While we can ask skillful questions, read subtle cues, and encourage explanation, we cannot intuit everything!
  • A helping call is a partnership -- no matter how well we listen, the mother must still give some information in order to receive information.
  • Leaders do not have to have all of the answers -- we listen to what the specific mother tells us, ask for more information if we need it, explore further if we sense it is necessary, and share information with her.
  • Leaders need to listen well and respond sensitively to the individual mother, not take a "cookbook" approach and think we have the answer right away.
  • Leaders do need to listen for the questions not-asked, because they are often the most important. It may take some "detective" work to get to the real question behind her request for help.
  • For in-person interactions, nonverbal communication can tell you so much -- "listening" to her body language and other cues is as important as the words she speaks, or doesn't speak.

Before becoming a mother, I worked in domestic violence shelters answering the crisis line and providing short-term crisis intervention services to women who had experienced domestic violence or sexual assault. Interestingly enough, I find that those types of helping calls were easier to work through than breastfeeding help calls! With breastfeeding questions, there are an infinite number of variables and an infinite array of mothers, babies, families, and mother-baby relationships. Just as there is no one way to be a good mother, there is no perfect way to be an LLL Leader. Breastfeeding is not a by-the-book procedure -- it is an intimate relationship with different dynamics from one nursing couple to the next. Individual mothers and babies respond differently to the same things.

Our main message to each mother is how important she is to her baby and how breastfeeding can be a wonderful part of this. We want to help mothers feel good about being a mother, about meeting their babies' needs in the way that feels best for them, and to trust their own instincts. We wish to leave mothers with a feeling of self-confidence and acceptance.

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