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Circle of Support

Gwyneth Little
East Lothian, Scotland, GB
From New Beginnings, Vol. 31 No. 1, 2010, pp. 14-15

I don't think that I, or anyone who knew me in my teens or even twenties, would ever have predicted that I would become a La Leche League Leader. Before I attended my first LLL meeting, I had no experience of breastfeeding (or babies) at all, and had not even seen a baby being breastfed! At the suggestion of my family doctor -- to save wasting money on new-fangled infant formula -- I myself had been fed cows' milk supplemented from six weeks of age by a variety of porridges and I grew up as the youngest of three children in the North-East of Scotland in the Sixties in a social environment where babies were routinely left to cry it out and children were often regarded as little more than a nuisance. As a teenager I was determined that I would never have children and waste my life, as I felt my mother had, but would instead pursue a high-flying career abroad as a translator, earning lots of money and enjoying an affluent lifestyle.

I spent my twenties fulfilling all my ambitions, and even got married as well -- to my sweetheart from college days, George. However, by my late twenties I had become aware of a void in my life and decided that I would, after all, have a child. I approached pregnancy and parenthood like another career goal with the idea that the child would add to, but absolutely fit in with, our lifestyle. A first pregnancy ending in miscarriage gave me an inkling of powerful forces beyond my control but did not alter our basic plan, which was that I would return to work as the main, and sole, wage-earner, while my husband would stay home with the baby -- an arrangement that made perfect sense to us as I felt that I did not have an ounce of maternal instinct in me, while my husband was a more nurturing type.

Then LLL came into the picture. I attended my first LLL meeting in 1994 in Munich, Germany. My main purpose in doing so was to obtain more information and prepare myself ahead of the birth (due about six weeks later). I had already decided to breastfeed but was vaguely aware that breastfeeding did not go smoothly for all women and that in such cases contact with a support group would be useful, particularly since I had no friends or relatives on whom I could rely for support. At this stage, however, I still thought that breastfeeding was just something for the first two or three months, after which formula and other forms of feeding were introduced. I therefore imagined that our baby would be reasonably independent -- and most certainly weaned -- by the time I returned to work at about five months after the birth. The few mums I knew then, including those closest to me, such as my sister-in-law, had all returned to work and their "normal lives" at the earliest possible opportunity, usually just weeks after the birth, and their babies hadn't suffered, as far as I could tell.

So, the LLL meeting was an eye-opener. Here were mothers who breastfed their babies exclusively for about six months. The first doubts began to creep into my head about returning to work any earlier. These moms believed in child-led weaning, too. Some were even nursing toddlers! I found the meeting thought provoking, uplifting, and inspiring, and the women warm, wise, and welcoming.

At the end of the meeting I purchased a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and absolutely devoured it within a couple of days. It was in some respects a revelation and in others more like a homecoming. It spoke such common sense and the underlying philosophy simply "felt right" to me. I used it (as well as my own instincts -- yes, they did emerge!) to teach our new baby and myself to breastfeed when members of the hospital staff were too busy to spare time for us. It became my breastfeeding "bible," and taught me a lot more than just breastfeeding. It changed my life in so many ways, giving me the faith and courage to follow my instincts in other areas of my life, and consequently to walk down paths that were considered eccentric and weird by my family.

In 1997, with a second child on the way, we returned to the UK and I became self-employed (and part time only) so that I could fit my work in around our children, rather than the other way around. We took a huge drop in income but are now (three more children later) "kinderreich" or, literally, "rich in children," as the Germans call large families.

While in Germany, I had greatly enjoyed taking one day off work every month to host LLL meetings and bask in the warmth of LLL culture. Back in the UK, I found myself keen to apply for Leadership but isolated from any Group. For almost nine years, I relied solely on occasional meetings and my copies of New Beginnings to keep in touch with the LLL community and for my own breastfeeding support. I had at some point convinced myself that I was too shy and retiring to be a Leader except with the backup of an existing Group and other co-Leaders. But then, with no particular trigger, my feelings about that shifted, and at the beginning of 2006 I applied for Leadership as an isolated Applicant. Needless to say, I was not isolated for long, as arms opened to welcome me into the fold -- thank you, Nina, Ingrid, and Alison. My accreditation as a Leader coincided with the arrival of our fifth child. I set up a new Group, LLL East Lothian.

I love being a Leader at last, sharing and celebrating the joys of breastfeeding, and mothering in general, with moms from far (on the helpline) and near (at Group meetings). Being a Leader has brought me out of myself a little bit and taught me that Leaders of all styles and personalities are needed and valued.

My journey to Leadership took over 12 years and my breastfeeding journey is still continuing -- I have been breastfeeding for almost sixteen years (including eight years of tandem nursing) and am likely to continue for a little while yet, our youngest child having just turned three years old.

My thanks go to all who have accompanied me on this amazing journey, not just LLL friends, and my battered but treasured copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, but, of course, also, and particularly, my wonderful husband and five beautiful children.

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