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Circle of Support

From: New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 5-6, 2009, p. 18

Betty Barber has been leading meetings in Merced, CA since 1964. A mother of six and grandmother of 15, Betty has finally decided to retire as a La Leche League Leader at 73 years old. Over the past 45 years she has helped thousands of mothers. Her husband says the couple rarely makes it through a trip to the market or the mall without someone approaching to ask his wife, "Do you remember me? You helped me with my baby." Betty was born in Merced and has lived there for most of her life. She met her husband, Howard, while studying education at The College of the Pacific. She taught kindergarten for a short time after college, but quit when she and Howard, who spent his career teaching high school Spanish, started their family.

Diane Sperling, Betty's longtime friend and a La Leche League Leader in Fresno, says, "Betty's dedication never wavers." Betty has helped generations of Merced moms with their breastfeeding challenges. She has led decades of monthly Series Meetings. She has opened her home for regional La Leche League conferences and has answered thousands of mothers' phone calls night and day, including in Spanish.

"Most of the time moms just need encouragement and information," says Betty. "They just want to hear that they're doing a good job and that what they're feeling isn't unusual or wrong.

"Women often have their doctor telling them one thing, their mother-in-law telling them something else, and their friends telling them something else. We Leaders provide factual information and support, and we don't judge."

Michelle Byus, who sought Barber's help after the birth of her first child, 13 years ago, says, "She has a gift for putting people at ease. There are some things that mothers can only learn from other mothers. She reaffirms your ability to be a good mother and that you are right to follow your instincts."

Betty learned about the existence of LLL from a friend in San Jose, Nancy Meister. Betty wrote to headquarters and asked to borrow their "manual." Soon after that Betty established Merced's La Leche League Group. Although she was expecting a baby very soon, she arranged for the Group's first meeting to be held at her house on July 16, 1964. At nine o'clock in the morning, however, she left for the hospital, leaving the door open and cookies on the table. Howard was teaching summer school until noon and he went to school saying, "Don't have the baby until I get back." Labor stopped and from the third story window she could see the tall pine tree in her back yard, four blocks away. The moms at the meeting spent the whole morning at Betty's house without her. Billy was born at 4:30 pm. Betty insisted on nursing on the delivery table and two nuns exclaimed, "Oh, look, he really does know what to do!"

Over the years Betty has helped many Leaders through their applications to become accredited as LLL Leaders, including many stationed with their families at the former Castle Air Force Base. "When you think of all the women she's trained who've moved on to other places to start new support groups and train even more moms -- her contributions are huge," Byus says.

Her co-Leader, Michelle Beutel, mother of seven, leads local LLL meetings. Soon, she'll be answering all the support line calls herself. "I'm sure I'll be relying on Betty from time to time," Beutel says. "I know I have very big shoes to fill."

LLL thanks Betty warmly for her many years as a Leader and hopes that she will enjoy a very happy retirement.

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