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Support and Success

Jennifer McNeeley
Fairview Park OH USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 4, July-August 2003, p. 134

I must admit I had never heard of La Leche League before I became pregnant with my first child. I always knew I planned to give birth without drugs, be a stay-at-home mother, and breastfeed for at least one year. I also knew I wanted to be a kind and gentle mother, one of those mothers who seem connected to her well-behaved children and make mothering look easy, even though it isn't.

My sister-in-law invited me to my first LLL Group meeting when I was still pregnant. She was breastfeeding and knew that was what I had planned. She had been hosting the series and I had been absorbing the books from the Group's Library. I felt very welcomed and comfortable at the meeting.

At first, many things seemed strange to me. I was shocked to see toddlers breastfeeding. I thought natural weaning was a bizarre concept that could never work. The "family bed" was a very foreign, yet intriguing idea. The thought of tandem nursing seemed to be a myth, since I had never seen anyone do it. At the same time, I couldn't let go of the feeling that these ideas sounded right to me. Since I wanted to give birth without drugs, my husband and I attended Bradley childbirth classes. I had a class assignment to attend an LLL meeting. This was my second meeting and it felt as good as the first. I was hooked.

I gave birth to my son, Joseph, without painkillers as planned, although I was induced at 42 weeks. My loving husband was very supportive through the whole labor, although some members of the hospital staff were surprised at some of my choices. The doctor was very supportive of breastfeeding. Joseph latched on very well at our first attempt. He went home the same day that I did. He was a good nurser and we never had any concerns, thankfully. Within three months he was sleeping in our bed, and the crib was used for storing baby clothes! It just made sense, we all slept better and it felt right.

Our second child, Emily, came along sooner than expected, especially since I was exclusively breastfeeding. I actually got pregnant when Joseph was only 11 months old. There was no question in our minds that this new baby would sleep in our bed and I would breastfeed her as well.

To my surprise, I continued to breastfeed Joseph through my pregnancy. We assumed he would wean, but he never did. We also feel that Joseph's nursing helped me to go into labor, something my body had not done on its own before. Once Emily was home, two siblings, 20-months apart, lay down with mother and breastfed together. I was tandem nursing! The next step was to buy a king-size bed for our growing family to fit. To this day, many people comment on how well Joseph and Emily get along.

At this point in our lives, I had been attending nearly every LLL Group meeting I could and attending extra Evaluation Meetings as well. I always seemed to have a question that these mothers helpfully answered and was able to lend my voice to help answer questions for other mothers. It was a wonderful give-and-take support network.

This time around, I thought I had breastfeeding mastered, but Emily had a very sloppy style. After most feedings, both of us would need our clothing changed. This really concerned me. I wondered if she was getting enough milk. At the meetings, I was assured that each baby had her own way of breastfeeding. As long as she was gaining weight, there was nothing to worry about. This was very helpful. Even though, in my heart, I knew nothing was wrong with her, reassurance is a wonderful thing.

Even more surprising was that I continued to breastfeed Joseph past age two. He finally weaned at age three-and-a-half. After that I was surprised once again when Emily weaned at age two-and-a-half, during my third pregnancy. I fully expected to breastfeed through another pregnancy. My experience with LLL had taught me that every pregnancy and every child is different, so it helped me to accept her weaning.

My story would stop here, but my husband has a role in it too. He is a family practice physician and I have often fielded questions about what he believes in as a doctor. Many of the LLL Group members have concerns about a doctor supporting what they believe, in particular regarding breastfeeding. They had already observed me breastfeeding my toddler and tandem nursing both children. They had also heard me speak of natural childbirth and child-led weaning. Knowing he was supportive of LLL philosophy, they asked me more specific questions about other personal medical issues. He is a very open-minded doctor who accepts many parenting styles.

Just over a year ago, my husband decided to start a solo practice. He felt he could better serve his patients this way. He wanted to be able to hire his own support staff. These were the people who were in close contact with his patients and could possibly give incorrect information or make inappropriate judgments about patients' beliefs or parenting practices. He did not want this to occur. Plus, he didn't share a lot of the same beliefs as the other group doctors. LLL members were very interested in his new practice. It's not often we find such a supportive and accepting doctor. Within a year, many of the members were coming to our practice, as regular patients. We have since received many referrals from these happy families.

Again, LLL has offered us a wonderful support system. This time, they have helped my husband's practice grow, bringing in the type of patients he likes to see-responsible, caring parents. And he has offered them a doctor that they can be honest with and know he respects their parenting choices, and in many cases, practices them himself.

I am proud of the positive feedback I have received from my family. After a visit this past fall with my parents, my mother wrote me to say that I am doing an excellent job with my children. She commented that they were well-behaved and a pure joy to be around during their trip. In December at the baptismal celebration for my third child, April, my newest sister-in-law asked me the secret to raising three beautiful children who are so happy and well-behaved all while hosting a party in a beautiful home. She told me, "You make it look so easy!" It feels good knowing that LLL has always been there to support us in becoming the type of parents we wanted to become.

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