From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 4, May-June 1999, p. 73-74
In February 1998, my three-year-old breastfeeding daughter, Claire, and I traveled from our mountain home in southwest Virginia to the Vorarlberg region of Austria. Vorarlberg is the westernmost part of Austria, bordering Germany and Switzerland. While we were in Austria, we wanted to attend a La Leche League meeting.
After a quick search for La Leche League of Austria on the Internet, I found Astrid Entner. Astrid has been the La Leche League Leader for the entire Vorarlberg region for three-and-a-half years. Astrid happily gave us the time and place of the next Vorarlberg LLL meeting, which is held in her hometown of Frastanz.
A bit apprehensive, I traveled with Claire to the meeting by train from our "base" in Bregenz on Lake Constance. When we arrived at the meeting place somewhat early, we met Astrid, carrying in the Group Library and a big thermos of hot tea. I was reminded of how often I had seen my local Leader doing the same. I immediately felt at home, and Astrid welcomed us warmly.
The La Leche League meetings in Vorarlberg are usually attended by 15 to 25 mothers and children. That evening, there were 16 people in the room. The attendees were quite varied: first-timers, expectant mothers, infants, a new dad, one-year-old babies, toddlers, even a new set of twins. The topic was the advantages of breastfeeding.
Astrid asked everyone to introduce themselves and to give an advantage of breastfeeding that was important to them. Each mother's face glowed as she named an advantage and told how wonderful breastfeeding is, all but the mother of twins. She sat silent and expressionless as the advantages of breastfeeding were reeled off: provides immunities, no bottles to prepare, economical, ecological, the best nutrition, aids in brain development, bonding of mother, child, and family. At one point, the mother produced a bottle, with which she began feeding one of her sons. Expressed milk, we assumed. Maybe she was not yet confident enough to nurse in public. Astrid witnessed this, then turned to her and said softly, "Sometimes, because of extenuating circumstances, it is not possible to breastfeed, but I want you to know that you are always welcome here at LLL meetings." It had to be extremely difficult for that mother to come to this meeting as she had attended the meetings during her pregnancy and was planning to breastfeed. No one knew that this mother was not breastfeeding until this evening. Maybe she came to the LLL meeting for fellowship, support, and empathy. Maybe she just wanted to show off her two little sons.
After the meeting, Claire and I received invitations to visit the homes of Astrid and Stephanie Jacob-Worsch. Stephanie, her husband, Charly, and their five-month-old daughter, Lena, live in Bludenz, a small town nestled below the Vorarlberg Alps. One day, Stephanie and I packed up the baby carrier, the toddler backpack, the children, some nutritious snacks, and headed for a hike in the Alps. How wonderful it is to know that breastfed babies are portable!
That evening, Stephanie had a get-together at her house with several women who are friends of hers, including a mother with her four-month-old son who has Down Syndrome. It warmed our hearts to see this mother breastfeeding. Several days later, on a visit to the zoo with our children, Astrid and I met this mother with her family. I introduced everyone, and the mother immediately started talking to Astrid about breastfeeding her son. She said she had not experienced any major problems and was hoping to breastfeed her son as long as possible. Astrid asked the mother if she may use her as a resource should someone ask her about breastfeeding a child with Down Syndrome. The woman happily agreed.
It was an incredible experience to attend an LLL meeting outside the United States. The LLL meeting in Austria gave me a new perspective. The questions asked and responses given were the same as at our meetings in Virginia - except it was all in German.
Breastfeeding transcends all languages, all cultures, all borders. Breastfeeding mothers often feel a special bond when they meet: a bond that warmheartedly says, "I already know you. We are already friends. We breastfeed."