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My Enlightening Journey as a Mother

KeeNan Engstrom
Huntsville UT USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 6, November-December 2007, pp. 250-251

I became pregnant for the first time in the spring of 1997. My husband and I were so excited! In fact, we immediately purchased a crib to be set up in the other room of our two-bedroom apartment. Sadly, within a few weeks, the pregnancy ended in miscarriage. I was scared and unsure what was happening to me. The kind obstetrician I saw helped me to feel better and eased my fears and emotions. As I look back, if I had begun my mothering journey at that point, I would have done what everyone was doing when it came to birth and parenting. You see, up to that point in my life, I had never dared to do anything "different." I didn't even like to talk about controversial subjects -- I just stayed as mainstream as possible -- it was safer that way, it seemed.

Thankfully, though, I didn't have a lot of firmly entrenched opinions about parenting. I just thought that drugs were necessary for childbirth, and that babies slept in cribs and cried a lot. In fact, I was really nervous to become a mother (or even to hold other people's babies). My youngest sibling is eight years younger than me, so my exposure to babies had ended when I was around 10 years old. In the intervening years, I had not spent a lot of time with babies. I didn't know what to do with one! There was no question, though, that I would breastfeed. That was one thing I did have an opinion about. My mother had breastfed her children and I attributed our good health to that. I believed that "babies were born to be breastfed."

After the miscarriage, it took us a couple of years to conceive again. It was a stressful time, as we yearned for a baby and wondered if we'd ever be able to have one. I knew little about my own body and assumed that I would ovulate each month around day 14 of my cycle (though I knew my cycles were longer than 28 days). A friend, Tracy, introduced me to the book Take Charge of your Fertility by Toni Weschler and my future as a mother began a much different course than I would have ever dreamed. To read that book and begin to understand my body and to be able to finally conceive a few months later was empowering!

Combine that with the invitation from a dear friend, Tami, to attend the birth of her third home, no less! It was Tami's second home birth (and first water birth) and I was in awe that she would even consider having the baby at home without any possibility of pain medications. I was somewhat concerned that witnessing a birth would scare me from ever wanting to have children. I attended the birth and had the privilege of holding that dear little baby in his first hours of life. As I drove home late that night, I marveled at the peacefulness of the birth and wondered why Tami would feel comfortable having the baby at home when most people felt safest in the hospital.

Having learned so much from the fertility book, I began to devour books and information on the Internet about birth. I wanted to know more about natural birth and home birth and why some people would choose those things when most people choose medicated birth in the hospital. Tami and Tracy continued to mentor me and answer the many questions I had. When I learned a few weeks later, in the spring of 1999, that I was finally pregnant again, my journey as a mother was already taking a much different course than I had ever even considered!

In June of that year, when I was just four months pregnant, Tami invited me to attend a La Leche League meeting with her. She had mentioned a few years earlier that she attended La Leche League meetings. It was such an unusual name and the thought of having a meeting about breastfeeding was so far off my radar at the time -- it just seemed weird. But when she invited me, I was eager to attend. That was the beginning of my own "LLLove" story! I have attended LLL meetings ever since and it's now been more than eight years.

Now, as our daughter, Emma, approaches her eighth birthday, and we have just welcomed our fourth child (all girls) into our family a few weeks ago, I am reflecting on the influence La Leche League has had on my mothering journey. It has been my guiding star. I clearly remember things my LLL Leader would say, like, "Babies are to love," and "People before things." She would also gently promote LLL membership by sharing how every time NEW BEGINNINGS arrived in her mailbox, it had an article on just what she was in need of that month -- whether it was starting solids or gentle discipline with a toddler! I remember thinking that she must be exaggerating in order to sell memberships, but I have found what she said to be absolutely true!

For our first birth, we chose a wonderful nurse midwife and had an unmedicated water birth in a local hospital. It was a long and hard birth, but my husband, my midwife, and Tracy (who we hired to be our doula) were wonderful labor support and my goal of having a natural birth was realized. I emerged from that experience knowing that if I could give birth to this sweet little girl, I could do anything. Again, I was empowered and it gave me confidence as a new mother.

With that confidence, the support of Tracy, and the exposure and information I had from LLL meetings, breastfeeding got off to a good start and became a wonderful part of mothering. I was thrilled to be able to provide for Emma something that no one else could and I fiercely protected that breastfeeding relationship! I knew that weaning began once something besides my milk was introduced, and I certainly didn't want it to begin too soon!

In that first year or so, I became passionate about many things related to childbirth, breastfeeding, and attachment parenting. I was learning so much and had found the courage to follow my heart rather than the crowd. I wanted to help other women on a similar journey of discovery, somehow. I thought about becoming a childbirth educator or a doula. When my LLL Leader suggested I consider LLL leadership, I latched right on to the idea. La Leche League seemed to embody all of it to me -- it was about mothering. I was also glad to be a volunteer.

I became a Leader about a month after our second daughter was born. We planned to have a home birth and were surprised by a much shorter labor and a spontaneous birth. We have had our third and fourth daughters at home, as well, and have had similar experiences with their births.

As I looked forward to the birth of our fourth child, I was touched by the article in the July-August 2007 issue of NEW BEGINNINGS called, "The Revolutionaries Wore Pearls." I have been intensely interested in the history of La Leche League and have enjoyed the books available on the subject. I have also been so impressed with the Founders and have been glad to see, observe, and listen to them at several LLLI Conferences. Unfortunately, though, I was not able to attend the 50th Anniversary LLLI Conference this past July. But, when I heard from my friends who did attend about the new book, THE REVOLUTIONARIES WORE PEARLS, and the pearl bracelets and necklaces that were available at the Conference, I knew what I wanted to do. If our baby was a girl, I wanted to honor the Founders and La Leche League for their influence on my journey as a mother by naming her Pearl.

Our little Pearl was born on Labor Day (a US holiday that celebrates a day of rest for workers) and we are so thrilled to have her in our family. I hope that she, along with all my daughters, will continue the course of mothering through breastfeeding that was courageously exemplified and revived by the Founders of La Leche League. Thank you for your courage and determination! And thank you for the influence you've had on my family and me!

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