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1999 LLLI Conference Sessions:
Conference Overview

By Jeanne Badman
St. Paul, MN USA
and Nancy Jo Bykowski
Bolingbrook, IL USA
and Celestia Shumway
Provo, UT USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 5, September-October 1999, pp. 156-161

For many attendees, one of the highlights of any LLLI Conference is the chance to see and meet the Founders of LLL. Even a chance encounter can be enough to make memories to cherish. Karen Zeretzke, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA, tells of meeting Founder Marian Tompson at the 1999 Conference. When she thanked Marian for starting La Leche League, Marian replied by thanking her for keeping it alive. "I felt so very special!" said Karen.

The Opening Session of the LLLI Conference on Sunday, July 4, provided a public glimpse into the heart and spirit of these seven women. During the traditional Parade of Nations, children from LLL families all over the world marched through the ballroom and onto the stage, carrying placards from each of the 62 countries in which LLL is represented. The Founders had seats at the side of the stage that did not give them a good view. They whispered to one another about the situation and then got up and walked to seats in the front row. They weren't going to miss those beautiful children!

A little later in the opening session, the six Founders who were present (Mary Ann Kerwin was absent on the first day of the conference, attending a son's wedding) were introduced as "one singular sensation." As the song from "A Chorus Line," swelled, they ascended the stairs and were each greeted by an escort ranging in age from six to sixty. They formed their own "chorus line" on stage. After a little high stepping as a group, Mary, Betty, Marian, Viola, Edwina, and Mary Ann each performed a brief solo dance. Attendees were treated to close-up shots of the action on the two huge viewing screens on each side of the stage. The Founders were such good sports and they were beaming every minute.

That morning, Anwar Fazal, Chairperson of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action in Malaysia, began his keynote address by saying he had searched high and low for a fact about breastfeeding to share with us that would be totally new. He said a colleague had finally come up with one and he proudly announced that breastfeeding is Y2K compliant! This brought a great round of laughter from the audience, as they recognized that while the science of breastfeeding is growing, the basics of breastfeeding remain simple and universal.

Fazal told a touching story about a premature baby boy who was born weighing 720 grams, so small you could have held him in the palm of your hand. This precious baby benefited from the "international" nature of breastfeeding, since he received breast milk from four women, one Chinese, one Indian, one Malaysian, and one European. Fazal shared the hope that someday this boy will attend an LLLI Conference to give a keynote address about what breastfeeding meant for him.

At the luncheon on Monday, Dr. Jack Newman, a member of the LLLI Health Advisory Council from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, was both entertaining and informative as he presented a series of slides showing how bottle-feeding is presented as the cultural norm in our society. The slides showed how advertising, children's literature, and even the toys we give our children all reflect the fact that bottle-feeding is the accepted way to feed babies. Children's books are often about animals that talk and wear clothes, like humans. In those books, the animals are meant to represent humans and most often, they bottle-feed their babies. But in picture books about "real" animals - those that don't talk or wear human clothes - the baby animals are shown nursing. This sends the unconscious message that breastfeeding is animal-like. Dolls for children often come with a bottle, but Dr. Newman showed a slide of a little girl wearing a toy from a society where breastfeeding was the accepted norm. It was a piece of string with little toy "breasts" made of clay on each end so a child could hold a doll to his or her chest and pretend to breastfeed it. Dr. Newman's point was that when bottle-feeding is perceived as the norm in a society, it is reflected in every aspect of culture. His slide show made some fascinating points and reinforced the importance of breastfeeding support.

The Alumnae Association of La Leche League International hosted a tea party on Sunday July 4, 1999 that fulfilled many childhood dreams of tea parties. The food was light and refreshing. The setting was the spacious, grandly decorated Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel. The "dolls" were real-live babies. The tea bags at the individual place settings were donated by a friend of La Leche League, a woman who received breastfeeding help from a La Leche League Leader over 20 years ago. These elements combined together to honor retired La Leche League Leaders. At the tea, the Alumnae Association presented their first ever Alumnae Association Award to the Founders in honor of their accomplishments and their recognized leadership in the field of lactation. Recognition was also given to 63 special women who had been "founders" of LLL in their area. As with any respectable tea party, the theme of "friends" dominated. After all, La Leche League provides breastfeeding information through friendly, mother-to-mother support.

Guests of the tea heard six of the seven Founders speak about their memories of the early days of LLLI and about what they are doing now. Marian Tompson spoke passionately about the issue of breastfeeding and HIV. Mary White paid tribute to two great friends of LLLI who helped get it started, Dr. Gregory White and Dr. Herbert Ratner. Mary Ann Cahill warmly recalled the occasion when the Founders had invited Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, author of Childbirth Without Fear, to speak about the topic, which was a new idea for American women in 1957. Mary Ann told how she couldn't attend the lecture because she had just had a baby, and was tucked in bed with him. She fondly remembered the incident as she pretended to cradle a baby in her arms. "Even though I missed out, I had the better deal," she remarked with a loving smile. Guests left the tea feeling this love, this mother-love that forms the core of our friendship, whether Founder, Retired Leader, Leader, member, or friend who is not yet a member.

At the luncheon on July 5, two special awards from the LLLI Board of Directors were announced. Roberta Bishop Johnson, editor of the classic LLLI cookbooks WHOLE FOODS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY and MOTHER'S IN THE KITCHEN, received an Award of Appreciation. She thanked all those who submitted the thousands of recipes they chose from and those who tested the recipes. She said one of the nicest things that happens to her is when someone comes up and tells her they still have their first copy of the LLL cookbook, tattered and torn, because she feels it's a great compliment.

The Board of Directors presented the first ever Leader's Award to those came involved in international translations and associated Publications staff members. This group currently includes at least 87 Leaders and many now-retired pioneers. Areas and Affiliates themselves have most often funded translations, through fundraising, grants, sponsors, and donations. Even the translation of a short article represents many, many hours of volunteer work in many places. Leaders collaborate to do translations, adaptations, editing, layout, artwork, photography, proofreading, copying, collating, and distribution done over a long period of time and often in different countries. In many ways, the publishing endeavors of Areas, Divisions, and Affiliates epitomize the work of LLL Leaders to empower mothers to breastfeed their babies.

Another highlight of this luncheon was a video of a group of Peer Counselors from South Africa singing songs about breastfeeding that they developed to bring breastfeeding information and support to women in their local villages. Traditionally in this culture, information is shared in song. As the lights dimmed, attendees listened to the lovely harmonies and heard about how the songs were developed. Founder Marian Tompson talked a little about her trip to South Africa, where she met the women in the film. She then went on to talk about the Power of Mother Love, filling in for scheduled speaker, Brenda Hunter, who was ill and couldn't make it to the conference.

That evening, the World Faire was a flurry of activity and fun. The ballroom was packed with tables where LLL Areas from all over the world offered information about themselves. Many gave away prizes to children or had items for sale. LLL of Guatemala had a particularly hot- selling item - bags made of colorful local cloth with an LLL logo on the outside and many pockets inside and out for stowing small items so they are easy to find. The crowd around the table was fierce. LLL of Canada offered lovely figures of a mother nursing her child with a candleholder behind the figure. Pins from different areas were another popular item. Many people wore them on the name tag lanyards that were provided by Hollister, Inc.

The World Faire also featured entertainment for young and old. The Mime Theater of Brasil performed a skit about birth with the mother figure supported by a father on stilts. This birth featured the invaluable assistance of a midwife with her feet on the ground. Of course, the baby figure was put to the breast immediately. In keeping with the theme of a Midsummer Night's Dream, there were Maypole dances for both children and adults. Many children especially enjoyed the juggler. Others were busy making crowns, treasure bags, and other fun crafts. The evening went by too quickly and there was too much to do to see it all.

During the luncheon on Tuesday, Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, who create the cartoon "Baby Blues," received an Award of Recognition from the LLLI Board of Directors. Rick and Jerry 's depiction of a family with a breastfeeding baby and a toddler has provided their readers with a view of breastfeeding as a cultural norm in a humorous and matter-of-fact way. The artists were unable to attend the conference, but they sent a charming thank-you note-a sketch of Wanda and baby Hammie with Hammie saying a muffled "Thank you, La Leche League" while nursing. The image was projected onto the viewing screens on either side of the stage, which prompted a hum of amusement and appreciation from the audience.

After lunch, Bobbe Lyon, a self-appointed "mirth dispenser," literally danced onto the stage to share her message about the importance of humor. Her genuine good will and her passion for her subject warmed hearts. She started by informing us that the endorphins released through laughter are hundreds of times stronger than morphine. Through humorous stories and helpful hints, she encouraged us each to create an atmosphere where humor is not only okay, but also welcome in our homes.

Bobbe is a retired La Leche League Leader who contacted LLL in the very early years. When she moved to Florida, she helped start the first La Leche League Groups there. She closed her talk with an idea about a $20 bill. She held it up and asked if any of us wanted it. Then she wadded it up tightly and asked us again if we still wanted it. Then she put it on the floor and asked again if we still wanted it. She got serious for a moment and said, "When you feel crumpled, pummeled, and trodden upon by life, remember you haven't lost your worth."

The closing ceremonies were a delight of music, dance, and humor. The Chance-to-Dance kids and the Mime company worked together to find a "key" and open a "door" to a place of imagination. Then some of the children did a dance to the song, "Under the Sea." The teen helpers, who helped in various ways throughout the conference, did an energetic and infectious dance to the song "Bound for Chicago," in honor of the fact that the next LLLI Conference will be held at the Chicago Hilton and Towers, from July 7-10, 2001.

The closing song caught the crowd by surprise, as three unassuming figures in raincoats appeared on the stage and proceeded to wow the crowd with their toe-tapping parody of the song "Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego?" from the educational television show and game of the same name. In their humorous version, "Where in the World Is Lucy Leader?" three Leaders from Indiana sang about many of the ways that Leaders support breastfeeding mothers around the world. Jill Whelan, from Indianapolis, Jeanette Wachtel, from Carmel, and Jan Rittenhouse, from Fremont, used rhythm and rhyme to honor the international work of LLLI.

"The conference ended with a lovely banquet with the theme of A Midsummer Night's Dream." Andrea Ballot, from California, Maryland, USA, said, "Dave and I went to the banquet in medieval garb and that was fun. He loves any opportunity to get into character so he was in his element!" The food, the speaker, and the company of new friends and old combined to make it a relaxing and lovely evening. Entertainment that preceded the delicious meal featured talented members of LLL families including Mark Kolar, Susan Sall, and Zak Edwards. Speaker Iris Krasnow touched a chord in many of us when she told us she had found more joy and fulfillment caring for her four young sons than she had in the years she had spent as a successful journalist traveling the globe.

The banquet closed with lullabies from around the world sung by Leaders and their children. Each in turn came to the microphone. A hush came over the room as babies, toddlers, and adults all reacted to the calming melodies. "I was touched to the point of tears with the understanding of what we share in common," said Cathy Gaston, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA. As the musicians on stage sang, the cameras that were recording the event captured parents walking with babies who were relaxing to the music and toddlers approaching the stage to listen, some of them dancing along. The images of children and the universal language of music combined to close the banquet on a calming note.

Please join us as friends in Chicago in 2001 for the next conference, with all new speakers, sessions, and entertainment. In the meantime, let's widen La Leche League's circle of friends around the globe!

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