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Mother-to-Mother at the LLLI Conference

By Julie Allen Shivel
Kennebunkport, Maine USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 1 January-February 2001 pp. 32-33

I began my journey to Orlando, Florida, for the 16th LLLI conference last summer with my 10-month-old daughter, Elly, at Richmond International Airport in Virginia. After boarding the plane, I found my seat and began talking with the woman seated next to us. Within a few minutes, she was talking about her daughters, ages 28 and 30 years old. When I told her where I was headed, she said that she had been a member of La Leche League when her daughters were nursing babies.

My flight plan now included a lay-over in Detroit, where I met two women heading to Orlando: Claire, a Leader from Detroit who was travelling with her two boys and husband; and Chiki, a mother from the Philippines with Rachel, her seven-month-old daughter.

Upon arrival in Orlando, I spotted a woman at the airport with her daughter in a lovely pink and silver sling. I remembered talking with a friend about whether to order one after seeing the swatch. I started a conversation with her which led to an incredible afternoon. We both boarded the shuttle bus to the hotel, talking as we rode. As a single mother nursing her two-and-a-half-year-old child, she lives an hour away from an LLL Series Meeting, but still chose to join LLL. NEW BEGINNINGS is very important to her, she said, explaining that an article she'd read about picking strawberries with a child helped her get through a tough time. As the article explained, it was the ripe strawberries that were easy to separate from the plant, just as children separate more easily from their mothers when they are ready. She'd been under criticism for extended breastfeeding and thinking of the strawberry had sustained her.

We tried to be sensitive to other people on the bus, so our language was discreet. After 20 minutes or more, an older woman sitting with her husband asked if we were attending the LLLI Conference. She introduced herself as Mary White! I had such a panic wondering if, as a Leader, I'd fairly and constructively represented LLL. Mary and her husband Greg were delightful and talked about their daughter who lived in Charlotte. My excitement grew.

Once settled in the hotel, I was able to reunite with several Leaders from my area. What a luxury to stay up late talking with these incredible women! Many of us had left our older children at home with fathers and grandparents, and it was a unique opportunity to share some of our common concerns and stunning joys in mothering.

It took me more than 24 hours to get in touch with my husband and son on the telephone. It was my first time away from my three-and-a-half-year-old son for so long. When I talked with him, he told me, "My plan and Daddy's plan is that you come back to the farm - today." It was my first experience with longing to be with him, yet being separated. I remembered something I had read in Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish's book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. "Give to them in fantasy what you cannot give to them in reality." So I talked to him about how wonderful it would be if I could appear at home right away. It satisfied him, but somehow I wasn't appeased. I decided I wouldn't leave my fellows behind for the 2001 International Conference in Chicago. I'll bring them with me!

Later I heard Anwar Fazal, chairman of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), whose words inspired me as if I were a soldier moved into action through a general's charisma. He reminded me that breastfeeding is important to our communities - to our world. His comparison of Hiroshima's fatalities to the deaths of non-breastfed infants in one month was unforgettable for me.

My first session was Carol Lee Flinders' talk, "Lighting the Candle, Tending the Flame." She talked about feminism and the stay-at-home mother. She described the ills of materialism and lack of a home-centered life. Her material was thought provoking and she challenged us to view the tension and conflict between self-satisfaction and mothering as the wellspring for creativity.

Dr. Jack Newman's comments at his luncheon speech were extraordinary, funny, accurate, and ever so slightly skewed! I laughed for days when I remembered his stern and authoritative prescription. "Mrs. X, your baby's bilirubin is too low. Put that baby to the breast for 48 hours!"

In my first evening session, I sat in the rear with Elly. A mother and her son from Puerto Rico soon joined us. The toddler played with my daughter the whole session, and when he left, he kissed us!

One of my conference roommates returned to the room full of excitement one afternoon because she'd won a book in one of her sessions. When another roommate attended a session with the same speaker, he used the same technique, so she knew how to acquire the prize. That evening there were two excited women in the room with books third won - about housekeeping! The spirit of cleaning was certainly elevated in our suite.

One day, I was carrying my sleeping daughter onto the escalator when an older woman caught up with me and grasped my arm to help me balance. One glance at her face and nametag identified her as Viola Lennon. As we rode down, she made several flattering remarks about LLL mothers. As we were parting at the bottom of the escalator, she told me, "My children learned some very wonderful parenting skills..." I was thrilled to hear that she thought that way about her incredible work, when she continued, "from my League friends!" Although I have no doubt that Viola was an incredible mother and role model for us all, she reminded me not only that we become what we surround ourselves with, but our children have an opportunity to grow that way, too. I can't wait to surround myself with those people at the next LLLI Conference!

Reprinted from the Spring 2000 issue of Rocking Chair, the Area Leaders' Letter for La Leche League of North Carolina.

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