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Connecting People and Ideals

By Nori Comello
Fort Collins CO USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 4, July-August 2000, pg. 126

In her story, "Breastfeeding: A Symbol of Community" (NEW BEGINNINGS, January-February 1999), Amy Beth Thompson described a bridge in Frederick, Maryland that is painted in a mural of images celebrating the "spirit of community." Thompson's idea for an image (which was incorporated into the mural) was breastfeeding, since it is through this act of nurturing that we bond with our children and teach them to bond with others in turn.

Her point resonated with me and I began to think of other ways in which breastfeeding creates community, how it connects people, ideals, and eras. In the course of my daydreaming (as I was nursing my baby), I realized that some significant community-building aspects of breastfeeding are enhanced by LLL.

For example, I have always felt that breastfeeding bonds not just mother and child, but also we women who have nursed our children. Like childbirth and becoming a parent, breastfeeding is a transforming experience, and it helps to have close companions in the process. However, it can be hard to find peers since breastfeeding in our society today is no longer a common denominator among all women.

Fortunately, LLL serves as a catalyst for this bonding - at meetings and Group functions, even through the pages of NEW BEGINNINGS. Equally important, informal playgroups that evolve out of the Group create lasting friendships. I have been part of one for over four years, and it has provided countless opportunities for learning and play. Could I have found a group of like-minded women outside of LLL? Of course, but since LLL had initially drawn us all, we found an almost instant camaraderie.

The nursing experience also connects women who have moved on to different stages of life and motherhood. Whereas peers can share their daily ups and downs, "veteran" mothers can share with new mothers their accumulated knowledge and their long-term perspective. I feel that this passing on of information creates bonds between generations of women and helps us honor all of life's changes. While some women may be able to turn to their mothers or other female family members for breastfeeding information and support, others may not be able to because of geographical distance or differing attitudes. LLL can bridge the gap by providing a supportive place to connect with women at different stages of parenting. For me, this set the stage for informal "mentoring." At my first Series Meeting over four years ago, I met some experienced mothers who have since given me lots of reassurance and tips; now that I have two children, my turn to encourage has probably come.

Finally, I think that breastfeeding creates a dynamic community because it includes people with diverse beliefs. For example, the reasons people choose to nurse can range from intuitive to scientific, and the act of nursing itself can seem at once ancient and progressive. Is it any wonder that although women have nursed their children since antiquity, we who breastfeed in our society today seem to be (at least in the minds of some) pioneers of social change?

While the range of ideals can make breastfeeding a rich experience for some mothers, it can also cause confusion! I find it admirable that LLL provides support in ways that address both ends of the spectrum. At one end, it passes down the ancient art of breastfeeding in a mother-to-mother, grassroots fashion. At the other end, LLL stays current with the latest research and works at the institutional level to help make society a friendlier place for breastfeeding.

So, what can be concluded from the naptime musings of a nursing mother? I think people draw strength from feeling connected, so by examining all the ways breastfeeding and LLL link with each other - through generations, across communities, and despite differing values - we can feel part of a wider, nurturing community that allows us to mother with zest. And if we raise our children in such a community, perhaps in the future they too will be able to find meaningful connections in their lives.

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