Seven Voices, One Dream
by Mary Ann Cahill
Schaumburg, IL: LLLI, 2001
Available from the LLLI Online Store.
Reviewed by Diana West
Gaithersburg MD USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 6, November-December 2001, p. 222
Mary Ann Cahill, one of the seven mothers who started LLLI, has written SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM to chronicle the development of LLL from the first-hand perspective of the Founders. Although many LLL members are aware that LLL began with two mothers nursing beneath a tree at a church picnic, this book goes much beyond that. It tells the greater story of very real women, with strength and vision, as well as foibles and weaknesses, who took on a challenge as they made the decision to establish LLL.
Mary Ann chose a very compelling way to present this story. Over several years, she visited each of the other six Founders and recorded their discussions. She also wrote about her own experiences and perspectives. The dialogues were then put into chronological order. These memories now narrate the multifaceted story of the growth of LLL in a deeply moving way.
Through their stories, the revolutionary vision these women shared emerges. Seven voices gently but firmly cited sound research to contradict the erroneous cultural belief that civilized women had evolved beyond the "primal" need to breastfeed. They mastered the scientific information they needed to help mothers breastfeed and appreciate the value of human milk. They also learned how to be businesswomen so that they could operate a nonprofit organization. They were not daunted by their lack of formal experience, but instead relied upon their common sense and intelligence.
One of the pivotal points that the Founders recount about the development of the new "breastfeeding club" was the change of focus from teaching the mechanics of breastfeeding to a more encompassing and enduring mission of supporting mothers. The LLL philosophy developed as the Founders realized that breastfeeding and mothering are inseparable activities. They were deeply affected by comments from the mothers who attended their meetings who valued the personal sharing of information and the mother-to-mother support that helped them become better mothers through breastfeeding. In 1956, when La Leche League began, the seven Founders were not much different from the mothers who belong to LLL today. Like many modern mothers, they were committed to a vision that extended beyond their own homes, but they struggled to find time for outside activity in the midst of caring for their families. Juggling the needs of a family and volunteer work was just as difficult then as it is today, maybe more so because since they did not have the advantage of computers, word processing, spread sheets, and email. Husbands and children often pitched in behind the scenes with their help and support (as many do now). And just like today, mothers gathered regularly in homes and other meeting places to discuss the benefits and how-to of breastfeeding.
When La Leche League began, even the word "breast" was thought vulgar, let alone breastfeeding. The Founders faced the kind of antagonism toward breastfeeding that some women unfortunately still encounter. As the organization grew, the Founders did not always agree with each other, just as today's LLL members do not agree on every issue. However, their experience of working out their differences demonstrates that disagreement can be healthy and productive because it reveals other perspectives and necessitates compromises necessary to meet members' needs.
The Founders spent a great deal of time in the early years answering calls and letters from mothers all over the world. As there was no headquarters until 1963, all of this was accomplished from their own homes. Most impressively, these women learned to put the needs of their families first, wisely stepping back from the LLL commitments at times when their families needed more attention.
La Leche League International is testament to the passion and determination of women with a dream of helping mothers to breastfeed their babies. LLLI could not have developed into the resource we enjoy today if the young mothers who began it-and the many who came after them-had not found ways to overcome the obstacles they inevitably faced. SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM affirms the value of mothering, perseverance, and the power of a few to change society.
Editor's Note: Mary White was dismayed to find one of her children's families did not get included in SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM, where the Founders talk about their families in chapter 16. Daughter Clare and her husband, Tim Daly, live in Berwyn, Illinois and have four children: Elizabeth, 10; Madeleine, 8; Joseph, 4; and Veronica, 1.