by Jessica Starr, Caerphilly, Wales, LLL Great Britain
I know the exact day and time when my journey to becoming an LLL Leader began. It was Saturday 13 February 2010, 6:04 P.M. Boom! My life as I knew it exploded and I was left, surrounded by the debris of what I thought I knew, with a tiny mewing creature snuggled on my bare chest. When I close my eyes, I am back in that room, back with her, my baby, in her first moments. And she managed to find my left breast and latch on by herself. Amazing!
The weeks that followed were extremely hard. I loved her so very, very much but I was shell-shocked at the urgency and constancy of her need for me. Feeding was agony and I dreaded every time. A combination of inverted nipples, tongue-tie and poor positioning meant I struggled to make enough milk to satisfy her. I needed help but didn’t know where to look. Eventually, I contacted the local National Health Service (NHS) International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). In the weeks that followed, everything gradually turned around. Once the feeding was sorted out, everything else fell into place. I was mothering through breastfeeding and loving it.
I talked to other mothers about their experiences and was shocked to find that many women had also struggled and hadn’t found the help they needed. In the town where I lived there were no breastfeeding support groups, so three friends and I decided to start one. We didn’t have any special qualifications apart from the experience of mothering and breastfeeding our own children and our genuine desire to help other mothers who wanted to breastfeed.
Our group grew surprisingly quickly. We had clearly identified a need in our community for that kind of mother-to-mother support. We helped by listening, sharing experiences and directing to other knowledgeable resources when needed. We were making a difference and were pleased with what we were doing, but felt that if we knew more we would help even further.
We discovered that we could train with one of the breastfeeding charities in Great Britain or, as we are in Wales, we could train with a peer supporter program paid for by the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG). So, how to choose?
We settled on Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM) for our training, ruling out LLL because we felt confused by the training process and many acronyms. I took the ABM mother supporter course and our group became an ABM-listed group. I then continued on to the ABM Breastfeeding Counselor training.
We also managed to access the WAG peer supporter training. One of the best parts was that all new peer supporters were given a copy of the latest edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. I would never have chosen it, because the title seemed odd to me at that time, but I read it and loved it! This wasn’t just a book about breastfeeding: it was about mothering as I now understood it.
Meeting La Leche League
“Just as women learn about breastfeeding and mothering by observing and interacting with breastfeeding mothers, women learn about LLL and leadership by observing and interacting with Leaders,” Leader’s Handbook (2003) p.136
I visited other local breastfeeding groups to see how they operated and to find what worked well so that we could use ideas in our group. I found myself at an LLL meeting, not knowing anyone and feeling a bit shy. It seems funny to think now that I had an LLL Group just half an hour away from where I lived all along. Yet I didn’t actually go there until I was breastfeeding an 18-month-old and had already started breastfeeding counselor training with another organization.
It was a Series Meeting about introducing solid foods. The Leader gave a short introduction and I made a mental note that it was a great way to start a meeting. We went around in a circle, introducing ourselves and our children. The next couple of hours passed very quickly and pleasantly. One of the Leaders made me a cup of tea. There was beetroot cake. Then it was over. I drove home with my head bursting with examples of how to run a really successful Group.
I kept going to almost every meeting after that. Every contact I had in real life with LLL made me feel more and more at home. So why had La Leche League not seemed like the obvious option from the start?
I drove home with my head bursting with examples of how to run a really successful Group.
A Philosophical Problem
The initial barriers for me were the name, the use of the word “Leader,” and the philosophy. The organization’s name, La Leche League, seemed confusing to me. The title of “Leader” did not convey a clear purpose or appeal to me when I compared it to “Breastfeeding Counselor.” And although the concepts felt like a good fit for me personally, I felt they could be excluding some mothers.
Now that I know more, I consider my favorite parts of LLL to be the concepts and philosophy. The concepts are the foundation of the organization for women learning more about breastfeeding and mothering and deciding what is best for their families. And the philosophy is to draw in those who it resonates with, not a barrier to keep people out.
The New Welsh Groups Project
I was ready to begin my application at a time when LLL Great Britain had received money to fund new Groups in my area of Wales. The application process itself was enjoyable and thought-provoking. I feel every area of my life has been enhanced by the improved communication and listening skills I developed. I gained friends, discovered the history and structures of this huge and diverse organization and, perhaps most valuable, I learned more about myself. The real-life mother-to-mother connections made during my application were the most fulfilling aspect. It was definitely the right choice for me (even if it took me a while to realize it). This support network is just one of the things which, had I known in the beginning, would have perhaps brought me to LLL sooner. Other factors include the quality of LLL literature and publications, and that LLL is internationally recognized and respected within the breastfeeding community. I look forward to the future development of the LLL national and international websites, as well as our Group webpages and social media, so we can meet the needs of mothers today.
If I am honest, I still don’t love the name La Leche League. We hope to call our Group “Caerphilly Breastfeeding Mums, part of LLLGB” as a softening of sorts. But I do love what the name stands for–love itself.
I am excited for the next part of my journey.
Jessica Starr attended her first LLL meeting in Newport, South Wales, Great Britain when her eldest child was 18 months old and “still” breastfeeding. She was accredited as an LLL Leader in January 2015. Jessica leads a weekly meeting in her hometown, Caerphilly, where she lives with her husband, Neil, and their two children Ella (five) and Dylan (one). She blogs at www.jessicastarr.co.uk.