Naomi Stadlen, London, UK
Originally published Mar 2011, updated Feb 2016 and now republished with the express permission of the author.
Mothers often write to say how they feel at their first La Leche League Series Meeting, that they have “come home.” I am moved every time I read one of these accounts, especially as my own first experience was different.
It was over 20 years ago now. The meeting was quite near my home, but I arrived late. I squeezed into a space near the back and tried to follow the discussion.
I had loved breastfeeding, and it seemed to me that everyone was complaining how difficult it was. The Leader was doing her best to offer solutions to some of the problems that mothers raised. But every time she made a suggestion, mothers would raise even more problems.
I think that, because I had missed the beginning of the meeting, I wasn’t in tune with its flow. Also I was the only mother there without a baby. My children were all at school. I had already trained with the National Childbirth Trust as a breastfeeding counselor. However, I learned about La Leche League from Jean Waldman, who lived locally. During the 1970s, she was one of the mothers who started LLL in Great Britain. I met her in 1988, and she suggested I consider becoming a La Leche League Leader. She recommended that I start by coming to Series Meetings, which she said she found uplifting. After my first meeting, I explained to Jean that I hadn’t been uplifted. She laughed and and invited me to the next meeting which she was leading herself.
So, one month later, I set out again. It was a cold, rainy, wind-howling morning, and this time the venue was a long way from where I lived. “Why am I doing this?” I thought, struggling to open my London A–Z under my wind-shaken umbrella. I was in an unfamiliar part of London and it took me a long time to locate the venue. However, this time, I was there from the beginning, and the discussion made perfect sense to me.
The sitting-room of the hostess’s flat soon filled up with mothers, many as cold and wind-blown as I was. All complained, sometimes bitterly, that it was so hard to be a mother. One mother put it vividly:
“Even the ticket collector at my local station, all dressed up in his uniform, seems to have more pride in himself than I do. Yet his job isn’t half as responsible as mine. But I don’t feel that.”
I noticed that Jean didn’t tell her to feel any differently. She didn’t offer any advice, any solutions, or even comfort. She simply thanked each mother for speaking, and moved on to the next one. By doing this, she had left each mother with the dignity of her statement. She was receiving and accepting everything that mothers said to her. However, it wasn’t until the end of the meeting that I saw how effective this was.
Collectively, mothers’ complaints added up to a very gloomy picture. Jean hadn’t changed that. So I was extremely surprised that, when we all got up to go, and mothers dressed their babies to go back to the situations they had just been complaining about, I could hear a lot of laughter and cheerful voices. I myself felt lighter and energetic. What magic transformation had just taken place?
There are many ways to lead meetings, and the Leader at my first meeting had given mothers plenty of valuable information about breastfeeding. But I was completely inspired by Jean. I could see the wisdom of her generous kind of listening. She didn’t offer solutions to problems, perhaps because they were not requests for specific information. Yet her whole demeanor and way of talking expressed her love for breastfeeding and also her trust in each mother. I determined to train to be a Leader myself.
It’s important to have a place where one can speak honestly. Series Meetings give breastfeeding mothers a safe place to acknowledge difficulties. No one is going to tell her she is “making a rod for her own back” [ie that she is doing something that is likely to cause problems for her in the future]. This is a frequent but completely heartless comment to make to a breastfeeding mother. Many mothers don’t like to tell other people how tired they feel in case they get that response.
At La Leche League meetings, most mothers are tired, and everyone knows it is in a good cause. A tired breastfeeding mother is given the respect she deserves. Now I know exactly why mothers say of our meetings that they feel they have “come home.”
Naomi Stadlen has three adult children and three grandchildren. She has led the Central London Group of LLLGB since 1990. Since 1991, she has run Mothers Talking, weekly discussion meetings for mothers. She has also written two books, both approved by LLLI: What Mothers Do – especially when it looks like nothing (translated into 8 languages) and How Mothers Love – and how relationships are born (translated into 3 languages). Naomi’s website is www.naomistadlen.com.