What influenced the way you have raised your children the most?

This is an article I wrote in 1997

When I give thought to this question, beyond the religious influences that have had a great deal of impact on my family, I believe it is the influence that La Leche League had on me. I became pregnant at the age of 19, just after I was married. The pregnancy was something that did not figure into my plans- a newlywed entering a sophomore year of college. After all, due to severe endometriosis, I was told children would probably not be a part of my future. But all of a sudden, I found my plans turned upside down. At one of my office visits to the OB, it was strongly suggested that I consider Breastfeeding. My family history included both my mother and maternal aunt having had breast cancer, so my doctor felt it favorable for me to breastfeed since evidence was showing the decrease of breast cancer having done so. So, since I had no friends who were pregnant and no background that would support me in this adventure, I sought out the local LLLeague group that was advertised in the brochures at his office.

I started attending meetings finding this whole attitude toward Breastfeeding very a la natural and therefore a little intriguing. But the idea of nursing past 6 months was something that I found distasteful. But as time wore on and the pregnancy came to a conclusion, I found myself excited about the aspect of doing something so intimate yet so earthy. I was not really excited about the aspect of being pregnant or having a baby as much as doing something new and different. Once Julie was born, I found myself quite adept at this new venture.

I had changed pediatricians when the previous one had not been supportive during a bout with a stomach disorder. I don’t think I could’ve done this without the support of my LLL leader. The women in my league group became my friends and support peer group. The older moms were helpful in teaching me to listen to my instincts and inner voice.

The library was filled with information on child rearing and such novel concepts as the family bed. I would chatter away with women who had the same common interests and who were empowered by their instincts, having listened to their inner voices. I found this whole process of turning into a woman and a mother almost instantaneously exciting! I found inner strengths that I never knew I had. I found myself exploring options that I did not know I would’ve even considered. Not only did I nurse past 6 months, but I planned to nurse at least one year!

At the one year mark, my LLL leader asked me to consider becoming a leader too. I nursed Julie into the third month of my pregnancy with my son. She weaned at 22 months with little encouragement due to my sore nipples. When John was born, I planned to let him nurse till he weaned on his own. He was born with some birth anomalies that caused him to have numerous surgeries. There were battles with the anesthesiologist when NPO was required- encouraging him to understand that breast milk was digested more quickly than formula but after 20 months- and two surgeries, I gave birth to my third child, Jami.

John had been interested in nursing through out the pregnancy and continued to tandem nurse with his sister for a year and a half longer. Jami nursed till she was 3 ½ years old.

When I look back on the experiences I had through these years, I am sure without the support of the friends I had made in those early years, and continued to build, I would not have had the confidence to try new things. I would not have gone against the system of our society that encouraged bottle feeding and schedules. I would not have ever welcomed our children into our bed. And I certainly would not have ever nursed a toddler much less two non twins at the same time!

The library of books available to me within LLL, The women who would listen to my concerns and share theirs, but mostly the friendships shared influenced the way I continued to mother my children throughout their lives thus far.

My oldest daughter will be 21 soon, a senior in college and in love herself these days. My son entered his freshman year in college this year, John is 18. And Jami is my baby. The one who would empty one breast and twirl around in my lap and say”empty, oder side”. She is almost 17 and is in her next to last year of high school. No, they are all weaned. They are normal, well adjusted kids. They don’t sleep with us anymore. They can spend time away without negative repercussions!

Julie has traveled to Africa, to Soweto, to work in orphanages for AIDS babies. John had worked with children coming from main land China into Hong Kong and inner city kids in Philadelphia. And Jami plans to have a home birth for her future children and wants to teach special needs children, she works as a teachers aid now as part of her curriculum in high school.

Do I feel blessed. Indeed. But I do think I owe a great deal of appreciation to LLL for the way they influenced a young 19 year old girl who began her journey as a new mom.

(In the last ten years a lot has changed… Jami did have her home birth almost six years ago and nursed her son well into toddlerhood. Julie has also given birth to two (almost six and fours years old) and soon to her third child. She also allowed her children to gradually wean into their toddler years. Our son is an architect in St Louis and was married a year ago- no children yet!)