La Leche League began in 1956, only 18 years before I became a member. I am forever grateful to the mothers who formed that group for the sake of supporting and uplifting women who choose to breastfeed their babies.
I attended my first meeting in May, 1974, late in my second trimester. I knew I wanted to nurse my infant, but was clueless as to what that entailed. Thank God I did. Since this organization preceded the internet by decades, I could not sit in the comfort of my own home and click a youtube channel to see “how to breastfeed your baby”. Instead, I met live women and babies in the practice, got to hear about what to expect, and see nursing demonstrated in the moment, not for the camera, but in a member’s living room with an unscripted cast of players.
Beyond the education I received about breast-feeding was seeing women being themselves during this formative time in our lives. We gathered monthly for a few hours, babes in arms, toddlers in tow. We sat in a noisy circle, mostly on the floor, sharing the challenges and joys of motherhood. Even though I attended a wonderful woman’s college where my brain was appreciated (but also evaluated and graded), the simple practicalities of being female were rarely nor openly talked about. Yes, it was the times, but I was also deeply insecure in my being-ness. I was good at do-ing, but living in my own skin was still a foreign concept.
At La Leche League meetings women revealed feelings about their womanhood, roles in marriages, and offspring in a way I had never heard before. I felt like the newborn, an excited and eager learner in the world of women into which I had just been initiated. In the safety of those rooms I first began to share my deepest truths and ask important questions.
“Does your mother support your nursing or undermine it?”
“Do you ever feel like your husband is as demanding as the baby?”
“How do you tell your pediatrician that you will keep breastfeeding, even when he (there weren’t many she’s back then in pediatrics) asks, ‘Are you still nursing?”‘ with skepticism?”
They answered from their hearts and their experiences, not from a textbook or the teacher’s guide. It was raw and revelatory, and I loved being with them.
The women in La Leche League in Stamford, CT, were my first true role models. The group’s leaders were Judith Haims and Rosalea Fisher, still friends to this day. My art career was just beginning, but it paled in comparison to the importance of being a good mother. Most important, they supported me in my new role, which in most cases was in direct opposition to how I’d been raised.
“You don’t need to keep holding her!” Mom said after the baby had fallen asleep in my arms.
“Don’t you think she’s had enough?” she asked after I’d been nursing for 20 minutes.
“We let you cry yourself to sleep when you were a baby, and you’re fine.” Not really.
I needed this cohort as I continued nursing beyond the traditional six months to one year. I had allies, cheerleaders and experts in those meetings validating my choice. Beyond that, I had a thriving child, chubby-cheeked and warmly attached. After nursing my third child for three years, I finally graduated from La Leche League. I hadn’t needed to lean on them as heavily, even after my middle child was born. But I still yearned for a strong support group and continued seeking out nurturing, encouraging environments throughout my adulthood. That’s what my memoir Too Much of Not Enough is about: finding a tribe where I would be loved, accepted and heard, and wouldn’t outgrow.
Luckily, I did.