La Leche: French for 'It's Not for Everybody'

This is a story about La Leche League, but don’t expect it to be all “go breast-feeders” or preachy at all about the benefits of breast-feeding. You would have to off-the-charts postpartum to argue that breast-feeding is not good for a baby. But it’s a complicated decision at a time when people should not be making choices any more complex than paper or plastic.

I nursed all three of my babies and was happy to do it, even though it was off and on a literal pain, especially in the beginning.

But I stood on the whole breast vs bottle issue the same way I did on just about everything else about parenting. I was in favor of all the good stuff, but I wasn’t willing to be a fanatic about anything. I fed my kids well, but I didn’t spend the extra $1.20 for the organic milk (and I let them have Fruit by the Foot even though I’m pretty sure it was 85 percent carcinogenic plastic); I checked on their school work, but I wouldn’t home-school (or even let them stay home sick unless they had visible spots); I read to them every night but I didn’t make them recite from Robert Louis Stevenson at dinner. I had great admiration for people who took one thing and really went to town with it. It just wasn’t me. I was the best at being a mediocre, middle-of-the-road mother. I called it being well balanced, but it was mostly laziness and apathy.

So going to La Leche League was probably a mistake. My motives were misguided and selfish. We had just moved to Ohio from suburban Washington, DC., I had just had another baby and even though it had been almost three years since I had worked, I still wasn’t embracing the stay-at-home mom thing with the enthusiasm that I expected. I had a 6-year-old in first grade, a 2-year-old, a baby, a husband who worked all the time, and no friends. I used to be a newspaper editor, I would regularly tell the baby. I used to hold meetings and give speeches at Rotary. She would burp and spit up a little bit, which I think meant, “You rock, mama.”

I saw La Leche League not as a support for me as a nursing mother but as somewhere to go where my 2-year-old could play with some other kids. It seemed easier than starting a play group, which would have involved more action on my part. (See above reference to laziness.)

The La Leche League meeting was at the home of a woman who had several hundred children of her own and a couple thousand foster kids. At least that’s how it appeared upon walking into her house. I walked my toddler out to the back yard to introduce him to the other kids. The one kid, about 5, was the Alpha Child and he was swinging a garden hose, marking the territory around him that no one was allowed to breach. My little 2-year-old was fairly petrified. I should have grabbed him up into my spare arm and carried him into the meeting with me, but I kept thinking that the whole reason I was here was to find him some friends, so “Play! Have fun! Okay, Bye!” I said, and the baby and I went inside.

The meeting started by everyone going around the circle and sharing something about the Topic of the Month, which was Support.  Who supports you in your decision to breast-feed?

I hate when I’m the last in the circle. Could have been second, if the lead mom had gone counter-clockwise instead of clockwise. So everyone started telling about the person who was most supportive of them and it was husband, husband, husband, husband, husband . . .  

Oh great, I thought. I was faced with either telling the truth or making up a story about how my husband was supportive of my breast-feeding, although I was at risk of being struck by lightning.

Sure enough, we got all the way around the circle and every single woman had named their husband as their main supportive person in breast-feeding. Not only that, but some of them told stories about how their husbands rubbed their backs when they were nursing the baby, got up and stayed up at 2 a.m. during the feeding for moral support, and washed their hair for them afterward. I thought I was going to be sick. I was never more glad to be married to who I was married to. My husband was supportive enough on what mattered and neither of us felt that he had any business delving into this part of parenting. Until you grow a working pair of these, just stay out of it, I would tell him with my eyes.

“My husband is great, really,” I told le circle.  “But he’s not exactly a sensitive ‘90s kind of guy,” I used air quotes and let out a little laugh. There was total silence around the circle. Oooookay. The bad vibe that I had created completely ruined my follow-up, which was that my mom was my biggest support and she was the best mom role model in the world and she supported all of her daughters in whatever we chose to do, including breast-feeding, which was frowned upon in the ‘40s and ‘50s when she was having babies and wanted to nurse.

Still silence.

Then my 2-year-old came bursting in the back door, tore over to me screaming his head off. The 5-year-old hose boy from the backyard ancillary play group had smacked him in the head with a hoe. All hell broke loose, my baby started crying, and in my haste to get everyone in my family to shut up, I pulled out a bottle of formula and stuck it in the baby’s mouth.

Wrong thing to do at a La Leche meeting.

Since it was going downhill fast, I figured I didn’t have anything to lose, so when we started in on the program part of the meeting and I realized that La Leche League was basically a bunch of breast-feeding mothers who sat around and talked about how great breast-feeding was and what losers the moms who don’t breast-feed are (why did I not realize that before I came?), I felt I needed to speak up.

“Isn’t this a little like preaching to the choir?” I asked. “We could go around the circle all night talking about how great breast-feeding is, but we already know that or we wouldn’t be here. Instead of sitting here, why aren’t we at the hospital talking to new moms, young girls who may have questions or who are having problems or who are right now just about to give up and take that little mini bottle of Enfamil that the nurses are teasing them with?”

They just liked to silently stare at me.

I was told that’s not how it’s done. We aren’t allowed to go roaming through the hospitals willy-nilly without nursing degrees.

“Well, what about if we had our meetings in the lounge at the end of the hall in the maternity ward? The moms who were able to walk or heist a wheelchair could stroll down and join us. We could give good advice and bring food from the outside.”

They thought they had made it clear before, that’s not what we do. We have meetings and have discussions.

“Well what about if we made up some brochures with our phone numbers and FAQs and we could leave them at the nurses’ stations and maybe we could get some new converts and be helpful that way?”

Good god, was I a moron? Was I deaf? We meet once a month in someone’s home and we talk about the topic of the month and it’s set by national! Snnnaaaaaaack!

Upon hearing that word, all the kids from the back yard came running in and there was a mad dash for the whole-wheat natural peanut butter and home-canned jelly sandwiches, and 100 percent natural apple juice.  Except for that 5-year-old hoe-wielding, hose-winging bully, who walked up to his mother, unbuttoned her blouse, flapped down her bra and started to nurse.

My son let out a blood-curdling scream and I think I did too. Not sure. There was a lot of confusion as I gathered up my stuff, said “thanks for everything” and left.

So that was my one and only experience with La Leche League. I didn’t learn anything other than my husband is not the wing man the other husbands are, I didn’t make any friends, and my son was brutalized by a kid who I’m sure by now is one seriously conflicted sociopath.

I got more support from my nursing bra.

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