October 12, 2010

A Letter to the Executive Director of the La Leche League

If you've been with me for awhile, then you may remember the terrible way I was treated by one of the leaders of my local La Leche League chapter just days after Charlie was born. In our Bradley class, we started discussing attending a LLL meeting, and I admitted to the instructor that I hated that organization. I proceeded to tell her the story of what happened. She was appalled. She told me I needed to write to the organization and let them know what was said. And so I took her advice and sent an email today.

(Names have been changed to protect the "innocent.")


My name is Leslie. I live in Riverside, CA. Sixteen months ago, when my husband and I brought our son home from the hospital after his birth, I contacted one of your Inland Empire La Leche League leaders for help with breastfeeding. Her name was Mary. I had first made contact with Mary at the end of my pregnancy, hoping to make it to a meeting before delivering my son.

My son's birth was very difficult. Every possible intervention was done, including a cesarean under general anesthesia. My husband and I were both very emotionally fragile because of that traumatic experience. And I was having real trouble building a nursing relationship with our son - for a variety of reasons (highly interventionist and traumatic birth, not picking up on his feeding cues early enough, his high palate, just not having enough knowledge, etc.). I figured the best thing to do was to call Mary to see if she could recommend a lactation consultant.

I wish I could say that calling Mary saved my nursing relationship with my son, but I can't. She seemed pretty intent on pushing her breastfeeding agenda and berating me for supplementing with formula. A couple examples of things she said: "You can't give your baby formula! It's like giving him medicine" and "Formula is for babies whose mothers are dead." While she did point me in the direction of a local breastfeeding clinic, her support was undercut by those hurtful and judgmental things that she said.

When we got off the phone, I was sobbing. After everything I'd been through with my son's birth, I already felt like a failure. I was doing my best to nurse my son, but the only person who was really qualified to help me was more interested in her own rhetoric rather than listening to what I was going through. I never was able to gather enough strength to make it to the breastfeeding clinic. I was too scared that I would be judged just as harshly there. In less than a month, my supply dwindled down to nothing as I pumped, wanting desperately to get as much breast milk into my son as possible. My son and I never had that nursing relationship that I really wanted. Some of it was my fault, but I also think that some of the blame lies with Mary.

You may wonder why I'm telling you this now, and it's for several reasons. The first is because I'm due with our second child in less than a month, and I have decided that I *will* be breastfeeding this baby. It would be nice to feel as though the La Leche League truly supports me in this endeavor, and it would also be wonderful to not be afraid to attend a meeting.

My second reason for writing many months after the fact is because I have realized that this sort of behavior needs to change if breastfeeding is ever to become the norm in this country again. It is so important to be a positive and gentle advocate for exclusive breastfeeding and a pillar of support for lactating women. If you have women like Mary representing your organization, then you become part of the problem.

And finally, my third reason for finally writing to you is because I now feel strong enough to stand up for myself. I feel strong enough to say to you that I was treated badly by one of your Inland Empire leaders. Mary didn't need to lecture me. Obviously, because I called her for support, I already understood the benefits of breastfeeding. I wish she would have let her militant activism go just for the sake of helping a new mother in need. It might have made all the difference - for me and my son.

I would really appreciate your taking some of what I've said into consideration, and I appreciate your listening.

Thank you,

I don't know if closure is what I feel, but I'm glad I sent this email. If there's one thing that disgusts me, it's bullying. And the bullying that some parents experience is so hurtful and unnecessary. If I can make even the tiniest difference in this culture of Mommy Wars, then I'm happy.


Sara said...

Very well written! your story honestly is what made me want to become a lactation consultant....I want to be knowledgeable enough to help a woman when she needs it and not make her feel like shit as I have heard many do. If I ever saw that lady I swear that I would punch her! Gah, no matter what your stance, be compassionate of what those few weeks after birth are like! I have complete faith that you will do whatever is best for Burt Reynolds! I'm rootin' for ya!

Ricci said...

You're awesome! Glad you gave these feelings a voice!

sherthebear said...

What a great letter. I am glad that you were able to voice your feelings. It was truly insensitive and awful. Breastfeeding is not easy and what mothers need more than anything is support. I hate the bullying and the judgment.

amber said...

I'm so happy to hear that you sent this letter. It has to feel so good to finally stand up for yourself regarding this issue. I'm really interested to see if you get a response and if so, what it is.

Lydia said...

My sister had similar encounters with the La Leche people. She said they made her feel incompetent, not empowered to breast feed. Everything I've heard about them is negative. Sad.

Eric's Mommy said...

Great letter Leslie.
What that woman said to you was hurtful and rude, I cannot believe she said those things.
I breastfed for 4 months and wanted to do it longer but because of my job (I worked in a lab) I couldn't get out to pump enough. I also didn't want to somehow have any of the chemicals I was working with get into my milk. My milk supply ended up dwindling and I had to stop. I still feel a bit guilty about it 8 years later.

alejna said...

I'm so glad you wrote and sent this letter.

Maggie May said...

I am SO glad you sent this and so angry you had to go through that shitty experience when you were vulnerable and hurting. I'm glad you recognize what bs it was to be treated that way. xo

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