I Went To A La Leche League Meeting Once And I Never Went Back

But her little demon spawn was now approaching me. “What’s wrong with your baby?” He said, looking down at my newborn.

“She’s sleeping,” his mom explained, embarrassed, and probably a little confused about the question. I was too. Being a new mother, I was more susceptible to criticism than ever before in my life. I suddenly worried, yeah? What was wrong with her? Was she sick? Dying? Tell me what you know, child!

Then I thought maybe he was concerned because, well, newborns are kind of wrinkled and funny-looking. So I offered, “she’s so small because she’s only two weeks old.”

The kid considers it, continuing to gaze down at the baby in my arms. Then, “why is your baby Chinese?”

The weirdest silence ever, followed by a couple of awkward chuckles from the adults.

I explain slowly, “she looks Chinese because her daddy is half-Chinese.”

Then, all the women heave a sigh of relief. The mother of twins laughs and says, “oh, she really is Chinese? I just thought he was saying that because all newborns kind of look Chinese.”

What? What is happening?

I laugh more than I should, attempting to defuse things, but I’m actually feeling nauseated and kind of just wanting to leave. I’m not upset with the little boy; he’s just commenting on what he observes. It’s good to notice and explain differences like gender, skin color and whatnot. It’s the adults’ reactions that bothered me — that tense silence, when nobody knew my baby actually was Chinese.

But aside from the awkward attitudes about race and the exclusive Earth Mama culture, there’s another resounding reason I probably won’t go back to another La Leche League meeting. I realized from this experience that joining a group in which the only guaranteed shared trait is motherhood isn’t the best way to go about making new friends. Maybe it works for some people, but not for me. Being mothers isn’t like having a shared casual interest in golf; it’s more like sex, something deeply personal and different to everyone. I would rather make friends with someone based on a shared interest in writing, or volunteer work, or distance running — then, if that someone happens to be a mother too, that’s awesome, but it’s not a prerequisite for being my friend.

I must add that I’m fully supportive of La Leche League’s mission, and I hope that new mothers aren’t put off by my story. I would encourage you to go, learn some stuff and meet some people. That kind of environment (or maybe just that particular group of people) isn’t for me.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, baby is now one-year-old and I am still happily nursing. And my body temperature has cooled down to only twice that of the sun.

(photo: Ilya Zlatyev/ Shutterstock)

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  • kt

    LOL i appreciate that i am not the only woman who found the LLL to be a hard group to ‘get in to’.. aside from the initial meeting i went to and a lady outspokenly kept bragging about BF’ing til her oldest was nearly 10.. i am sorry to those die hard BF moms, but that is just icky to me… i only did 2 meetings before i had the same epiphany.

    • CBB

      Until 10? How does that even work?
      “Finish your homework Johnny, and then you can nurse!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carmen-Finnigan/841528248 Carmen Finnigan

    Earth Mama? I’d go mad. It would be nice to get support without the mysticism.

    • meg

      So you only accept free, compassionate assistance from people in full makeup?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carmen-Finnigan/841528248 Carmen Finnigan

      Why would makeup matter?

    • meg

      That’s what I’m asking you and the author. They have long hair and don’t wear makeup. Thus, they are “earth mamas,” and the fact that they went out of their way to offer advice is invalid because EW HIPPIES.

    • copycait

      Really? You’d go mad? Because they have long hair? The author didn’t say anything about mysticism.

  • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Guerrilla Mom

    “I realized from this experience that joining a group in which the only guaranteed shared trait is motherhood isn’t the best way to go about making new friends.”

    Oh, so much truth.

    • LoveyDovey

      Yes, this! I’d had this feeling for some time since trying to go to playgroups with my first but couldn’t really verbalize it. She’s nailed it on the head for me!

    • Wonderingaboutthis

      I agree, and have learned this in many places. However I think the article undermines the work of lll, which really is so important. I guess it was her personal experience, but I’ve had similar experiences at Gymboree, music class, whatever

  • Rebecca

    The hardest thing about nursing for me were the hospital forced lactation consultants. They ended up keeping my daughter for two extra days because the lactation consultants were “concerned” with her progress. She just didn’t really want to eat the first week of her life. Compared to my son who ate 4oz at a time the day he was born. Of course with him I was “overfeeding”. Never mind that I gave him half and waited 20 minutes before giving him the rest which he didn’t spit up and went happily to sleep. That’s ok. I’m just a huge idiot that can’t properly feed a baby. #3 is due in January, and I’m completely ready to tell anyone who bugs me to take a hike

    • CBB

      Ugh! I could not STAND the lactation consultant at the hospital! My milk didn’t come in for a week (emergency induction) and my poor little preemie was severely jaundiced. Despite all that, (and despite the fact that the doctors were insisting I feed him whatever he would take), she told me I was making him “lazy” by letting him bottlefeed, and kept insisting I use the (P.I.T.A.) “supplemental nursing system”.
      My poor little preemie just wouldn’t latch, but to hear this woman describe it, that was more of a character flaw than a health issue.

  • copycait

    I’m actually really confused by your story and the reactions of the commenters. I have a lot of problems with LLL for my own reasons, but your story doesn’t involve them saying or doing ANYTHING objectionable. In fact, it sounds like YOU were the one who went in there with a judgmental attitude. They didn’t say anything rude to you or about you or your baby, and they helped you when you asked. I wouldn’t have laughed at your joke either because it wasn’t really that funny (although I probably would have smiled). You call them “earth mama”s like it’s a bad thing. Why? Because it’s different from you? You can’t be friendly with a hippie just because you’re not one? I get that you felt a little singled out because your baby is half chinese (I’m guessing that the group was all white), but you could probably have defused a lot of that awkwardness by being a little more open, or speaking up when you felt that the comment about newborns looking chinese was insensitive. Anyway, I agree that in order to be good friends with any of these people you need to have something in common, but it sounds to me like your own weird insecurities got in the way of your enjoyment of a casual social hour. I’m confused as to why you need to blame somebody else for that.

    • meg

      Yeah … I basically read this article as saying:

      1) They were helpful

      2) Wearing makeup, styling your hair, etc is somehow an important factor in being a mother, and all others are objectionable.
      3) These people don’t laugh at my (kinda lame) jokes. Ergo, they’re jerks.
      4) Something about racism.

      I know a lot of people who have issues with LLL, and I’m a bit wary of them myself – for reasons more legit than “I am super socially uncomfortable and have latent hypersensitivity about my child’s ethnicity, so everyone else is mean.”

      That said, the final premise of “friendship requires more in common than motherhood” makes sense to me. Still, given that most of the people I know who question LLL do so because of their (perceived) judgmental attitudes about childrearing, isn’t this article itself ironically judgmental? (Against “earth mothers” and against particular strategies for dealing with energetic 4-year-olds?)

    • K.

      I think this is a case of the site attempting a hot title to get clicks, which unfortunately isn’t accurate for the actual content of the article. Happens a lot on Mommyish.

  • jill_sandwich

    I met a La Leche League leader one time when my daughter was just a couple of months old, outside of a meeting. I was nursing while using a nipple shield, which was 100% necessary because my daughter was unable to latch without it. LLL leader gave me all manner of shit about it and told me that my daughter didn’t need it, even though I had gotten it from an IBCLC at the hospital and it saved our nursing relationship. I tried to let her first (completely unsolicited, very rude) comment slide off, but she continued to press the issue. I don’t know if that woman was a good representation of what the group was like in my community, but that one interaction made it absolutely certain that I wouldn’t be looking up my local chapter.

  • Christine

    My mother actually warned me about LLL when I had my daughter. Her advice was “Go if you have to, if breastfeeding is really not working, but avoid at all costs if you can.” I guess her LLL lady called once a month or so until I was 3, “just to see how it’s going”. Um, I weaned two years ago, but thanks for asking?

    And I get being intimidated by earth mamas. I’m as nervous about judgment from them as I am from the Starbucks moms. The Starbucks moms are going to judge me cause my stroller cost less than $100, I have no makeup on and my kid is wearing hand-me-downs. The earth mamas are going to judge me because I’m pushing a stroller at all (instead of a sling), I’m not cosleeping, and I stopped breastfeeding at (gasp!) 13 months. I prefer the judgement from the Starbucks moms, cause at least it’s mostly directed at me, not my kid. I always get the feeling that the earth mamas think I’m raising a sociopath because I let her use a pacifier for 3 months when she was little.

    Honestly, I’m not a generally anxious person, and I don’t tend to care too much about what other moms think of me or my baby, but I totally get where this article is coming from. And I get that much of this is my baggage, but I understand how the author felt.

    • Justme

      This is an interesting perspective and I think I kind of understand where you’re coming from….the “Earth Mamas” judgment does seem more directed at your child will eventually turn out based on the parenting choices you’ve made. And clearly, if you are not making the choices they did regarding feeding, carrying, sleeping etc. then you couldn’t possibly care that much about the future of your child.

      The “Starbucks Moms” are easier to ignore because I truly don’t care about having an expensive stroller or the most high-end clothes for my child…..neither of which will impact the type of person my child will grow to be. The judgment doesn’t seem as personal, I suppose.

      I like your viewpoint.

    • Christine

      Thanks! I like it too!

      I try to look at it as a matter of priorities. Some people take it really seriously that they breastfed forever or that they carry their baby around in a sling. I’m pretty committed to mostly gender neutral toys and having my kid in bed at a reasonable hour, but other things I’m willing to let slide. The funny thing is, I did breastfeed for a long time, we co-slept for 5 months or so, I used a sling for almost a year. But I didn’t do those things because of some theory that doing anything else is going to ruin my child, I did them because they worked for us.

      I just wish we all weren’t so quick to judge each other. I’ve felt it from both sides, and I could really do without it.

    • Justme

      I know my in-laws think I’m a toy dictator because one of my priorities is no electronic toys that do things FOR my child, if that makes sense. I’d much rather prefer puzzles, books, dolls, blocks, Legos and other things that can spark her creativity. But I see so many of my students that rely so much on their electronic gadgets to do the thinking for them.

      My sister-in-law is a LLL member and an AP parent all the way. She once told me that my friend (this was many years before I had a child) didn’t “try hard enough” to breastfeed her child and that my oldest brother (her husband) could have been MUCH smarter than the genius that he already is if my mother had breastfed him. And then there were the spiteful comments about her friends keeping their children in cages (also known as a crib) and carrying them in buckets (or carriers). Yikes. Needless to say, those comments left a searing impression on me as I entered pregnancy and motherhood.

    • Tinyfaeri

      dude, if that’s the same one from the other post, your SIL’s a little nutso on the “everything relating to birth, babies and children” front, huh?

    • Justme

      Yep. That’s me. She also refuses to discipline her children but instead tries to “redirect them with love and compassion.” And then complains when the older children do not comply with her instructions and are not obedient.

      Needless to say, being around my brother, his wife and their children is stressful and chaotic.

      It’s sad, really. I used to have a wonderful relationship with my brother but unfortunately his wife and her nuttiness has really put a strain on our family get-togethers.

  • SammyMama

    I don’t even see the point of putting LLL’s name on this article, as this situation you are describing could have happened in any mom’s group. Most mom’s groups have some “common thread” theme, ie breastfeeding, attachment parenting, working mothers, stay at home mothers, homeschooling mothers, etc. Like everyone else you encounter in life, just because you have one thing in common with someone, it does not mean you will automatically be besties with the same style, sense of humor or sensitivity level. Bringing the LLL name into it just seems like an attempt to sensationalize your article. That’s a shame, because there is a lot of misconception out there about the organization, which at its base has a really, really wonderful mission statement: to support a mother’s nursing goals WHATEVER THEY MAY BE. Ie not a required minimum of 5 years or other such rumored nonsense: if a mom wants to nurse for 3 days or 3 weeks or 3 months, LLL can help you. The leaders are all volunteers; those women did not have to be spending their time answering your breastfeeding questions (as they do at meetings, phone calls – most of them late at night, or home visits), but they chose to do so because they are passionate about helping other mothers. And I assure you, leaders spam the gamut in terms of style, political/religious affiliation, parenting choices, etc. They are instructed to remain as neutral as possible in attempt to be seen as approachable by ALL mothers. They have one meeting’s worth to make an impression that leads you to trust them, and to share as much information and education as they think would be helpful to you. It is no small feat, and requires quite a bit of training. I’m sorry that you didn’t have an ideal experience at your one meeting, but, frankly, it sounds like it has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that it was hosted by LLL.

    And to any other mothers who do not have a good experience there, it does not make sense to judge the entire organization by one encounter with one leader that doesn’t fit your exact ideal. (That would be like getting one bad haircut and deciding never to get your hair cut again, no?) Try another local chapter, or look on the website to see how many different leaders they have in that group, call and ask when the others will be there, or just call them with your questions. Last, the majority of mothers who attend LLL are not actually members, they just pop in and out. There may be some “regulars”, but it’s usually only for a short amount of time. Just one more reason not to assume that you would never, ever have anything in common with anyone at a meeting.

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  • mom2three

    Wow – you thought all the other moms were judging you – but the only person I know for sure was doing the judging was you! You don’t know what those other mothers were thinking – but you shared exactly what you were thinking and those thoughts just painted you as a judgemental bitch! You judged people on their looks, the way they parented their child, the way they dressed their child – all while being worried you were being judged by them – why even share this post???? Narcistic much??

  • Emi

    Wow! So I take it a lot of these aggressive comments are “earth mamas” hiding behind computers? first let me apologize of the wording is wrong on this or capitalization, punctuation is off, etc. on a phone. I totally relate with you. I never made it to a lll meeting because my lo was born around a holiday . I found your article comforting in a way. I actually called, emailed, and facebooked my local lll and I got several emails . hi uge emails. with books to read videos to watch. I had a newborn! who has time for that? I ended up stopping bf right before we found out my lo had an undiagnosed cracked collar bone. that’s why he cries when I tried to feed him. I know my situation isn’t yours but I fins it very upsetting how so many people push to bf before pregnancy is over and I tried for an entire month to get lll the local laxttation consultants to help and not one single person would come to my home and help me. ….even though they all swore up and down they would help before and did nothing afterm I found other bf Moms tell me they wouldn’t hep. it’s something youbjabe to do on you own….
    the hole bf in america is messes up in my opinion. those who want help can’t get it and those who don’t do it are criticized. those who do it are judged for doing it in public. its all just messed up and I’m not sire I will even try with my 3rd child.

    • Prudence Dagg

      I’m sorry, Emi. I had a consultant affiliated with my midwives come help me (though the natural birth, itself, did not work out), which was helpful. Perhaps The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding will be helpful also. I hope that the next time goes better for you and that your little one is feeling better.