La Leche League: Beijing

So yesterday I went to my first La Leche League meeting here in Beijing. It was just around the corner from my house at a local hospital and so I walked there. The English meeting is held on the last Friday afternoon of every month from 1:30-3:30pm. I went alone.

When I arrived, there were only five other women in the room, all foreigners, and two with babies. Another woman looked about as pregnant as I am. Later, two more women arrived, each with very little babies strapped to their bodies.

“La Leche” means “milk” in Spanish. This league was founded in 1956 by seven women in Franklin Park, IL (just outside of Chicago) as a support group for women who wanted to breasfeed their babies. At the time, it was illegal to have the word “breast” in print and so they chose “La Leche League” to name their organization and thus were able to get the word out about their mission, which states:

“Our Mission is to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.”

I watched this YouTube clip about their 50th anniversary in 2007 after going to the meeting yesterday and I while I was watching it, I felt more and more overwhelmed with the power of Motherhood, our female bodies, and the righteousness of our natural instincts to feed our young. I found the report really moving.

The documentary states that there are “roughly 3000 La Leche groups in 67 countries,” and I’m so happy that China is one of them!

So when I entered the room, I was greeted shyly by Brigit, whom I later discerned was going to lead the group. She expressed that she was not yet certified to do so, so she was only casually going to be a leader figure and couldn’t speak directly on behalf of La Leche as an organization. She seemed shy about this but I was impressed by the fact that the organization has these kinds of standards and expectations of leaders. Here I had thought that I was simply going to a casual breastfeeding support group, but now I’ve learned that LLL has international guidelines about how to support women effectively. It further legitimized the organization in my eyes.

I was the only Mother in the room who has yet to give birth and so I did more listening than talking. The other pregnant woman (who is also in her 30th week!) is already the Mother of a 3-year old boy. Altogether, we were from five different countries and all had something to share about different international practices that both aligned with and contradicted the Chinese attitudes towards breastfeeding and parenting in general.

At the tail end of the meeting, I had a chance to discuss my breast exam from last week when the doctor kneaded my breast like wall-mounted loaves of bread and then tugged at my nipples. What I didn’t mention in my last blog was how this “breast specialist” at our hospital told me that my nipples were quite small and that I may have difficulty breastfeeding. I explained to her then that my breasts have grown to be four or five times their original size but that my nipples have not grown accordingly, so that might be why they seem small. The woman at the hospital, however, wasn’t the most positive of practitioners and I left that office irritated with her negative rather than encouraging approach. Why tell a woman that they may have problems? Why not offer as optimistic an outlook as possible?

This cold-water dose of so-called “reality” is a Chinese thing that often infuriates me in my relationship with my partner, not to mention my relationship with my in-laws. It’s the tendency to highlight the worst possible outcome and to prioritize preparing for it, while, in my mind, focusing on the best possible outcome is more likely to energetically enable it to turn out well! I know this is a cultural difference and I should not take it personally, but defenses are always down when we’re naked!

The women at the La Leche League meeting were amazing. They explained that nipples that are too large are really difficult for infant’s mouths to grab onto, especially since the muscles in their mouths have yet to fully develop when they’re first born. They also explained that it’s not just the nipple that an infant takes into his or her mouth; it’s also most of the ariola.

Their encouraging words swept aside any residual worries that the hospital had left in my ears from that brief exam and told me about how to seek support in the first few weeks after giving birth from both this group directly and from Beijing’s few but reputable breastfeeding experts. They were wonderful.

I am so glad that I asked that question because I left the meeting feeling so much more positive and grateful.

On the second Saturday or every month, the Chinese group meets in the mornings in the same location. I’d really like to attend with Guo Jian. Apparently, few men attend these things but I’d really like him there so that he can hear the vocabulary and further understand the ethics and importance of breast feeding our child. He seems hesitant about going to a meeting designed for women but I’ll convince him.

You see, I also need the vocabulary in Chinese. I admit that I have an irrational fear that I’ll have difficulties breastfeeding and that my mother-in-law will swoop in and take the baby away and bottle feed him or her before I have a chance to contest. I want to be able to stand my ground and keep trying to make it work. I will need both the English language and the Chinese language support network to do that if I do have any problems.

But, optimism and positivity are of utmost importance! It will be fine! My nipples will be the perfect size for Little Spark! All will be well!!

I walked home after the meeting with the October sun warming my face and my spirits lifted. A room full of strong, intelligent, caring, resourceful women will do that for a woman who’s PREGGERS IN CHINA!


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