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The Making of a Mother

Amy with her cousin, Rachel

Amy Nelson, Yankton, South Dakota

I physically became a mother nearly 18 years ago when my oldest daughter was born. Yet the mother I am today is nothing like the unsure 22-year-old I was when I first held that not-quite seven-pound bundle in my arms. The mother I am today is thanks to the many mothers who have graced my life over the years, who have demonstrated love and patience and gentleness and strength as they mother their own children. Above all, they are glorious examples of La Leche League’s purpose, which states, in part: “As a woman grows in mothering she grows as a human being, and every other role she may fill in her lifetime is enriched by the insights and humanity she brings to it from her experiences as a mother.”

Less than a year before I became a mother, my cousin Rachel had her first child. I remember visiting her and listening to her describe her nights of frequent waking and feedings and her struggles to help her so very tiny son gain weight and solidify their breastfeeding relationship. I didn’t realize at the time that I had my first breastfeeding advocate standing in my corner. I also didn’t realize yet the importance of a community of breastfeeding mothers being available to encourage and support each other in the early years.

It was my friend Amy who nudged me along the path to find a community of breastfeeding mothers who would be there for me in the early weeks and months as I learned it was okay – no, perfectly normal – that my daughter wanted to be in my arms rather than in a swing; that she wanted to be at the breast much more frequently than the “every three to four hours” that I read about while pregnant. Amy breezed into the hospital room after my daughter was born, bearing a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. She displayed such confidence as she cuddled her happy, smiling son that I knew I was headed in the right direction.

It wasn’t until a couple months later than I attended my first League meeting (invited by Amy, of course) and met a group that would prove to be my biggest support network in the first couple years of motherhood. My support network also extended across the world, as I became involved with an online group of mothers who were always willing to share their experiences and ideas any time of the day.

As my oldest entered the toddler years, my circle of mothers shifted due to a move to a new city. There I met Sara, whose daughter was just a few months older than my daughter. Together we learned about the joys and challenges of nursing toddlers, leaning on each other when we otherwise would have felt so alone. There were challenges that Sara faced with her daughter than I didn’t with mine—severe food allergies and related behavior challenges such as biting and hitting other children—but I learned so much watching her as she mothered her daughter during those difficult months. I saw her begin again each day, facing the same challenges without knowing when it would get easier, taking deep breaths and speaking in a calm voice when I know she probably sometimes felt like joining her daughter on the floor kicking and screaming.

The Nelson Family

As my daughter turned three, we welcomed a son and experienced another move. By this time, I was a La Leche League Leader and had started up a Group in my own town and was meeting more and more mothers. My cohort during these years as my family grew (eventually adding two more daughters) was a woman who was close in age to my own mother. She was a fellow Leader in a nearby town and, despite having to travel a half hour as well as juggling a full-time job, would attend almost every meeting. Karen’s enthusiasm was contagious. She arrived at each meeting with a warm smile, open arms, and a basket of goodies. All of Karen’s children – except for one – were grown and out of the house. Karen’s youngest was still in high school. She accompanied Karen to nearly every meeting and exuded the same enthusiasm and joy as Karen. Over the years, I saw how Karen met the challenges facing her daughter with an optimism that has carried over to me as I’ve faced challenges with my own children. I’ve been reminded over and over again to meet my children where they are rather than to compare them to other children. As I heard (and said) over and over at La Leche League meetings, “You are the expert on your child.”

Through it all, my own mother has been by my side. She is always supportive and encouraging. While I’ve made choices in my mothering that have differed from the choices she made, never once did I hear criticism. She understood from the start that motherhood is a journey that I needed to make, not on my own, but my own. For that, and for the opportunity to share this journey of motherhood with so many others, I am forever grateful.