Selkie asks today about the health of LLL as an organization: "LLL is having a hard time, they say. Memberships are down; Leaders are retiring without being replaced. I'm curious about why."
In the interest of full disclosure, I became an LLL Leader just recently.
We were just talking about this issue at our last chapter meeting. Several leaders have retired or want to retire, and there are no new prospects to take their places. Because of the lack of involvement, we might have to fold our only evening meeting because there is no one to run it. This is killing us. We hate to do it, but it's starting to look like we have no choice.
Meeting attendance and memberships are fairly healthy, but interest in leadership is way down. A few people who would have been very good leaders decided not go for it because it was too much work, or the responsibilities would take too much time. Some were in school or working part time, which would have complicated to approval process a bit.
The third reason is something I lay at the feet of the organization. There are many mothers who would be good leaders who value their breastfeeding relationship with their children, but also want or need to work or go to school. As fewer mothers stay home all through their childrens' early years, as more work out creative plans and step in and out of the working world while valuing and maintaining a strong breastfeeding connection to their kids, there are less people to become leaders. The landscape of motherhood is changing, staying home is not the option it once was. People who are in the upper levels of LLL sometimes have old ideas about working mothers. Organizations don't change when people abandon them to old rules and stagnation, they change when there is new energy. This is why I became a leader, to lend new energy to a valuable organization, to help it grow and change with the times.
One of the things that bothers me the most is that the public perception of LLL prevent people from going to meetings or being involved. I see it all the time in the blogosphere, people maligning LLL Leaders as part of a conspiracy to make them feel bad about their mothering, a kind of monolithic band of judgement. Trust me, at least where I am, there is no grand conspiracy. We are volunteers. We are far more concerned about getting the meeting notice out on time than making you feel bad for your choices.
I had this idea of LLL before I went to my first meeting: I thought they'd judge me for putting my kid in clothes from the Gap and disposable diapers, or for wearing make-up and shaving. I'm sure there are meetings where the crunchy olympics are alive and well, but I haven't seen it at our meeting. Leaders are trained to stay above the fray on everything but the mechanics of breastfeeding, and we are responsible for keeping the formal meeting on topic and out of any gray areas (like vaccination or vegetarianism). We can't control whatever judgement starts flying after the meeting.
LLL is far from monolithic. Every meeting is different. Our meeting is very relaxed, very mainstream looking. We don't do a lot of evangelical prosletyzing, in fact, we go out of our way to avoid it. Go fifty miles west and you'll get a very different kind of meeting. The flavor of the meetings is mostly determined by the mothers who attend, not so much by the leaders. Philadelphia is a very liberal city in some ways, and very conservative in others. We don't have a lot of Christian homeschoolers who come to our meeting, and we don't get the wild hippie unschoolers either.
We are committed to getting correct information about breastfeeding to women who need it. Some may interpret that as judgement. What can I say? Mammary glands are designed to function in a certain way. A small percentage of people's mammary glands, just like some people's thyroids or pancreases, don't work they way they should. It's not a judgement, it's just a fact.
When we tell you that regularly giving a two week old a bottle of formula at night can have a negative affect on a milk supply that is not yet fully established, we are not judging your need to sleep. We are telling you because you should know what the possible consequences of your actions might be when you disrupt the regular funtioning of these glands. Because, too many times, we heard "Why is this happening? Nobody told me this would happen!" when the supply takes a plunge and breastfeeding fails. You can manipulate the function of these glands to a certain extent, and that limit is different for everyone. We can only make sure you are informed.