06 JunThe Accidental Lactation Teacher – From housewife/mother to airline secretary, to student to nurse to practitoner to teacher


I am going to start my blog with how I got started on the road to lactation teacher.  I call myself “the accidental lactation teacher”.   I’ll go into more detail in other posts, but this is roughlyhow it came about. For those of you who like biographies as I do, the shaping of the blogger is defined here.  I’ll have to post it in several sections, though, as its turned out longer than I planned.  




 I was born in Portland, Maine in the early 40’s and my mother breastfed me for 7 months.  The way she told it, the Naval doctor insisted all the Navy wives breastfeed their babies.  At age 2, my family deployed to Trinidad during WW II.  Mothering was different in Trinidad.  Everyone breastfed and it was all I saw when I saw babies carried on their mother’s hips and breastfeeding all over the island.


Once back to the US, my Mom breastfed my 5 siblings.  At 16, I was sent to my aunt’s dairy farm in Minnesota to help her with unexpected twins born in the middle of summer haying season.  You city dwellers won’t know what a crisis that was for a farmer’s wife.  Needless to say my job was to make their formula from scratch, sterilize bottles, do the bottle feeds 24/7, wash the diapers and bake noon pies for the big meal for all the farm hands. My Aunt had to milk the cows, feed the chickens, do the laundry and make the huge noon meal for the farm hands.  I learned two things:  (1) bottle feeding formula was A LOT OF WORK! Work that I never saw my Mom have to do and (2) I can’t make good pie dough!  I came home from that summer exhausted with a decision that any babies I had would be breastfed. I now buy ready-made pie dough.


After reading Tom Dooley’s biography in junior high school, I wanted to be a doctor, and work with the indigent in another country, improving their health.  My grades were average and it wasn’t until my first year of college that it was discovered I had a learning disability.  I was enrolled in pre-med at University of Illinois and since I was on grade probation, they had me take a career aptitude test.  Now this was in the early 1960’s. It was common to steer young women to either grade school teacher, nurse, secretary, airline stewardess or housewife, certainly not medicine!  They told me the testing said I would make a fine teacher.  I was infuriated, took a heavy load of pre-med classes the next semester as a challenge, failed miserably, left school, got married & had my first baby…ending up……… a housewife.


While pregnant with my first baby, the doctor asked if I planned to bottle feed or breastfeed.  I remember thinking “what a strange question, breastfeeding was so much easier.”  I wanted a natural childbirth after reading Grantly Dick Reed’s book.  You know the one that says “animals don’t make noise in labor.”   I was doing a fine job of it too in the hospital  labor room when a nurse came in, told me she was going to give me a shot and before I could finish my sentence of “No, I don’t want……. it” I was knocked out by whatever she gave me.  I woke up having missed the whole birth.  I was angry and didn’t get to meet my daughter until the next day!


The nurse brought her in swaddled and while holding my child possessively she asked how old I was.  I told her, “twenty” and as she handed me my baby she said, “You’re too young to have any milk.”  She also gave me instructions NOT to unswaddle my child and left the room.  Again, I was mad.


Baby Heather and I figured breastfeeding out on our own in that room.  At discharge this same nurse handed ME a six pack of formula and gave my husband our baby.  I tried to give the formula back telling her I was breastfeeding and she said, “Don’t you starve your baby!”   I left the hospital mad and determined to breastfeed.


Once home I had sore nipples for two months and Heather had poor weight gain because she threw up every feeding.  I had a ton of milk so I just kept feeding her and she’d throw up and I’d feed her more and this went on round the clock.  I was determined to make breastfeeding work because the nurse made me angry.


 The doctor diagnosed Heather with pyloric spasms and joked about how tired I looked.  He said, “You must be exhausted having to sterilize all those bottles.”   “Bottles?” I asked him, “What bottles?  I’m breastfeeding.”


“Where are you getting all that milk?” he asked staring at my average sized breasts.  In the early 1960’s the prevailing opinion was to feed breastfed babies every four hours because it took four hours for the breast to build up and store enough milk to dump on the baby at feeding time.  What did I know?  I just fed her again right after she threw up. We know differently now.


The doctor prescribed Phenobarbital medication to relax Heather’s stomach valve, the vomiting stopped and she began to gain weight.  But I got engorged with the previous overproduction need eliminated and my nipples were very sore. I called my Mom for help but since she never had any problems breastfeeding so she had no idea what to do.  She did have some helpful advice though; she suggested I call La Leche League (LLL).  But I hesitated.  I didn’t want to bother those nice ladies.  Wasn’t it a club for happily nursing moms?  And I was still mad at that nurse so, being determined to succeed at breastfeeding without starving my baby, I waited until Heather had gained weight and the nipples stopped hurting before I went to a LLL meeting.


It was there I learned they could have and happily would have helped me.  Watching a two-year old climb onto the lap of the woman sitting next to me, unbutton her mother’s blouse & start nursing reminded me so strongly of my childhood in Trinidad where such natural parenting abounded.  I was hooked and went to many meetings.  Then in 1964, after the birth of my second child, I became a LLL leader and enjoyed helping moms over the phone and at meetings.  I found wonderful friendships that last to this day.  I loved it so much that when a nurse in the Watts Health Clinic (in one of the very poor areas South of downtown Los Angeles) called and ask if there was someone to come and do a LLL group amongst their predominantly African American mothers in the clinic, I immediately volunteered.   Perhaps it was the reminded comfort zone of being in Trinidad as a child, but I loved that group of women.  I loved their spirit and I learned so much about the challenges they faced and made wonderful friends.  Thus began the Inner City Project in Los Angeles.  I am told that it was the first peer counseling program in the US.  The project was funded by Dr. Lucy Rockefeller Waletsky and enabled woman all over the city to access LLL Leaders and mothers outside of their neighborhoods by telephone through an answering service.


One Response to “The Accidental Lactation Teacher – From housewife/mother to airline secretary, to student to nurse to practitoner to teacher”

  1. Flor Chavarria says:

    Great reading Kitty! and thanks to your dedication my baby son was also ‘saved’ from those doctors who “mandated” I took him off the breast and that is when I reached out to LLL and blessed be the day I met you.
    Your work and encouragement has been so positive in my life alone, I cannot even fathom the number of women and babies you have touched.
    You have my greatest respect and I thank you

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