Honoring Our ILCA Community: An Interview with Roberta Graham de Escobedo

Roberta Interview

Everything that we accomplish at the International Lactation Consultant Association® (ILCA®) is the result of your support. From your membership to your participation in educational offerings to your volunteer time, your engagement with ILCA is what makes your organization able to impact worldwide health through skilled breastfeeding support. At Lactation Matters, we would like to take a moment to honor some of the truly exceptional volunteers who have dedicated countless hours to ILCA and the profession. Today, we are honoring Roberta Graham de Escobedo, BA, IBCLC, FILCA, for her many years of service to our community. We interviewed her so you could learn more about her amazing work.

Lactation Matters (LM): Roberta, you have lived in Mexico for many years. Tell us about how you came to Mexico and the state of breastfeeding in your country today.

Roberta Graham de Escobedo (RGdE): I live and work in the million+ capital city of Merida, on the Yucatan Peninsula, surrounded by Mayan ruins and people who still speak the Mayan language. I am the lone IBCLC® [International Board Certified Lactation Consultant®].

I am originally from the Chicago area. When I was 20, I spent six months in Mexico enrolled at a Mexican university, working on my Spanish-language skills and doing community service for my faith. On a visit to Merida, Yucatan, I met a charming young nineteen-year-old fellow named Alfonso. As the saying goes, “the rest is history.” We have two grown children and one grandson.

In the 1990s, my IBCLC colleagues described Mexico as “baby friendly heaven.” More than 700 public sector hospitals were BFHI [Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative] certified. However, a lack of coordinated government programs and the enormous presence of the formula industry has impacted the breastfeeding rates. Sadly, we now occupy the lowest breastfeeding rates in all of Latin America, with a pathetic 14.6% exclusive breastfeeding at 6 months, tied only with the Dominican Republic.

Needless to say, there is a lot of work cut out for the healthcare community in Mexico, including the small but enthusiastic IBCLC community.

LM: How did you become an IBCLC and what is your role in the lactation community today?

RGdE: In 1979, six years prior to the birth of the IBCLC profession and ILCA, I was invited by a local pro-breastfeeding pediatrician to encourage the mothers of his newborn patients to breastfeed. At the same time, a natural childbirth center asked me to teach a prenatal class on breastfeeding.

Looking back now after 20+ years as an IBCLC, I laugh to myself, wondering what in heavens I had taught them. Nevertheless, knowing something is better than nothing, so I suppose, in some small way, my humble class served to encourage expectant mothers to initiate their breastfeeding experience[s].

Living in an isolated bubble in Yucatan, Mexico—prior to faxes, internet, and texting—I had no knowledge of ILCA or the IBLCE certification process until 1995. Once I connected to the worldwide lactation community, I had found my home. Private practice is my work setting, along with teaching at local universities and promoting worksite lactation programs.

LM: What calls you to lactation work?

RGdE: Having enjoyed the breastfeeding experience of my own two children, the natural next step is to wish others might also delight in this amazing relationship that develops between a parent and her infant, and between partners as they watch with wonder how the simple act of providing nourishment can have such a far-reaching and positive effect in the overall wellbeing of their offspring.

Attaining the IBCLC credential opens up a broad spectrum of avenues, each offering opportunities to make a difference in lives, both individually family by family, and also on a larger scale through public health programs both nationally and internationally.

LM: You have been deeply committed to expanding ILCA’s international reach. Tell us about your proudest accomplishment at ILCA.

Roberta picRGdE: The “I” in ILCA was more of a lowercase iLCA when I became a member in 1995, at the time of ILCA’s tenth anniversary. International membership was extremely low.

When I joined the ILCA Board of Directors in 2007 as Director of Membership, we had a program called the ILCA Sisters Program, which provided scholarships for members in need, but it was not very well known. Happily, during my eight years of service on the ILCA Board, we changed it to the ILCA Partner Program [eds. note: not to be confused with the new ILCA Global Partners Initiative]. It grew in size and presence, bringing into the ILCA community a greater diversity of members from countries where joining ILCA was truly an economic hardship.

Happily, last year the ILCA board wisely revised the cost of membership for those individuals living in economies where the yearly salary makes joining ILCA all but impossible. The new adjusted scale has made the previous ILCA Partner Program obsolete and opened the door for a greater international membership. After eight years of service on the ILCA board, the “I” in ILCA is now a capital “I”, indeed.

Serving on an international board is a wonderful opportunity for personal and professional growth, and now much of what was learned is being channeled into a new area of service as president of the newly founded ACCLAM (Association of Certified Lactation Consultants of Mexico). We have about 30 IBCLCs in Mexico, a drop in the bucket for a country so large. ACCLAM’s status as an ILCA Partner organization helps us to feel connected to the worldwide lactation community and gives us the encouragement we need to make a difference in our national setting. For me, to feel what I do as an IBCLC makes a difference is the greatest payback of all!

7 Responses to Honoring Our ILCA Community: An Interview with Roberta Graham de Escobedo

  1. Cathy Carothers 27 May 2016 at 07:32 #

    Thank you so much for your incredible service to ILCA and the profession as a whole, Roberta.. As ILCA’s Membership Director you were a wonderful ambassador to the world, engaging the international community and helping everyone to feel excited about our future. Best to you and all of the wonderful new members of ACCLAM. A “drop in a bucket” can grow to a country-wide movement, and I’m sure your leadership will make the difference!

  2. joyheads 27 May 2016 at 20:05 #

    CHEERS to Roberta, I enjoyed working with you on the ILCA Board. Something about you I shall never forget…………. and you forgot to mention…………… is your wonderful singing and your passion for Tim Tams.

  3. ECBrooks 28 May 2016 at 06:31 #

    What a lovely blog piece about a warm and wonderful IBCLC, ILCA Cheerleader, and all-around-good person. The families you help everyday surely bask in the glow of your eternally sunny personality. The IBCLC profession, ILCA, Merida, and the breastfeeding world, are better for your works and presence!

  4. Dr Virginia Thorley 1 June 2016 at 01:20 #

    Roberta, you have done so much for ILCA, for the profession, and for mothers and babies and health professionals in your local area. You have for many years offered us all your passion for breastfeeding, for internationality, for using your bi-lingual skills to translate materials, in your warm and genuine way. Thank you!

  5. Cindi Freeman 1 June 2016 at 13:50 #

    Years ago, at a ILCA conference session, the presenter invited us to close our eyes and imagine the lactation consultant we would like to be as if we were a struggling new mother. Roberta immediately popped into my head! She has all the qualities of softness, warmth, reassurance, encouragement, knowledge and wisdom that I hope to have in my role as an IBCLC. Roberta, thank you for all you’ve done to help mothers and to make our profession the best it can be. You remind me that our connection to others in our field is important and that we need to be cheerleaders for each other. Thanks for all your work!

  6. Nancy Harmon 1 June 2016 at 22:19 #

    Bless you Roberta; you are an inspiration to us all. Not only have you done wonders for ILCA over the years but you bring joy and laughter where ever you go. I can remember fondly as you mastered the art of eating lobster aboard a boat in Shediac, New Brunswick (CLCA 2013).

  7. Linda Caiger 8 November 2016 at 09:40 #

    Roberta, we don’t now each other, but I so enjoyed reading your story. I can relate to being the “only” one. I live in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands and am the only practicing IBCLC in this area of the Caribbean. The islands are primarily a bottle culture and it’s a definite upward struggle to get the word out that one, it’s NOT supposed to hurt, and two, yes, you do have milk! Hearing your story keeps me working on my story. Thank you.
    Linda Caiger, RN, BSN, IBCLC,CCE

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