Tag Archives | 10th Step

Making Connections: Serendipity + Opportunity + a Few Lily Pads

As a follow-up to Tuesday’s post about mother-to-mother support, we asked Melissa Vickers to share about how she came to be a co-editor with Dr. Virginia Thorley on this project.

By Melissa Clark Vickers, MEd, IBCLC

Try something with me…. Instead of looking ahead to where you’re heading next, turn around and look where you’ve come. How did you get to this point in time and space? Was it following a path you’d planned years ago, or did your actual path diverge? I suspect that few of us decided as young children, “When I grow up, I want to be an IBCLC!”

I decided early that I would be a teacher, and I did teach for five years. And then I had babies, discovered breastfeeding and La Leche League, and earned my IBCLC. I was still teaching – not in a classroom but in mothers’ homes. And, I’d added something else to my life, just as unexpected (to me) as becoming a mother-to-mother breastfeeding supporter: writing. And THAT has led to even more surprising opportunities.

My career path was no longer linear, neatly mapped out by college degrees and traditional job settings. My new path began to resemble the frog that happily jumps from one lily pad  to the next, combining opportunity with a little faith that the pad will hold her up and point her to the next interesting pad.

Writing for various La Leche League International (LLLI) publications led me to working with Rebecca Magalhães, former LLLI Director of External Affairs and LLLI’s link to World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). Rebecca would periodically call me and say, “Hey, Melissa! How would you like to do this project?” I worked with Rebecca and others on the 2008 WABA World Breastfeeding Week Action folder, and that led to a booklet for WABA, Mother Support for Breastfeeding: Selected Statements and Excerpts about Mother Support in Key International Documents. Rebecca and Paulina Smith (another LLL Leader with WABA ties) and I worked as a team to create this document.

Meanwhile, on a lily pad not too far away, I was working on another serendipitous opportunity – I had the honor of working with Marian Tompson, LLL Co-Founder, to co-author her memoir, Passionate Journey – My Unexpected Life. I had never written a book before, but Marian was willing to take a chance on my eagerness to help tell her amazing life story. As that two year project came to a close, Rebecca was poised on the next lily pad, pointing this frog to her next opportunity.

Australian IBCLC, Virginia Thorley, had an idea for a book about mother support for breastfeeding that would include chapters written by authors around the world. She wanted help and asked Rebecca and Paulina if they would be interested. Rebecca recommended me as a possible co-editor.

I might have heard of Virginia on Lactnet, but I doubt that she’d ever heard of me. In any case, neither of us had a clue what working together on such an undertaking might be like. But we both trusted Rebecca’s faith in the other’s abilities, and we were both willing to make that leap to the next lily pad.

It’s interesting working on a project of this magnitude with someone you’ve never met before, and would only get to know through email. Thankfully, we hit it off, and despite working half a world away from each other, had just a few hours each day that we could both be at our computers. We shared our lives and the chapters we authored, and traded off editing the 18 chapters from authors around the world—some of them written by those for whom English was a second language. We plugged away at the task, despite very busy individual lives. We learned from each other and from each of our chapter authors, and collectively we created a tapestry of mother support, The 10th Step and Beyond: Mother Support for Breastfeeding.

From Chapter 1: Why Breastfeeding Women Need Mother Support –

When mothers are adequately supported to breastfeed, everyone−the baby, the mother, the family, the community−benefits. This kind of support, coming from many different facets of society, helps move us toward breastfeeding as the cultural norm and weaves a tapestry of support. Tapestries are both beautiful and strong, and the beauty and strength come from the diversity of types of support interwoven together. While any form of support can help a mother breastfeed her child, the synergistic effect of the tapestry makes it easier on that mother, empowering her to support other mothers. Ted Greiner has stated this idea succinctly:

Anything done by anyone on behalf of making the world a better place where breastfeeding works better for mothers and babies is doing a great service. It may seem small, but it all really adds up.

I’d like to think that through our book Virginia and I (and our chapter authors) have taken a few of those small steps (or lily pad leaps) to making the world a place where breastfeeding works better for mothers and babies.

Melissa Clark Vickers traded a career as a biology teacher to become mom, IBCLC, and writer. She also works as the IMPACT (Improving Maternal and Child Health Policies so All Children Thrive) Project Coordinator for Family Voices, a U.S. organization dedicated to family-centered care and advocacy for families with children with special health care needs.


The 10th Step and Beyond: Mother Support for Breastfeeding

By Virginia Thorley, OAM, PhD, IBCLC, FILCA

Mother support for breastfeeding has been my passion for more years that I care to admit, starting when Marian Tompson, La Leche League’s first president, provided me with the confidence and encouragement to reverse iatrogenic lactation failure and successfully breastfeed my first daughter. At the time, I was living in remote north-west Queensland and Marian was in Chicago, the other side of the world. There was no email or Skype, international calls were prohibitively expensive, and we did not have easy telephone access. So contact was by letter, supported by printed material – a newspaper reprint, “Mother’s milk saves baby”, and the LLL book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, which arrived in the nick of time.

After writing and speaking on mother support groups over the years, the logical next step was a book of information on old and new ways of providing this support, drawing on experience from round the world. Finding the right co-editor was important, and friends in WABA recommended Melissa Vickers. What an inspired recommendation! Melissa was the ideal collaborator, with professionalism and heart, and we thought alike in so many ways. It has been a joy to work with her. We also had a small support team who acted as a sounding board – Rebecca Magalhaes (USA), Sarah Amin (Malaysia) and Paulina Smith (Mexico).

The resultant book, The 10th Step and Beyond: Mother Support for Breastfeeding,
describes a range of ways to support mothers to continue breastfeeding after they leave
the maternity hospital. While mother support for breastfeeding is the 10th Step of the Ten
Steps for Successful Breastfeeding, which hospitals must fulfill in order to be accredited
as Baby Friendly, the chapter authors of this book go beyond this to look at mother support in a wider context.

Melissa and I have brought together experienced people from five continents to describe
what is being done to support mothers to breastfeed in different situations and cultures.

Some chapters describe traditional mother-to-mother groups such a La Leche League,
the Australian Breastfeeding Association and the Scandinavian and Malaysian groups.
Others describe innovative approaches to mother support through the use of new
technology such as text messaging (MumBubConnect), a peer counsellor program in a
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, groups for mothers of multiples, and the Baby Café drop-
in centres. Other authors describe how peer counselling programs have been developed
in a variety of settings, for example in Bangladesh, India, Paraguay and South Africa,
occasionally with male breastfeeding peer counsellors as part of the team. Steps to
encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the recommended six months, and breastfeeding
with complementary foods thereafter, are described by some of the authors. Finally, the
authors discuss why good programs fail and what is needed for sustainability.

Mother support is not only about providing a mother-to-mother breastfeeding support
group or a peer counsellor program, but it is something the whole community can be
involved in. This book provides ideas to get you and your workplace or community
started. The intended audience is hospitals, departments of health, non-government
organizations, BFHI committees at hospital, state and national level round the world,
and individual health workers and policy makers whose work involves the breastfeeding
mother and her baby.

The editors have donated their royalties to support the work of the World
Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA).

“The 10th Step and Beyond is about supporting the mothers. Virginia Thorley and Melissa Clark Vickers have brought together a truly remarkable mix of 26 people, a team that reflects both the global character of the issue, as well as its multidimensional nature.”
-Professor Anwar Fazal, Chairperson Emeritus, WABA

How has mother-to-mother support impacted your breastfeeding relationship?

*** Watch this space on Thursday for a follow-up piece by Dr. Thorley’s co-editor, Melissa Vickers on the power of making connections. ***

Dr. Virginia Thorley has been involved in the breastfeeding field since qualifying as a breastfeeding counselor in 1966 with both La Leche League and the Australian Breastfeeding Association (then the Nursing Mothers’ Association). She certified as an IBCLC in 1985 and remains certified. She was inducted as a Fellow of the International Lactation Consultant Association (FILCA) in 2008. She is on the Board of Directors of the Lactation Consultants of Australia & New Zealand (LCANZ). A cultural historian of the history of medicine, she holds two research high degrees in History (MA and PhD) and has many publications


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