Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Guest Post: Our Lady of La Leche Shows the Way

Last month was the Feast of Our Lady of La Leche.  One of the Batch 3 LATCH Peer Counselors, Bianca Gutierrez became involved with the movement just as she was undergoing her training.   Since then, she has been quite active in the movement and in fact has organized another activity - "The Mother's Way," A Pilgrimage by Mothers and Mothers-to-Be held last 10 December 2011.  Her story on how she became involved in the movement is inspiring and it also paved the way for her to decide to proceed with the LATCH training and become a full-fledged peer counselor.  Read on.


Good afternoon brothers and sisters, and fellow mothers, believers of Our Lady of La Leche, Nuestra Senora de La Leche Y Buen Parto.

My name is Bianca Atienza-Gutierrez. I am a wife to my husband Aaron and a mom to my 15-month old son, Christopher. I am also managing a full-time career at a multinational corporation, in which I head the parenting club, a consultant for MAPECON pest control, and in training to become a certified lactation counsellor with LATCH. I am a working, breastfeeding mom.

Why am I speaking in front of you today? It is because Our Lady of La Leche asked me to tell you the story of how I met her.

I have been a very staunch breastfeeding advocate since I gave birth to Christopher. I have always believed that breast is best, and, like any other mother, I want my son to have the best. Even when it was time for me to go back to work, I knew I wanted to keep that bond with my son alive. Breastfeeding is what allowed me to be separated from my son during the day, because I knew that he still had the best of me through the nourishment I left for him at home and the food that I continued to express for him in the office. This is not to say that I had compromised my value as an employee. In fact I still received recognition for the various projects I did both for the multinational company I am employed in full time, and for MAPECON, which I work on part time. I discovered then that we working moms didn’t have to choose between our babies and our careers. It can be done, we CAN have it all. This was the message I felt I had to share with other working moms.

When my officemates started to notice that I was still expressing milk even after my son was 6 months old, 10 months old, even after my son turned one year old, pregnant employees started asking me questions, seeking advice on how to breastfeed and how to sustain it. This is when I realized that the women in my office needed support in order to make breastfeeding while working work for them. Contrary to popular belief, breastfeeding is actually a learned skill, something that needs to be studied, taught, practiced. And only with the right support system can a woman succeed in lengthening her breastfeeding journey. So I set up a Vibrant Parenthood Wellness program in my workplace. But I knew that my personal experiences would not be enough to support the other working moms in my office. I researched, studied, reached out to experts who could teach me how to counsel other women. I posted questions on Newlyweds@Work, an online community for, well, newlyweds trying to cope with raising new families. I bought books, read blogs like Chronicles of a Breastfeeding Mom. I subscribed to newsletters from the What to Expect When You’re Expecting website. I attended seminars by the Medela House. And it was through these "mommy networks" that I had come to learn about LATCH.

LATCH is a non-profit organization that aims to support breastfeeding moms by providing awareness, counselling, and training. When I found out that they were looking for volunteers to be trained as lactation counsellors, I immediately wanted in. This was exactly the kind of training I was looking for in order to help other moms breastfeed their children effectively. Of course, there were limited slots and so I had to go through an application process, which included an interview. During the interview, I was asked how I could possibly manage my time, squeeze in volunteer work with everything else I had on my plate. Wouldn’t my family suffer, considering it is for my family at I am breastfeeding in the first place? Isn’t it good enough that I just give advice to my little circle of mommy friends from my own experiences? Why would I want to burden myself with the problems of other women when have issues of my own? It felt to me like I was being discouraged from joining this group. But, passionate person that I am, I held my ground and defended my cause.

But after passing that interview, the questions laid out to me started to haunt me and eat at me for the next few days. How WAS I going to manage? Where WAS I going to find time to do counselling work? WAS I going to compromise my family life to help others? These questions swirled in my head and brewed doubt and uncertainty in my decision.

The Sunday before the training was going to begin, I decided to hear mass at our parish church, Our Lady of Fatima in Mandaluyong. I had lived in the area for seven years already, but only seldom would I go to church there because weekends were usually spent with my in laws or in Sta. Rosa, where my mom and sisters are based. But that weekend, I was drawn to the parish church. And throughout the mass I kept thinking about my breastfeeding advocacy. I kept asking the Lord if I should go through with this training, should I add this to my already full schedule? What, Lord, do you want for me? What do you want to use me for? I was very specific in my questions.... and therefore I got a very specific answer.

When it was time for communion, I started to head for the front of the church, towards the priest, but my eye caught sight of a lay minister towards the back of the church, and I felt I needed to take communion from there. I headed then towards the back of the church, head bowed down in prayer, still asking, Lord, what do you want me to do. As I turned the corner at the back of the church, I lifted my head, and my eyes fell right onto an image of the Blessed Mother, gently breastfeeding her Baby Jesus! How much clearer could the Lord be with His answer? It was not subject to interpretation! It was like a General giving a direct command to His soldier, and all the soldier can answer is "Sir yes Sir! Loud and clear!” I have never heard of our Lady of La Leche before, and for the first time in my seven years of living in the area, THIS was the time Our lady chose to reveal herself to me, when I needed to know if I should pursue breastfeeding as an advocacy.

I was stunned. Even my husband could not believe it. We took pictures of Our Lady being brave enough to bare her breast (in church, no less) to give sustenance to the Christ Child. I could not forget the loving expression on her face as she cradled her Baby sweetly. As soon as we got home I went over to the trusty internet to research about her. I am a devout Catholic and grew up knowing all sorts of references to Mama Mary (Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lado of Lourdes, etc), but never of her breastfeeding. Surprisingly, material about her on the internet was scarce, but I did manage to find out about the Our Lady of La Leche Movement. Our Lady's message to me became even clearer after discovering that the head of the movement, Tita Baby Gonzales, lives 5 minutes walk away from my house! I called her immediately to share with her the story of how Our Lady had revealed herself to me, and why, and she revelled in the great timing Our Lady had because she had been looking for someone to speak about breastfeeding on the Feastday of Our Lady of La Leche. And so, here I am today.

Breastfeeding is tough. It is time-consuming, at times uncomfortable and tiring. It is an act of complete self-sacrifice, almost as if dying to oneself for the benefit of this little angel that was crafted for us by God Himself. It is a spiritual act. It is a prayer of thanks to the Lord for the gift of a child. It is an outpouring of pure love, an exclusive experience only mothers can share.
And to share this experience with other mothers is something we all need to do.

Support, in my opinion, is the biggest factor in the success of a breastfeeding mom. Sa totoo lang, my husband is actually my biggest breastfeeding supporter, an even bigger advocate than I am... kasi sya nakakatulog sa gabi, ako hindi I feel very blessed to have been introduced to other breastfeeding moms. I feel very blessed to have been introduced to Our Lady of La Leche and the Movement, because now all the more, it becomes compelling for me to breastfeed, and to help other mothers who wish to breastfeed, because she is there to serve as support, as an example, as an intercessor for us mothers and mothers-to-be. When it gets too hard, when you feel like giving up, look to the gentle eyes of Our Lady of La Leche for the strength to keep giving the best of yourself for your child. And with her prayers, may we be inspired to show our children that the world is full of love and compassion, which hopefully will help them grow into kind and compassionate citizens of this mortal world.
We all know the benefits of breastfeeding to our babies. We all know that breast is best. Now with the example of Our Lady of La Leche, we know that breastmilk was best for the Baby Jesus. And if breastmilk was good enough for our Savior, shouldn’t it be good enough for our children?

At this point, I would like to invite all pregnant and breastfeeding moms, and those trying to conceive, to please rise as we pray for you.

Heavenly Father, You are the Giver of all that is good and Source of every blessing. In grateful appreciation of the gift of life and the vocation of motherhood, we humbly implore that you grant every new mother and her baby the graces and merits that can be attained through the selfless act of breastfeeding.

It is through this humble act of self-giving that they experience and get to know You in a deeper way. Thank you for giving mothers the special privilege of sharing in your creative and sustaining power.

Jesus, our Lord, was nursed at our Holy Mother's breast and it is in this faithful imitation that mothers partake in the joy, consolation and beauty of breastfeeding. Respect, dignity and security are bountiful fruits of this maternal act of love.
May new mothers embrace the opportunity to be always available and attentive to her child who solely depends on her care.

May they experience the transforming power of breastfeeding, as it affords all mothers the necessary growth in faith and sacrifice to be able to attain a more mature disposition.

In times when they may feel discouraged or overwhelmed, renew and sustain them Lord. Teach them to hope in Your Providence. Help them to realize that Your Grace is sufficient.

Help all mothers to realize the truth that they have all it takes to breastfeed and that their bodies were created to sustain life.
We submit to your Divine Plan and trust that both the trials and victories encountered during this momentous time can only help deepen their sense of purpose and impart lifelong lessons and truths that will ultimately aid them in fulfilling their sacred vocation of motherhood.

Bless every breastfeeding family and their efforts. May they realize the substantial contribution they are doing to society, their country and the whole world. May the simple act of breastfeeding bring out the best in us all.

Our Lady of La Leche, Nuestra Senora de La Leche Y Buen Parto, kindly intercede for all nursing mothers, protect their interests, attend to their every need and hear our prayer. We ask this through Christ our Lord. AMEN!

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