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Welcoming Mother-Professionals at ILCA Conferences

by Cynthia Good Mojab, MS, IBCLC, RLC, CATSM


Many professionals in the field of breastfeeding and human lactation were inspired to enter the field because of their own experience with breastfeeding. Their first and best teachers were their own children: from infants-in-arms to children nursing well past the current cultural norm in their communities. Even after weaning, the attachment needs of children continue in other ways. The ease or difficulty with which children separate from their primary caretakers varies with age and many other factors. Furthermore, culturally-based beliefs and institutions influence a family’s response to the attachment needs of its members. In age-segregated Western cultures, children are expected to be “seen but not heard.” Often, though, children are not even expected to be seen in the public and professional world of their parents. In other cultures, childrearing is not considered a private activity and children are included in a much broader portion of a community’s life. They go to work with their parents, are present at and participate in a wide variety of events and activities, and experience a multitude of intergenerational interactions each day. Children’s needs are accommodated as they learn how to be a part of their community.

Highly age-segregated societies, such as the United States, pose major challenges to women with multiple roles. In the role of mother, a woman is expected to care for her children away from the "productive" sphere of public life. If she is also a professional, she is expected to get someone else to care for her children away from public life while she engages in "productive" activity. Women commonly must choose to fulfill one role or the other at a given time, because they are not permitted to fulfill both at the same time. Professional conferences in many fields routinely require this choice. The presence of babies and children in meeting rooms is usually either explicitly or implicitly not allowed. More rarely, only the presence of babies younger than a particular and rather arbitrary age is tolerated. This common custom is not likely to be recognized as an example of institutionalized cultural bias that may be experienced as oppressive to a significant portion of a society's members. However, professional conferences that exclude children from meeting rooms also inherently exclude the insights, worldviews, and contributions of women who are actively mothering babies and children--a great loss for all involved.

Of course, the ability of conference attendees to concentrate on the material presented is undeniably important. After all, a major goal of attending a conference is to learn! Fortunately, meeting the learning needs of conference attendees and meeting the needs of mother-professionals are not mutually exclusive endeavors. Many professional conferences and summits have been successfully held with babies and children in attendance, for example, those of La Leche League International and the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children. A few guidelines and a little creative accommodation of diversity are really all it takes.

I recently contacted the ILCA Board of Directors to express my concerns about the exclusion of infants and children over 6 months of age from meeting rooms at its conferences. After discussion of the issue at the November 2004 Board meeting, the Board agreed that its policy could and should be changed to better welcome conference participants who are also parents. On November 19, 2004, Doraine Bailey, ILCA President, wrote me, “We agree with you that the field of lactation consultancy needs to embrace the varying realities of breastfeeding women and to not exclude those women who emphasize the inclusion of children even if it does go against the view that the presence of children at conferences is somehow unprofessional or inconvenient.” The registration brochure for the 2005 ILCA Conference contains new language addressing the moment-by-moment behavior of little ones in meeting rooms rather than setting arbitrary age limits:

"ILCA is committed to an environment conducive to learning for all conference attendees. Quiet infants-in-arms and non-separating children are welcome. To meet the need of resltess babies and little ones and as a courtesy to other participants, we ask that these needs be met outside the meeting room. In order to fully participate in the educational sessions, some mothers find it easier to bring a support person to the conference to provide care for their children outside the meeting rooms."

Services and programs for children that the conference facility itself provides are highlighted in the registration brochure.

For mother-professionals like me, this is good news. The possibility of attending or speaking at an ILCA conference will no longer be immediately dismissed upon review of the details of the registration brochure. This is also good news for all conference attendees: a more family-friendly conference will naturally provide a wider variety of perspectives and experiences from which all can learn. Most importantly, the needs of little ones for attachment and inclusion will now be better met at ILCA conferences. Bravo to ILCA’s Board of Directors for recognizing the importance and feasibility of a more inclusive policy!


© Cynthia Good Mojab, 2005. All rights reserved. This essay may be printed once for individual use.

Citation: Good Mojab, C. Welcoming Mother-Professionals at ILCA Conferences. Ammawell website 2005. Url: http://home.comcast.net/~ammawell/mother_prof_ILCA.html


Cynthia Good Mojab, MS clinical psychology, is a private researcher, author, educator, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She is also Certified in Acute Traumatic Stress Management. She writes and speaks about issues related to psychology, culture and the family-particularly as they relate to breastfeeding. Ms. Good Mojab is Research Associate in the Publications Department of La Leche League International, was a member of the LLLI Editorial Review Team for The Breastfeeding Answer Book (3rd edition), and has been a La Leche League Leader since 1998. She is a member of the Ask the Experts panel on Mothering magazine's website, answering questions about breastfeeding, and is an Affiliate of the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children, where she was instrumental in ensuring the family-friendliness of its annual Summits on bonding and attachment. Ms. Good Mojab has taught and guest lectured for undergraduate psychology and statistics courses, and has spoken about breastfeeding, parenting, culture and psychology to groups, organizations, and the media. She is an award-winning researcher whose work was recognized in 1995 by the American Psychological Foundation. Her website, Ammawell (http://home.comcast.net/~ammawell), offers breastfeeding and parenting information and support.



Cynthia Good Mojab, PO Box 5803, Aloha, OR 97006 USA; http://home.comcast.net/~ammawell (website)


 
 
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