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Tetyana Yaremko: «The most important thing for a La Leche League leader is to listen to a mother»

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— Hi, Tetyana. How did you come across La Leche League?  

— I ran into La Leche League by accident. When I was a first time mother in 2005 just getting ready to have a baby I came across some information about breastfeeding that helped me get started nursing my son. Yet I noticed that this was not the case for everybody. So many mothers around me failed to breastfeed. I was so surprised. My son was the first baby I held in my arms, I had zero experience with babies, and I was so tremendously successful nursing him. Wow! Women around me were having their second and third children and still failed to breastfeed.  I started looking around and saw that there were so many differences in the information on breastfeeding. I read more and more, mostly in the Russian. Even Ukrainian websites offered information only in Russian.  It was very difficult for me because I did not learn Russian in school. I grew up in a Ukrainian family, all of my friends and neighbors speak Ukrainian. I went to school after Ukraine declared independence from the USSR so Russian was not part of my school curriculum. Needless to say reading Russian was quite difficult although I did understand spoken Russian. While reading all those breastfeeding articles in Russian I felt the need to translate them into Ukrainian for mothers just like me whose mother tongue is Ukrainian.  One of the articles that I translated was a La Leche League article. Then Nataliya Polizhak, the first and only La Leche League leader in Ukraine at the time, contacted me. So you could say my contact with La Leche League started with a translation of a La Leche League article into Ukrainian.

— When did you decide to become a La Leche League leader?

— At the time I was a breastfeeding consultant and headed local breastfeeding consultant association. Natalie Wilson asked me if I would like to join La Leche League and become a leader, and I gladly agreed. It was back in 2008.  At first I corresponded with Natalie Wilson and Nataliya Polizhak, then Natalie Wilson invited me to join a group for training new leader applicants. The new leader applicant group was much more active and helped expand the understanding of the role of La Leche League leaders as well as gave much more food for thought. In 2014, one month before my third child was born, I was accredited as a representative of La Leche League. At the time of the attack on me for writing in Ukrainian I was the third leader in Ukraine and the only native Ukrainian speaking leader in the world.   

— What is the difference between a breastfeeding consultant and a La Leche League leader for you? What were your expectations from volunteering for La Leche League?  

— The biggest difference is different emphasis in learning. Breastfeeding consultants focus on technicalities of breastfeeding. The most important thing for a La Leche League leader is to listen to a mother and understand where she is coming from, what she is feeling; technicalities of breastfeeding come second.  As a breastfeeding consultant I saw that maternal support group meetings were very important. A consultant comes and goes. A mother remains surrounded by her family, neighbors, and friends who are often unable to provide any breastfeeding support. For this reason we started breastfeeding mother gatherings in Lviv in 2007.

— We heard of a language conflict in the applicant training group. What happened?

— I wrote a routine discussion email to the group and got very disturbing responses. The reason for  such a reaction was the fact that I wrote my email in Ukrainian. This was not my first email in Ukrainian to the group. I always wrote only in Ukrainian and this was not my first post to the group.  

— Was there any negative reaction to your emails in Ukrainian?

— Of course not. This was a training group for La Leche League leaders, where women were learning to help each other. I can attest that the atmosphere in the group was always positive and open for communication.  

— So when you hit “Send” to the group you were absolutely confident of your safety and did not expect any attack for writing in Ukrainian.

— Absolutely. I felt completely safe and my heart was content. The response to my email really shocked and disturbed me.  

— Did you have any prior contact with the woman who sent an unbecoming response to you?

— Never. When she joined the group I read her messages, but did not engage in any personal correspondence with her.  

— What did she say to you?

— What she said was absolutely inappropriate. She requested I write so that she can understand me [that is switch from Ukrainian to Russian] because my email caused her some unpleasant feelings. She was immediately supported by another applicant from Russia who knew of the group rules and that I wrote only in Ukrainian.

— How did you feel when these two applicants from Russia wrote all of these emails to you?

— I lack words to describe what I felt. Let’s say I felt really unwell. I quoted the rules for the group that stated that all communication takes place in the native language of any applicant. I sincerely thought that would be the end of the discussion about Ukrainian.   Unfortunately, it was just the beginning. During the course of the attack on me I kept hoping it would stop, but… it has been a year and the situation did not get resolved.  

— Would you be able to participate in the group after your received apologies or you would be always afraid you could be attacked again?

— I left La Leche League in October 2015. The reason I left was that the situation stalled and was not moving to any resolution. I would not want to take part in any group with the people who could not (or did not want to because they did not deem it necessary) stop the conflict. Even after I received their apologies I am not confident they understood what they did and that they would not repeat it again.  

— It seems that during the course of nine months you hoped that the situation would change. You did not leave La Leche League in the spur of the moment. It was a well thought out deliberate decision.  What did you expect La Leche League would do?  

— Yes, I expected firm action in defense of La Leche League non-discriminatory policy, but I saw the exact opposite. It was obvious to me that if La Leche League Russia representatives did not see a problem with what happened, they failed to see the beginning of an unacceptable conflict, and they did not know what to do to stop it, it would be only logical to conclude that they need further training.  

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