International Babywearing Week is the perfect time to take a pause and applaud our volunteers! Volunteer Educators are the people working tirelessly everyday in our communities to bring babywearing to new families. In our second installment of Honoring Babywearing Volunteer Educators, I'd like to introduce you to Leslie Kung, founder of Babywearers of Cedar Rapids.
Tell us about yourself- where do you volunteer, and how did you get started?:
In July of 2007, I had my first son. We had a planned home birth transfer to the hospital, and the experience was pretty traumatic. As a new mother, I instinctively wanted to keep my son close to me. I started out with a narrow-based carrier and a bag sling! My first class on babywearing was with a local doula who owned a cloth diaper store In Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Wearing my son helped with the transition into motherhood, and the closeness and ease of comforting him was key in helping us both heal after a traumatic birth.
I joined TheBabyWearer.com forums and learned everything that I could. Within a year or less, I was asking the doula business owner if I could teach for her. She agreed, allowing me to take the helm. I taught the official Babywearing 101 class as well as founding Babywearers of Cedar Rapids.
As an active mom, I went to many different groups and meetings: la leche league, hospiral breastfeeding/mom groups, and more. At each group, I offered my help with slings, wraps, and other carriers. I helped anyone who wanted it, buying clearance ($1/yard) cotton jersey to cut into stretchy wraps as outreach gifts.
Babywearers of Cedar Rapids had a slow start, but it grew and grew into the large, sprawling group it is today. In my mothering journey, I have seen a time where most people didn't babywear or even recognize babywearing devices. There were only a few woven wrap companies, and the most expensive fanciest carrier out there was the Ergobaby. Things have changed. Iowa stands to be one of the most babywearing dense places per capita in the USA now, which is amazing!
Who is your babywearing role model?:
My mother wore us in a traditional red silk mei tai which she was gifted when she started to have kids. She and my father also used framed backpack carriers to take us with them on hiking excursions and on vacations. My parents gave us all a great gift by keeping us close and holding us, so my mother is my babywearing role model. As a grandmother, she is an enthusiastic supporter of babywearing, and has worn each of my children with joy.
How has babywearing impacted your life?:
Babywearing allowed me to bond and do something positive in the aftereffects of a very traumatic birth. Babywearing also gave me something to concentrate on that made me feel good on many levels:
- bonding and cuddling released oxytocin
- having my hands free while going about my day made me feel as if I could possibly survive and keep my son safe in case of zombie apocalypse
- making contact with other parents and helping them wear their babies allowed me to feel as if I contributed something to the world
- I had positive and unifying socialization with other mothers
- babywearing allowed me to make lifelong friends.
What is your group/volunteer experience like?:
It has been a long 7 years. In all those years, each year had its own challenge. In the beginning years, I would show up at the meeting location and time and wait to see if anyone was coming. Many of those times, I waited until 15 or 20 minutes after the start time, saw no one, and just closed and locked up. The few times someone would show up, it would be a new or expectant mother. I would show them the basics of safety, clear airways, high and tight, and mimicking an in-arms position. They would thank me, give rave reviews to the store owner (when I was still having meetings at the cloth diaper store), and I would most likely not see them again, even though the group was twice-monthly and free.
The next few years brought me the first steady members. The next few years after that, the numbers of babywearers in the local area seemed to reach some sort of snowball point, and groups became overwhelmingly busy at times. The steady members became helpers and teachers as well. Even though I am aiming at retirement now, showing up and helping people with carriers is still a highlight of my month.
What advice would you give to a brand new volunteer?:
Be humble and persistent.
To be a good babywearing leader and teacher, you have to know that you DON'T know everything. You are not the expert. You are a facilitator, and when the session ends, the person you're helping should feel more confident in what they are doing. Don't answer questions definitively which you cannot confirm. "I don't know, but I can find out" is the best answer to questions about carriers, carries, and safety which you are not personally familiar with.
To be a good babywearing leader and teacher, you must be persistent. You want to start a group from scratch? Be prepared for the first year to have a 30% attendance rate versus no-shows. If you help people 3 out of 10 times, and you sit and wait 7 of those times, you're still making a difference. If you can't figure out a carry, try and try again. If you are having trouble teaching a technique, research it, approach it from another angle, and think about asking the student how he or she learns. People learn in all different ways: by verbal direction, written instruction, by watching it over and over, or by doing it themselves. Keep honing your craft. Be persistent.
What advice would you give to a brand new mom?:
Slow down. Stop looking at the time. Stop charting everything, and start to really live in each moment. Before you know it, they'll be 8 years old begging you to buy a game system for them you can't afford. The time that you have with your newborn is the most potentially stressful and personally destructive phase of your life because our society no longer acts as if you're important. If you buy into that "all that matters is the baby" myth, you'll lose yourself. Bring it back down to the simple pleasures you have access to. Enjoy the feel of your infant's skin. Her smell. His laugh. When you have those moments when you cannot, no matter what you do, enjoy your baby--TAKE A BREAK! Ask for help as many times as you need help. Be vulnerable in your fears and weariness.
What is your biggest triumph or accomplishment as a volunteer?:
Every time someone says I changed their life, or comes back to thank me for the knowledge I helped them achieve, that moment is my biggest triumph.
How do you make volunteering "fit" into your life?:
Most of the time, I used my latest baby as a demo baby to show different carries. All my meetings were family friendly, so I mostly brought my children along. Over the years, I scheduled night meetings for working parents, afternoon meetings for stay at home moms, and morning weekend meetings.
Do you have other hobbies or interests?:
I like making baby carriers, sewing, martial arts, horseback riding, belly dancing, and writing. I'm currently writing a fantasy novel, in which I had to include mention of babywearing!
What's your favorite place to visit?:
My favorite place to visit might be The Grove in Glenview, Illinois. It's an awesome, free nature center. The kids love it.
Thank you so much Leslie, for taking the time to share with us!