It is super fitting and kind of ironic (don’tcha think?) that I am pouring the last bag of breast milk into a bottle for my sixteen-month-old son today. You see, a year ago yesterday, I found out I had breast cancer. A few weeks later, I had to stop breastfeeding my then five month old, Knox, as I started chemotherapy. Devastated is an understatement. I loved breastfeeding and had been able to breastfeed our daughter for sixteen months, until she weaned herself. The bond it creates, the super power of the female body’s ability to sustain another life, the money it saves . . . I was team BFFL (BreastFeeding For Life) and when I was diagnosed, it was literally the second thing I thought of. The first being, I don’t want to die. The second, I won’t be able to breastfeed my kid.
It felt like a failure. He was already the prototypical second kid. I didn’t get as long of a maternity leave with him.We put him in his crib earlier. He was constantly in his pumpkin seat going to his sister’s activities. He got the hand-me-down toys. He often wasn’t picked up as quickly when he fussed because a toddler can be quite needy, too, and squeakiest wheel gets the grease, ya know? Now I would miss out on that precious time with just the two of us. Linked together. Giving and taking. Providing and being nurtured. Mother and son. This gift I was planning on providing for both of us was taken away without my control. It hurt. Bad. But then something beautiful happened.
As luck (or fate) would have it, I had asked about the knot that would eventually be identified as a tumor in a breastfeeding group I was a part of on Facebook. The group had been a phenomenal support to me with my daughter; and when I felt a lump in my breast while breastfeeding Knox, I asked some form of, “How long does a clogged duct last?” to the girls in the group. Lots of them encouraged me that it was probably normal boob behavior, but a few others pushed for me to have a doctor check it out. Since I already had a nagging suspicion the knot was a little too big and had been there a little too long, I took their advice and made the appointment with my OB. The rest is breast cancer history.
After my diagnosis, I went back to the group (that felt more like friends) and updated them on the situation. Immediately, and unsolicited, the offers started.
“Let me know if you need milk.”
“I don’t have much, but I would love to donate to your sweet son.”
“I can bring 400 ounces to you today, if you’re available.”
“I’ve been praying for someone to gift my freezer full of breast milk to.”
“I want to help.”
“We’ll make sure he gets what he needs.”
They tagged me in posts where people were offering donations of breast milk. They shared my name in other groups. They called the milk bank for me. They private messaged me and told me they were going to start adding a pumping session so Knox would have milk. They asked where I lived, and they organized a caravan and coolers and deliveries of donor milk to my nearby family members and friends.
With a few exceptions, these women were total strangers. They had never met me or my son. They just saw a fellow momma in need and they rallied the troops. They formed a village and delivered a blessing I will never be able to repay. Strangers, literally, fed my son for an entire year. They expected nothing in return. They didn’t ask for money. They didn’t ask for recognition. Most of them I never even got to meet in person. At the most challenging moment in my life, they made sure I didn’t also have to feel like I was letting Knox down.
The donations were overwhelming. On the conservative side, we had over 13,000 ounces of breast milk given to us this past year.
Let that sink in. That’s crazy, right? It’s incredible to see a number like that. Humbling. Awe-inspiring. But not surprising because women and mothers are amazing, unstoppable, earth-changing creatures. They saw a need and they over delivered, without hesitation, to a perfect stranger. No questions asked. No strings attached. No thank you required. But isn’t that what we should always do? Take care of one another? Build each other up? Fill a need if we’re able? These women gave selflessly and without pause. Humanity is not lost. There are still incredible people out there, with a pack of momma bears leading the parade.
Formula would have been totally cool, by the way. I am a huge proponent of breastfeeding, but I know he would’ve been just fine if the wave of liquid gold hadn’t figuratively come pouring in. This is honestly just more about the love and support from fellow mommas.
So here we are, a year later and my sweet, smiley Knox is getting the last of his donor milk. The parallel of both my babies being breast milk fed for sixteen months is not lost on me. I’m incredibly grateful. While I wasn’t able to do it on my own, I love that one day we’ll be able to tell Knox that women from all over the state of Alabama loved him enough to make sure he was fat and happy while his mommy was doing everything she could to get healthy for him.