When my daughter was born it took five days for my milk to come in, and because she was jaundiced there was discussion of using donor milk in the interim. The failure I felt was palpable, even as I knew it was not any sort of reflection on me. The idea that her first taste of mature milk would come from another woman weighed on my shoulders. Ultimately, my milk came in just in time, and I did not have to further confront those disappointments.
Five years later, my son was born two months early, and my expectations were turned inside out, stepped on, and shredded. A million situations that would have seemed intolerable with my daughter were now completely out of my control, and necessary to save Rowan’s life.
One major shift was becoming comfortable with the idea that there would be firsts I would have to surrender to the cause of my son’s health. Ideals that seemed so important with a full term baby were discarded in the face of a baby who only weighed three pounds. That’s not to say these things seemed inconsequential, just that the choices were made for us by prematurity, and we were along for the emotional ride.
The oft used phrase, “it takes a village” is never as true as it was in the weeks after Rowan’s birth. It took a more than a village to raise Rowan past his inauspicious start, it took a town. It took a city. It took a metropolitan statistical area.
There is one member of our village who will never know she visited, even less that she moved in with us for a few days. I’m talking about the woman (or women) who donated the breast milk that became calories, nutrients, and medicine while I once again waited for my milk to come in.
I wish I could find her, to tell her just how important the time she spent getting cleared to donate was. Breast milk is vitally important for premature babies – in some cases it literally saves their lives, as it can prevent deadly intestinal issues.
If you’ve donated milk, whether to a milk bank or to a friend, know that you have joined the village of the babies you have helped. Even if you never know to whom the milk flows, you are forever a part of that baby’s family, of that baby’s story.
And if, like me, you find yourself having to manage the emotions of broken expectations, know that it’s not a failure. It’s not that your baby is getting less of you, it’s that he’s getting a direct infusion of the compassion that we all need to get through the rough first months of a new life. You’re getting a solid example of how we can’t do this in a vacuum, of the importance of your tribe, and a lesson in letting go. It’s one we all have to learn repeatedly, some of us just get a head start.