The Care and Feeding of a Habesha Tortuga

A woman that I have never met before is breastfeeding my son.

How's that for an opening sentence?

She isn't literally breastfeeding him, but he is drinking her milk, a lot of her milk. Every day. Every night.

There is a woman I know, her name is Elena. I met her several years ago. We were in a Yahoo group for women who were trying to get pregnant. I was the only one in the group who didn't end up getting pregnant. Elena got pregnant with triplets. On March 9th, 2005, Elena gave birth to her sons Carlos, Rafael, and Loran. All three of them died in her arms. She eventually went on to adopt two children...

And Ivy...
Xavi and Ivy had breast milk too.

I had been really interested in the idea of breastfeeding your adopted child. I did some research a couple of years ago, and thought that I might be able to give it a shot. Unfortunately it became clear to me that I wasn't brave enough to try it. It seemed that most protocols for induction involved some form of estrogen or progesterone, and since I had had cancer, my docs advised against it. That combined with the eye rolls I received from almost everyone I mentioned the idea to, made me quite discouraged. Many people find it bizarre, or unnatural. Steven was not really supportive either. He didn't think I could do it, and he was right.

I had heard about places where you could get donated breast milk for your adopted kiddos, but I was in such poor shape when we got home from Ethiopia (physically, emotionally) that the last thing I could figure out was how to get healthy, disease free, breast milk for Melese. I had always wanted to do it, but I just didn't have the energy to pursue it.

When we got home Melese transitioned from the sugary Bebelac formula to one our pediatrician recommended. (Disclaimer: I am not knocking anyone for using formula. We use formula too. There is no judgement in this post. I just want to tell you this story).

Elena made getting Melese some breast milk her mission. As she told me, "Julie, this is my passion". She told me to set up a FedEx account for the shipping of the frozen milk, and she got busy finding us a donor. She followed leads, sent e-mails, posted pleas, and interviewed potential donors.

On August 28th, Elena sent me an e-mail,

"Struck gold. A friend of mine found some milk (a lot) for you."

Enter Kasi. Kasi is the middleman as it were. Kasi, a woman I had also never met, delivered fifty bags of frozen milk to my house. (I don't know why a total stranger would do something this nice for someone else, but she did tell me she was from Wisconsin and I am thinking that has something to do with it). The breast milk was from her neighbor, a woman named Nina. I don't know the exact details of why Nina has so much milk, I didn't want to pry too much. I know that she has a new baby daughter, and I think I heard that her daughter couldn't nurse for a medical reason. We continue to get milk from Nina, and Kasi continues to bring it (Did I mention that Kasi is eight months pregnant, and has a young son at home?)

The first time Melese had Nina's milk he looked like one of those pull puppet ornaments, his arms and legs started moving up and down wildly. He guzzled it. He loves it. He absolutely loves it.

(And yes you may notice Mother Fail #204, I have not yet transitioned from the disposable liner, plastic bottles I bought "Just to travel with," to glass ones like I had planned. Isn't likely to happen at this point. Oh, and I didn't make homemade baby food either.)

Melese is healthy, and if you will excuse my saying it, beautiful. He is strong. He has blossomed from a listless baby with a bald patch on the back of his head (from lying in a crib for months), to a very active, very chatty, chub-alicious, chunk of love. He will walk soon. He has four and a half teeth. His eyes are shiny, and his skin is perfect.

I struggled for weeks trying to write a thank you note to Nina. What do you say? I have never even spoken to her on the phone. I don't know anything about her.

How do I thank Elena? I hadn't seen Elena in several years. We scheduled a playdate for September 10th. She just brought Xavi over. I was pretty much a mess. Xavi and Meazi had a great time together. Elena brought me another carrier to use for Melese. Meazi pilfered it for her baby "Sito Mito"...

Elena looked great, but was using a cane because she had a weird pain in her hip. She thought it might be sciatica, or something similar. She had been seeing doctors in the weeks prior in an attempt to get some relief from the pain.

The day after coming to my house, Elena went to pick up Xavi at school and had a seizure. I found this information out from our mutual friend, Deb. I e-mailed Elena. It turns out Elena doesn't have sciatica. This is part of a note she posted on Facebook...

"I'm not going to beat around the bush. I have extremely advanced lung cancer with brain, liver, and bone metastasis. There is a bone tumor in my hip which is of course what has been causing all of this sciatic pain."

Elena has cancer. She is undergoing treatment. Heavy duty treatment. She has cancer. The C word. She has two children, Ivy and Xavi. She has a husband Mark. She has a full life, which now has become about Chemo, and Cat scans.

These three woman have changed my life. It's not about the breast milk. Melese would have been fine without it, I am sure. It is about the intention, the caring, the selfless giving. It is about these women who have much better, and more pressing things to do then think about me, and my baby, and his diet.

In a little while, I will shake Melese's bottle in front of him, the sound of the shaking will set off a smiling frenzy, as he knows the shaking signals that the milk is just seconds away. Mid-bottle he will take a break to smile at me, and nuzzle his big turtle head into my shoulder. We will take a breath together. Then he will continue to eat, and then slowly drift off to sleep in my arms. When this happens, as it does every middle of the night, I will take a moment to hold these three mothers in my thoughts and in my heart; One mother that I don't know at all, one mother who is about to give birth to her daughter, and one mother who is fighting the biggest battle of her life.

These three incredible women...



and Elena...

Thank you.

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