Breastfeeding another woman's baby: A friend in need, this is a friend indeed
In today's Guardian, writer Elisa Albert tells the story of how, after terrible difficulty breastfeeding, her best friend stepped in to help feed her son.
Elisa and her friend Miranda became fast friends when they met during their pregnancies. After months of comparing cravings, aches, pains and preparing for their first babies together they found their paths diverged somewhat after their babies were born. Elisa describes visiting Miranda and her new baby just weeks before her own child arrived. The scene seemed like an oasis of calm, "The place was warm and calm, full of love". This contrasted hugely with her own experience of having her son two weeks later, which was joyful but also, as Elisa describes "felt like staring death in the face".
Like many women, Elisa was really committed to breastfeeding her baby, but found it incredibly hard.
"At a week-and-a-half old, my baby began to lose weight. Breastfeeding was not going well. This was not abnormal, we were reassured. The baby had a bad latch (meaning his mouth and jaw weren’t yet perfectly coordinated on my breast), or I had low supply, or he had a bad latch because of my low supply, or I had low supply because of the bad latch. One lactation consultant offered advice that was contradicted by a second, whose advice was contradicted by a third. I should use a breast pump every two hours. I should supplement with formula. I should neither pump nor supplement; I should let him get so hungry he would do whatever it took to latch properly. Around and around we went."
Elisa and her husband were feeling let down by the professionals around them. The lactation consultant suggested going to a breast milk bank though Elisa felt that was extreme. A midwife told her to "take it easy" and never rang back, and the paediatrician counselled giving up and using formula instead.
"I tried to be cheerful, but when we were alone, I wept, lashed out at my husband, and spiralled into exhausted, muddy irrationality, panicked about failing the precious boy we had only just met."
Elisa's words really spoke to me as I had a lot of difficulty breastfeeding my own son, and I too was absolutely desperate to do it. To keep trying even when the people around me were telling me to stop and that it didn't matter. It did to me.
One day a friend gently asked Elisa if she would like her to nurse her son. The tradition of wet nurses used to be a well-established role in society but in modern times the act has become almost taboo. In the film The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, the image of one woman breastfeeding another's baby is used in an extremely negative way. And when the actress, Salma Hayek nursed a sick infant in Africa it made for schlock headlines all over the world but for anyone who took the time to watch the video, it showed Hayek nursing the child calmly and without fanfare. It is not sensationalist in any way, she is just performing a normal bodily function. Hayek told the story of her great grandmother sharing her milk with another woman in the village when this practise was common and a perfectly reasonable thing to do to help another mother.
Though Elisa's immediate response was no, the thought stayed with her.
Elisa says: "I had never heard of anyone I knew nursing another woman’s child, or having her child nursed by another woman, and I had never wondered why."
After more time passed, and her desperation mounted she eventually asked her friend, Miranda to feed her baby.
"I felt no envy when I saw Miranda nurse my son. I longed to be able to nurse my baby, but I only felt fortunate that someone else could and did."
I cannot imagine how I would've felt watching another woman nurse my baby. I imagine that it would've further compounded my own sense of failure but, incredibly, Elisa says she did not feel jealous at all.
Miranda continued to nurse the baby, while Elisa persevered with her breastfeeding and eventually found a workable system that got her feeding back on track.
"I take a special pleasure in the way she looks at my son: with affection and pride. He is a little bit hers, too."
To read the full article see here.