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I nursed my best friend's baby, our milk-sharing project

The Village Love Doula Tuesday, August 4, 2015 I nursed my best friend's baby. Our Milk Sharing Project. Please read all the way through to both stories.

I was about to hand over my baby to my best friend, and I was flooded with memories of where we started. I met Haley in 8th grade.  We were obsessed with Freddie Mercury, lipstick, and Myspace.  We were so different but so the same.  We had passion, empathy, and were convinced that we would change the world.  Those are the things that never changed.  Our friendship always seemed like fate.  I always had an overwhelming feeling that I needed Haley.  Time went on and it always seemed like we were living mirror lives.  We both married our high school sweethearts at 18, and our first babies were 9 months apart.  We were on spiritual and political journeys together and always looking for new answers.   I remember sitting in a restaurant with Haley when her daughter, Amelia was only a few weeks Tucker & Ameliaold.  I had just found out I was pregnant and we were catching up on life.  She nursed Amelia, something I never thought twice about, but afterwards she pulled out a bottle and asked me if I wanted to feed her.  I was fumbly, and had no idea what I was doing.  She was the first baby I had ever bottle fed.  I come from a family full of breast feeders.  I always knew breastfeeding would be a part of my life, but in that moment I remember looking at that bottle and thinking "oh how weird, of course babies use bottles, but why had I never thought about them before?"  Thinking of the baby inside me, I had a moment of panic.  "Do I need to buy bottles?  I have no idea how all this works!"  Haley looked up at me and said "I have supply issues and have to supplement."  Again, I had no idea what she was talking about.  It was in that moment that I realized that I had a lot of reading to do.  I went home that night and researched all that I could.  I was seeing articles about women being kicked out of stores for nursing their babies.  I saw controversy over weaning, formula, and nipple shields.  I had been so ignorant and naive.  I had no idea these issues were even issues.  There was a whole mommy online community and I dove right in.  I met amazing women, learned so much, and began to form very strong opinions on all the hot topics.  I was that mom that had decided to breastfeed and nothing was going to get in my way.  I had no reason to believe I'd have supply issues, or reasons to pump, or even pain.  My baby came and I had information, a support system, a lactation consultant, and yes, I had breastfeeding issues.  I had flat and inverted nipples that caused immense pain, blisters, bleeding, and tearing.  I dealt with lip and tongue ties that were misdiagnosed as reflux issues.  Immediately the pressure to switch to bottles was on me.  I was exhausted and frustrated, but my need to be right about everything was stronger than my need to sleep.  I pushed through and a few weeks later things eased up.  I had milk flowing all over the place, latch issues had been fixed, and I had begun pumping to donate.  I preached breastfeeding education, attended mommy groups, and proudly nursed my baby anywhere and everywhere.  I really chalked up everyone's issues to a lack of education and support. Months passed, and Haley and I decided to go in on a pregnancy pact.  We were both wanting second babies, and what a great idea it was to get pregnant together!  Haley was by my side through 12 months of fertility issues, a miscarriage, and nursing while pregnant.  She was my rock.  Finally I got pregnant, and she was only 12 weeks behind me.  We talked about all the possibilities of the outcomes of our pregnancies, births, and breastfeeding.  I asked her to be my kid's God mother, I asked her to nurse my baby if I had died, and of course I asked her to photograph my upcoming birth.  I had a beautiful, successful, home birth, and I continued to tandem nurse my boys.  Again, I had an abundance of milk, and it all came pretty naturally to me, especially with all the experience I had with my older son.  We quickly diagnosed and revised this baby's tongue and lip ties, got through a case of mastitis, and began to pump to donate again.  It was Haley's turn.  I sped to the hospital at 3am to meet her newest little!  I watched her latch him on and get settled and I left to let the family bond.  A few days later I met her at her house to spend some time with her.  I walked in and saw her nursing Elliott with pure exhaustion on her face.  She was so determined this time to make her breastfeeding journey happen with no interventions.  With frustration in her voice she said "He wont get off my boob...all day!  all night!"  I responded with "well, just hang in there, it's always tough those first few weeks."  I decided to sit and observe the entire picture for a while.  She was clearly making milk, she could express some out, and he was gulping and eating.  We talked about his weight gain and diaper changes and something just didn't seem right, but this was way out of my league of knowledge.  She decided it was time to get some help.  Elliott was failing to thrive. I got a call a few days later.  "My heart is broken.  I have breast hypoplasia."  My heart broke for her.  I had a hundred questions, but I couldn't cry for her.  I immediately went into "fix-it" mode.  There HAS to be a solution.  Our bodies were made for this.  That's when it hit me.  Everything I had believed had shifted.  My sanciti-mommy idea of "nature has made it this way" changed to "nature sometimes messes up".  The sadness in my best friend's voice left me shaken.  I was not going to leave her alone in this.  I immediately started pumping for Elliott.  She gladly took my milk, and I watched our community of friends wrap around her and she was getting love, support, and spare milk.  This is how it was meant to be.  Women loving women.  We went back to that tribal mentality of "it takes a village."  The village is there to balance out nature's mistakes.  One has what another lacks.  The Yin to the Yang.  If we were all perfect, we would never need each other, and God intends for us to work together. The years of being friends we were always trying to break social stigmas.  We worked hard to promote love, community, peace, honesty, and equality.  This milk sharing relationship just brought us closer.  I felt a love for Elliott that I had never felt for someone else's child.  I was nourishing his little body and I loved it.  We promoted our milk sharing friendship in mommy groups and social media.  We heard so many different things from different people.  "Wow, I never thought of using donor milk!"  "Isn't that a little gross?"  "I'd pump for a baby, I guess that's better than wet nursing!" Why was there so much controvery?  What if we weren't so selfish with our milk?  What if we fed each other babies all the time?  I grew angry at the changes in society in the last few generations.  We now live in a world where a working mother has to struggle to pump on short lunch breaks and pray that she has enough for her baby in day care.  We live in a world where it's more normal to make a mixture in a bottle for your baby rather than let another mom help.  I was not okay with this, and neither was Haley.  We began talking about wet-nursing one another's babies.  Would this be weird?  It was weird, but it was weird because we had never seen it before.  Everything is strange before we experience it ourselves.  We wanted to normalize this too.  We decided that we would have this event photographed and documented.  We were going to share this with everyone we knew. Here I was, about to hand my baby to my best friend to nurse.  This baby that I grew, birthed, and had solely nourished myself.  I had a mixture of feelings of jealousy, love, confusion, nerves, and peace.  This was meant to happen.  God put us here for this.  Everything in this moment made sense.  I got pregnant 12 weeks before her so I'd have an established supply by the time she needed my milk.  I had an over supply because she didn't have enough.  I met her in 8th grade because one day we were going to change the world together.  Haley and I are soulmates and I believe that to my core.  I could write a book on how our friendship is based on fate.  I can do this.  I can share my body with someone else's baby.  I can share this bond that was meant for my babies.  I can break this weirdness.  I can love my best friend's baby. So we looked into one anothers eyes and we swapped babies.  We sat down and pulled our breasts out.  I wondered what Haley was thinking as she was looking at my baby.  I wondered the whole time if he was okay, if he would latch, if he would be confused.  I looked at tiny Elliott.  It's amazing the difference 12 weeks makes in development.  I was working hard to get him to latch.  He could smell that I was different I'm sure, and I was fumbly as it had been a while since I nursed a baby that still needed help latching.  I was surprised that this wasn't weird for me.  I thought I might have experienced some aversion, but all I saw was a little baby that was hungry.  He latched on and he still had a newborn suckle and I melted a little bit inside.  This is okay.  This was good.  I could hear my baby next to me needing me though, and my instinct was to go to him.  I don't think I could ever love someone else's baby the way I love mine, but in that moment Elliott came close.  Amber wetnursing ElliottElliott & Forest I love the connection that breastfeeding has between mother and baby.  I loved that I got to experience a glimpse of that with Elliott.  I love that Forest got to experience an intimate moment with my best friend.  I love that Haley and I are forever milk sisters, and Elliott and Forest are forever milk brothers.  I love the piece of us that we all carry with each other.  I love that our older children, Tucker and Amelia, got to witness this and never even questioned it.  I love that we are forming gentle and natural futures for all our children.  I love that we are forever family. Pumping for Elliott After our photo shoot we sat around and we pumped milk together, and Tucker helped bottle feed Elliott for the first time.  Every family is so different, and I love that my son is seeing a variety of parenting styles and understanding that moms are meant to work together.  He recently told me with no question in his voice that he saw that some babies use bottles and some babies have boobies.  I love that he observes these things.  I love that he sees that some Bottle Feeding Elliottfamilies do things differently and he didn't even think to judge, question, or critique the situation.  Sometimes I think I can learn a thing or two from my 3 year old. Overall I'm so pleased with this experience.  Yes, I did this just to prove a point.  No, we did not HAVE to wet nurse.  But, there is a woman out there who needs the courage to do what we did, on either end.  There is a baby out there hungry.  There is a desperate mom.  I believe a single drop in the ocean can change the weather.  So, if we helped one mom, one baby, then this entire experience helped change everything.  To that mom who needed their baby to be nursed by a friend while she was in surgery.  To that mom who couldn't pump enough for the baby sitter and needed her to nurse her baby.  To that mom with Breast Hypoplasia.  To the dad taking care of his baby after his wife died in labor.  To the adoptive mom.  To the mom who needed to take anti-depressants.  To the mom who needed a break.  Whatever your nursing journey has entailed, just keep on keeping on.  We are all on the same team.  Your journey is a personal one, a beautiful one, your own story.  Whatever your story, I hope your village has supported you and uplifted you.  To whoever you are, we did this for you. - Amber And here I stand… about to hand over my newborn to my best friend. Amber has been a significant part of my life for a little over a decade now. Describing Amber isn’t very easy to do because there isn’t a stereotype that anyone could possibly lump her into. In my eyes she is goofy, offbeat, beautiful, honest, and most of all, she is deep. She has the ability to think outside the box as well as within. That’s unique and with that being said we easily bonded from the day we met. Our conversations consist of but aren’t limited to philosophy, politics, culture, how we will change the world, and most of all birth, babies, and boobies. We have always stood together as we have crushed social stigmas, as we did today. I have never cared for cultural norms because in my head, I could not possibly understand, what is defined as normal. We all have such different perceptions of the world. My vision of the future is the same as Amber’s vision. We want people to love, accept, and connect. And here I stand… handing my newborn son to my best friend as I receive her son. I lock eyes with her and there is a current, this current connects us. As mothers, as friends, as sisters. I quickly reminisce about a current event. The reason why we are standing here at this very moment. Amber has been nourishing my son since he was a week and a half old. I flash back to giving birth to him, the moment Amber first walked in and saw him, and the moment I learned that Elliott was failure to thrive (over a week later). The emotions, painful and beautiful, flooded my brain, causing a release of endorphins and oxytocin. My son, the person I created, was failure to thrive. I breastfed early and I breastfed more than often. How was this so? I did everything right… How am I failing AGAIN? Amber encouraged me to keep trying and to keep seeing Sara (my friend and lactation consultant). She was as confused as I was. A couple of days later I saw Sara and the doctor. The information I received was devastating. I felt like someone tore my beating heart out of my chest. The pain to me was equivalent to someone close to me dying. I called Amber and broke it to her, while in tears. “I have breast hypoplasia and Insignificant glandular tissue”. This meant that I couldn’t exclusively breastfeed my son. This meant the body that created , grew, and nourished him for 9 months, could not fully do so anymore. Amber listened to me and sympathized, while feeling broken herself. “I will help feed him. What do you need? How much milk do you need?” she said without hesitation. This was an understanding that we mutually had for a while. We had agreed in the past, that if something were to happen to one of us that we would breastfeed each others children. This was the beginning of our milk sharing journey and just another bond we share, added to the list.  And here I sit… looking into Forest’s eyes. Forest. A baby that I am so connected with. I was there when he drew his first breath and I was about to nurse him. I felt butterflies, which made me feel anxious in my stomach, but my heart and mind were as calm and grounded as can be. This wasn’t weird. Amber’s children are my second set of children. Tucker and Amelia, our older children, played and danced around us as he latched. Forest nursed for only moments and he was done. I looked over to see Elliott nursing contently, with his little head bobbing as he suckled. This moment stood still for a moment, as I took it all in. I’m completely connected to Amber, she is my soul sister, but in this moment I had never been more connected. We then nursed our own babies while lying in the grass. I smiled and laughed, as I enjoyed the company of Rowan (who captured these lovely photos), Amber, and our children. I can’t ever thank Amber enough. Her love for others radiates through her every pore. She loves me enough to do this for me, she loves my son enough to do this for him. I know how hard pumping is since it’s a vital part of my life to keep my supply up (along with nursing on demand). She pumps for my son, while balancing her busy life and nourishing her own babies.  I only make an estimated 35-40% of what Elliott needs. This unity between Amber and I bound us and our sons together as milk sisters and brothers for life. This unity helped me heal in some ways. I want everyone to know, that if you are healthy, it’s okay to milk share. It is not weird. It is not gross. It is beautiful. We need to connect as a community now, more than ever before. Don’t let our culture tell you it’s not okay because it is. Babies deserve to be breastfed.  I have a few other thank you comments to make. Thank you to my friend Heather for donating about 75 (or more) ounces to Elliott. Thank you to all the mothers who donate milk to others or milk banks (my son can’t have formula due to intolerance). Thank you, to Mother’s Milk Bank in San Jose, CA, for testing, processing, and sending milk to my son (and thank you for being non-profit). Thank you to every person who has provided me with comfort during this hard time (you know who you are). Thank you Sara Stone for helping me with my breastfeeding journey for the last 4 years and for finding my biological lactation issue. This has been a spiritual journey for me.  -Haley  A special thank you to our local WIC for providing us with breast pumps, love, encouragement, information, and community.  Support your local WIC! Thank you to our friends who have become our special village. Thank you to our supportive husbands who held our hands during birth, cleaned our pump parts for us, and occasionally even rub our feet! Thank you to the online mommy community for helping the entire breastfeeding cause.  Some days it feels like we know you all in real life. Thank you to Rowan Price for capturing our beautiful photos and for your excitement for this project.

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