I still remember the day my friend Sarah asked me, timidly, if I would like to have her breast milk for my daughter. Her expressions, body language, and voice all told me that this was something she had thought about for a long time and that it was a big brave thing for her to ask me. And I remember feeling the weight of deep sadness and enormous gratitude all at once.
You see, Sarah wasn’t going to be able to use her breast milk because the baby girl she was carrying wasn’t expected to live very long after birth.
It was July and we had just sent in all the paperwork to adopt our daughter Arsema a few weeks earlier. As we waited for our dates to travel to Ethiopia I began nesting. This particular morning I was replacing the floor in our master bathroom while I waited for Sarah’s text. She was going in for her 20-week ultrasound and I was secretly hoping for the news to come back that she was having a girl. I was dreaming about our daughters being great friends, just like their big brothers are. The text came… girl… but there were complications.
Within the next several hours we knew that the baby girl Sarah was carrying would not be able to live outside of the womb. I prepared my nursery for the homecoming of my daughter and Sarah planned a funeral. We spent a lot of mornings together crying and talking and even laughing at times. She threw me a baby shower and gave me two blankets out of a packet of four… the other two would be wrapped around her daughter after she was born. I brought Arsema home in early October and a couple weeks later Sarah came to me with the question…
“I was wondering if you would like to have my breast milk after Evie is born. I thought maybe you could use it to feed Arsema. I don’t know how long I’ll pump or how much I’ll be able to produce, but I’d love to give it to you if you want it.”
We both cried. This was a gift that meant so much to both of us. Sarah was longing to do something meaningful and in a way her feeding my daughter helped heal a tiny piece of her broken heart. She knew one of the painful losses of infertility and adoption was my inability to breastfeed my children. They each had such a rough start in life and I wish I could have been able to at least give them that. I am incredibly grateful for the existence of infant formula because without it neither of my children would be alive and thriving today. We do know, however, that breast milk is best for babies. I think most mothers who aren’t able to give that to their children (for any number of reasons) feel a sense of loss even while being incredibly grateful for the option of formula.
Evie Caris was born in November and lived for four hours surrounded by the people who love her most. We kissed her face, took in every inch of her beauty, and then Sarah sang her into heaven.
A week later Sarah came over to my house carrying a cooler filled with small plastic bags of milk. And every week for a few months she would continue to drop off breast milk for my daughter. Each time I filled Arsema’s bottle and sat in the rocker to feed her I would think about Sarah and Evie. I would pray for Sarah’s broken heart and thank God for the gift Sarah had so selflessly given me and my daughter.
Next week we will take our daughter in for her fifth surgery in three years. She was just 12 months old when she went in for her first. Arsema hasn’t had the easiest ride throughout her young life. In the midst of doctor’s appointments and surgeries and hospital visits, I choose to believe that Sarah’s milk made a difference even though I will never know the full impact it had on Arsema’s health and well-being.
I wish I could have breastfed my children. Sarah wishes she could have fed her daughter (and so do I… oh so do I). But life doesn’t always make sense. When everything is broken and mixed up, we have to create our own beauty from the pieces. Sarah feeding my daughter when she couldn’t feed hers is a beautiful example of love and generosity and grace in the midst of heart-wrenching loss.
Each of us meeting our daughters: Sarah and Evie (left) Lauren and Arsema (right)