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Would You Let Your Friend Breastfeed Your Baby?

The title read, "I Breastfeed My Friend's Son … What's the Big Deal?" and included a picture of a woman with a toddler at each of her breasts.

I couldn't stop myself from clicking on it—an undeniable mix of curiosity and disgust driving me forward.

But I'll get to that.

When my daughter was first born, another woman breastfed her. She brought my little girl to her chest and fed her the first three times she ate. I was awed. And thankful. And yeah, a little jealous.

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In our case, that other woman was my daughter's other mama, the woman who was giving everything she had left to this little girl, at the same time she was handing her over to me to raise.

My daughter is adopted, which I guess, technically, made me the "other woman" at that point. Her other mama was still the one who had carried her for the previous nine months, the one who had labored and pushed and brought her into the world.

I was the stranger.

So I didn't tell anyone when the very next day, I attempted to breastfeed her myself. This is actually a thing. Adoptive mothers are breastfeeding more and more lately, with a greater understanding of how to induce lactation, making doing just that possible.

After a few days of trying, I felt more embarrassed than anything—embarrassed because I had allowed myself to hope that maybe, just this once, my body would do what it was supposed to.

The problem was that I wasn't in a position to take any of the hormones that might have helped with the process. First of all, there hadn't been time—I only had a week to prepare for my daughter's birth. And second of all, I have stage IV endometriosis, a condition that thrives off of hormones. No one on my medical team felt comfortable with the idea of intentionally messing with the hormone levels we had worked so hard to stabilize over the previous few years.

So when I brought my daughter to my own breast, it was simply under the hope that the act of simulating breastfeeding would somehow trigger something. For the record, this happens too. For some women, that's all it takes. I've talked to women who were able to induce lactation in this way, their bodies simply responding to the baby at the breast and knowing what to do.

Of course, that wasn't the case for me. Though, I'm not sure I really gave it much of a chance. After a few days of trying, I felt more embarrassed than anything—embarrassed because I had allowed myself to hope that maybe, just this once, my body would do what it was supposed to. Embarrassed because I didn't like thinking about what others might make of my attempts.

I was afraid people would judge me for trying to breastfeed a child who wasn't biologically mine.

Now, that fear couldn't be further from my mind. My daughter is a toddler, and she is every bit mine as any biological child ever could have been. And while I mourn the fact that I was never able to breastfeed her, I dare anyone to argue I didn't have the right to try. She did just fine on formula, and I don't regret accepting that as the best way to feed her from day one. I truly don't believe my body was ever going to respond the way it should have. But had I been able to breastfeed? Had I somehow been able to make it work? And if I had, who knows—I might even still be breastfeeding her today.

I'm not proud of this, but sheer jealousy would have prevented me from ever letting one of my friends give her that nourishment I couldn't. I needed the bonding associated with being the one who fed her, even if that was by bottle.

Which brings us back to that story about a woman breastfeeding her friend's toddler, a story that made its way to People magazine yesterday and has caused all kinds of uproar online. The story, I am ashamed to admit, caused a knee-jerk reaction of disgust on my part as well. This feeling of "That's not right" immediately came over me before I forced myself to step back and examine my own bias.

Because let's be real: This isn't a totally out-there phenomenon. Wet nurses used to be the norm, once upon a time, and there are plenty of cultures where women still breastfeed children who aren't "theirs" today. So why the immediate reaction of "gross"?

I think it's cultural, obviously. But even more than that, I think this hits at our deeply rooted fears and barriers surrounding motherhood. It conjures up images of "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" and another woman stepping in on your parenting turf.

Personally, I never could have let a friend breastfeed my daughter. Even in our situation, as grateful as I was, it was hard for me to watch her other mother do it. I wanted that breast milk for her, but I wanted to be the one giving it to her more. I'm not proud of this, but sheer jealousy would have prevented me from ever letting one of my friends give her that nourishment I couldn't. I needed the bonding associated with being the one who fed her, even if that was by bottle. And as much as I mourn her not being able to get that "liquid gold," I truly believe the benefits of that bonding time far outweighed the benefits breast milk may have given her.

For us.

That's the key to the point I'm making there. It wouldn't have been right for us. But that doesn't mean I think it is necessarily inherently wrong for all. Because once I got past my initial knee-jerk reaction to this story, I realized that while it wouldn't ever have been for me, it is a pretty incredible story of friendship and women helping women. As long as both parties are on board, the mother and the friend or "wet nurse," I don't actually see it as anything other than beautiful. Jessica Anne Colletti is giving her best friend's son something his mother, Charlie Interrante, couldn't—and both women are completely content with that situation.

"Breastfeeding my friend's son came naturally to me," Colletti said. "My friend struggled with breastfeeding in the beginning and succeeded for 9 months. She was always very happy that her son had the nutrition and comfort he needed while she was working. Being able to breastfeed her little boy has created a special bond between us all, a bond I will always cherish."

So who are any of the rest of us to judge it?

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We can't argue that "breast is best" in one breath, and then admonish the ways women go about providing that breast milk for their children in the next. I, for one, am forever grateful for formula and the way my daughter thrived while on it. I wouldn't have done anything differently for us. But for these two women? I say all power to them!

Image via MamaBean/Facebook

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