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.
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
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
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.
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
"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."
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!