Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mother's Sharing Milk

My prayer for milk went out like a clarion call.

My sister-in-law, Kristi, gave me some milk from her freezer and spread the word throughout our church. My sister, Amy, went to her doctor to see if there was anything she could do to promote lactation (her youngest son is 4). On the internet, I found a group called "Milk Share" and, on Facebook, I found a similar group called "Eats on Feets- Minnesota." These groups help facilitate milk sharing between mothers who have more milk than their babies need and mothers who have none. They offer information to both donors and recipients to keep the process safe.

Before Olivia was born, I never thought about sharing milk. I took my own ability to feed my babies for granted. I am grateful to the mothers who donated their milk to the milk bank that has fed Olivia since her birth and I accept that milk banks must always keep their limited supplies going to those babies who are fragile and need it most.

Of course, there is some controversy about mothers sharing milk amongst themselves without a hierarchy involved to oversee the process. Keep in mind, I am not standing on a corner holding out a baby bottle all willy-nilly. I have done my research and I trust this process- a process inspired, created, and set into motion by mothers.

These past few weeks, Mark and/or I have driven to Blaine, Andover, Ham Lake, Champlain, Shakopee, Zimmerman, St. Francis, Mankato, and Rochester to meet these mothers. Kristi even calls to let me know when someone has left me milk in the church freezer.

"Does putting milk in a church freezer make it Holy milk?" I ask my mom.

"It's all Holy." She says and I agree.

My prayer was answered by a sisterhood of mothers-

Kristi, Jocelyn, Meghan, Ting-Hsien, Christa, Justine, Ashley, Theresa, Suzanne, Shannon, Aparna, Amy and the Moms at the Church of St. Paul...

This mother is Thankful. Olivia is, too :)

Friday, November 12, 2010


Tonight, we were at a Girl Scout ceremony, watching as Natalie and the girls in her troop received the badges they had earned. I was standing at the back of the room holding Olivia, so I could step out in case she started fussing. Olivia just looked around taking everything in. Standing next to me was a mother trying to keep her two young sons quiet.

Names were read off- one at a time- and a pause as the girl stepped forward to collect her badge. Suddenly, in the silence, Olivia started passing gas. Loudly. The woman next to me gave a disapproving look to her boys and whispered, "It is not appropriate for you to be farting in public. We have talked about this."

I felt kind-of guilty that two innocent boys took the blame for Olivia's toots, so I approached the mother after the ceremony and confessed that my baby was the source. A puzzled look crossed her face as she looked at my little baby. She probably recalled the decibel level of the fart. "That's funny." she said and started laughing. (I wonder if she thought I was covering for myself)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Fear is a dangerous thing. Fear makes swipes with sharp claws. I know these claws. Fear has impaled me before and pulled me close and drained me of hope and and filled my heart with horrible images that felt real. As fear bullies me into a corner, I realize I am holding it as tightly as it is holding me.

I decide to follow my own advice and I let go. I let go of fear. I smile in the face of fear. I feel grateful in presence of fear. I direct my attention away from fear and back to the miracles...

This simple choice changes everything. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mother's Milk

Just today, I was expecting a shipment of frozen breast milk from the Denver Milk Bank when I learned they are not planning on sending any more. No notice. No gentle weaning process. Just stopped. Done. Final. Period. I look in the freezer and count the bottles. Olivia is now taking about 24 ounces a day. I have enough for 3 more days.

I make a bunch of phone calls. "But she has a prescription." I say, "Her doctor wants her on breast milk for one year." I am given the run-around. I call the numbers and wait on hold while the soothing music on the line taunts me. I talk to our insurance company. I speak with our pediatrician. It feels like a fight. My voice sounds increasingly defensive and angry to my ears. Deep inside me, I feel the seeds of panic stirring.

I take a break. I take a breath. I understand there is only so much donated breast milk in the world and we have to share it. We have to prioritize. There may not be enough for every baby. I understand this...

...but I am a mother. The deep need to protect my baby, to feed her, to love her is encoded into every single cell of my being. There is no switch. It can't be denied. With terrifying intensity, it draws a line in the sand. Mothers are a profound force in this world possessing a rare willingness to risk everything, to even sacrifice themselves... for a child.

I leave messages that probably sound like a crazed woman left them. I recount the bottles. I kiss the forehead of my sleeping Olivia. Amore takes a break from her post next to the baby- drawn to whoever needs her the most- and she trots along behind me like a shadow. I stop to look at myself in the bathroom mirror. There are tears in my eyes. I look defeated. Like so many others, my eyes drop to my chest. "Damn boobs!" I yell at them. They just sit there pretending not to hear me at all.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Grandma Joyce

I stop to visit my Grandma Joyce who lives in a senior apartment complex. She buzzes me in and I start to walk through the lobby area that has a large community room off to one side. There are people sitting in groups of 2 or 3, visiting with each other.

"Hey!" a woman's voice calls out, "You get back here with that baby!"

Now, I was raised to respect my elders, but I hesitate. I turn to meet the gazes of three women sitting next to each other. Yes, she is talking to me. I still have to pinch myself sometimes when I look down and see this sweet little girl in my arms. I can hardly believe she is here, safe and sound, and she is mine. Then again, we belong to each other. So, I walk back and share the baby. They look and touch, remembering their own babies.

"Would you like to hold her?" I ask.

"No," they shake their heads, "she's too small."

After awhile, my grandma comes looking for me and Olivia.

Back to Work

I have been back to work for over a month now. I know I am lucky to have a job and health insurance and that I am able to take some time to ease back into my 12 hour shifts. Mark, Natalie, Larissa and Amore have been taking good care of Olivia.

Going back to my pre-cancer job. Remember, I left with pink and purple highlights and now my hair is about an inch long. People who just know me in passing must think I was out touring with my band for awhile.

Children's Hospital has been undergoing major additions and remodeling over the past year. I weave my way through the halls and units, feeling like I am lost in one of those corn mazes.

Someone blurts out, "Hey, you got a new haircut! It's really short!"

"Courtesy of Chemo." I say, "Actually, it's getting longer."

People hug me. People get tears in their eyes. People smile. I realize how many people have travelled this bumpy road with me this past year... carried me... prayed for me... saved me...

Amusingly, people look at my chest. Stare at my chest. Never before has my chest had this much attention. And because I work among healthcare professionals- knowledgable and curious people that they are- I am asked "Are they real? Or did you have a reconstruction?" I always find this question hilarious, because my boobs are still the imperfect, kind-of lopsided boobs they always were. They are not special. Remember, they tried to kill me (Left one, I'm still talking to you).

The people in my department have taken it upon themselves to look out for me. Soloman came in and saw me eating cookies and said, "I hope that's not your lunch. You have to eat healthy things."

I told him, "The way I see it, I'm going to die, so I better eat cookies while I can."

"Sarah," he laughed, "you're not going to die."

Yes, I am. We all are. Simple fact.

In the meantime- Let go of fear. Smile. Feel grateful. Notice all the miracles occurring- all around you and inside you- all the time. Do what you love. Hug children. Pet dogs... Have a cookie :)

Monday, November 1, 2010


The weather has been so beautiful, warm and sunny. We have taken our girls to the apple orchard, to a pumpkin patch to choose our future jack-o-lanterns, then tonight we went to my parent's house for trick-or-treating with their cousins. This year I bought Olivia's costume, but Natalie and Larissa wanted to try to make theirs.

Nan wanted to be a mummy. We dug through her dresser and found an old light-colored sweatshirt with sweatpants. I found a white sheet on clearance and we cut it into strips, then sewed the strips to the sweatsuit. We also made a mask for over her face and cut holes for her eyes.

Larissa wanted to be a chocolate-chip cookie. I found some remnant fabrics and cut 2 large circles out of light brown, then I sewed around the edge leaving openings for her head, arms and legs. Larissa cut the chips out of dark brown fabric (they looked more like chocolate chunks- yummy). We glued the chips on.

Olivia was warm and snug in her skunk suit. She only sprayed a couple of trick-or-treaters when they suggested that she looked like a doll- even so, she just looked cute.

Amore, Nora, and Daisy greeted children at the door, giving kisses as treats and trying to sneak treats from the bags of the unsuspecting. *Teachable Moment: Chocolate is deadly to dogs. I don't know why. I agree it's unfair. No, not even a tiny piece. They got some dried sweet potato treats instead.

By the time we got home, the mummy was becoming unraveled, the cookie unglued, the skunk was a bit stinky, and Amore was stealing candy wrappers in a hopeful way :)