I’d met her once before. We were meeting up this time, not by coincidence as had happened before. This time, we were meeting for coffee. And to discuss her surgery.
She wore a scarf to cover her chicken fuzz fur that had started to come in after treatment. Her eyebrows colored in. She wore a smile. I just liked her. She just had an energy about her.
Her name is Jackie. And she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 32. She was 36-weeks-pregnant with her third baby when the lump in her breast was determined to be Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. She delievered their third baby, a girl, Genevieve. And then she shut down her reproductive system.
Her cancer was hormone-positive. The milk and the baby… those needed estrogen to form. So did her cancer. So once she began treatment she realized that she would not be able to nurse this baby. And nursing her first two babies had been special to her. In fact, it had been one of her favorite parts of having newborns and infants. She pumped until she was dried up. And then, her friend, Brandy, and other people, assisted in finding her donated milk. Through friends and family, even through 6 degrees of separation. And for awhile, the milk stash stayed flush.
But one week prior to her mastectomy, Jackie began to stress that maybe they wouldn’t have enough milk coming up and she knew that she was going to struggle to make it all work just after having a mastectomy.
I couldn’t buy her milk. I couldn’t offer to nurse her baby as I, too, have no mammaries since my own mastectomy. So what could I do to help?
WELL. I could ask.
A boss of mine always said, “I have the right to ask. And they have the right to say no.” And so, I put out an ask. I figured in quick math that to make it at least another 6 months, if we could get Jackie 6500 ounces, she could have Genevieve on breast milk until she was 1. And they wouldn’t have to pay for it.
I knew after breastfeeding my own and having some milk I couldn’t use due to their belly issues, that sometimes moms will share their breastmilk. But I had no idea what I was asking.
Or that I would get over a 100 offers for milk. In two days time.
I had no idea that within three days, I would already have a pile equating to 3500 ounces for Jackie to pick up in her trip back from Des Moines the week after I inquired.
I had no idea that when I put out Jackie’s story to the 7500 followers of my Baby on the Brehm Facebook page, that people would step up over and over again.
But I should have.
I should have absolutely known that the goodness of people would not only meet Jackie’s needs but exceed them. I should have known that people would reach out to assist with freezer space, milk pumping over the next several months.
One mom who offered her milk had two stand-up freezers and was so happy to be able to give. Another, still nursing her 8-month-old, was just thrilled to share. And one, who has twins — one who passed away three-weeks-ago with a congenital heart defect — she opened up her freezer for Jackie because her baby’s milk could help another mama.
A woman, a current cancer patient, took her day and drove across state lines — a two and a half hour drive — to bring up 1500 ounces of her daughter’s milk. And also donated three coolers to “the cause.”
And there’s more and more. More stories within this story. Because gosh almighty, there is magic in women, I do believe. And maybe even in the milk.
These people wanted to give for Jackie. But also for Genevieve. Not because these women believe only in breastmilk. But because I believe mamas want to support a mama’s dream to feed her baby in the way she hoped to. And to make it so cancer could not take it away from her.
Jackie had her mastectomy. And she came out with flying colors. And a clear prognosis — the chemotherapy she had been doing for the last 18 weeks. The drives she’d been making from Des Moines to Omaha every threee weeks — as a mama to three and a wife to Tanner — they’ve been tiring. But worth it when she heard the words, “No disease in the lymph nodes. And the tumor had a complete response.” Wow.
As I talked to Jackie she said, “To think three weeks ago I was terrified about what they would find when they did my surgery and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to continue giving Gen breastmilk and now… now we have milk and I am pathologically clear.”
God is such a showoff. For real.
Jackie and Tanner will be back again in a week and I hope to hook them up with another 3000 ounces. And the best news of all, Jackie will be able to give Genevieve breastmilk as long as she wants with the help of so many mamas who are willing to help Jackie milk this period of time for all its worth.
And now, Jackie gets to start getting to know her newest addition. Six-months after her arrival.
To those who have given milk, you are the magic. To those who have offered for additional, you are the magic. To all the women who stand up and support other woman, you are the magic. In women and in milk, there is a goodness.
This isn’t about being for or against formula, or for or against breastmilk, it’s about being for supporting mamas. And being for goodness and the beauty of humankind. And it’s about people saying, “How can I help?” and doing what they can to assist.
So often, we are worried about the right thing to do for someone who is going through anything hard or soft… well, we do what we know how to do. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It just has to be what we know to do. And it will be appreciated profoundly.
I know that Jackie is overwhelmed by your generosity. And we’ve both been moved to tears in talking about this magic. Because gosh darn it… this is the sparkle.
And don’t even start with the, “Ashli. You’re awesome!” on this because I didn’t give Jackie the milk. I just asked. You acted. You did. You gave.
Women get shit done when it comes to rallying around other women in need. What a joyful experience to be a part of. And I know its filled my spot in my chest that gets whole when life feels right. So whole. So right.
Jackie and I have now met 4 times. But I think we will be in each other’s lives for a very long time. That’s the magic of milk and women.
We have the right to ask, and people have the right to say no. But what if we do ask and they all say yes? Well. Then, I believe, we say, thank you.
If you have not heard back from me about a scheduled time to pick up your milk, here is my current plan:
I will collect one more big batch for the time being and then, after the New Year, I will put out another request. If you are currently in my in-box with a response or offer, please sit tight and I will get in touch to arrange pickup.