Friday, December 11, 2009

Feeding Moses

Robbie Goodrich, a university professor in Michigan whose wife died hours after delivering their son, always carries with him a list of two dozen telephone numbers.

The list is labelled "moms." The women on it take turns breast-feeding his son, Charles Moses Martin Goodrich, now 10-and-a-half months old.

Some of the women pump breast milk and drop it off at the door for nighttime feeds. Others visit the house and hold Moses in their arms as he sucks, often with their own children and husbands in tow. Moses nurses four times a day.

"Some people think this is just about food. I think there's so much more. It's the nurturing aspect," Mr. Goodrich, 44, said yesterday from his home in Marquette, in northern Michigan, on Lake Superior.

"He's held by mothers. He is held as much as any breast-fed child. He's nuzzled up to a mom who's stroking him, who's cooing with him, who's talking with him, whose voice he recognizes and knows."

The unique arrangement has attracted all kinds of attention, from the local newspaper to the glossy pages of People magazine to a documentary being made by supermodel Christy Turlington. Mr. Goodrich and Moses travelled to New York City for the documentary interview. While on the two-day trip, he emailed a mother in Manhattan who had offered to help not long after Moses was born. She provided breast milk for the baby during their stay.

The tale has also attracted a substantial amount of criticism from observers who question the safety and necessity of the help Mr. Goodrich is receiving. Still others argue such unwavering devotion to breast milk is irresponsible given that there are other options to feed the child.

But Mr. Goodrich dismisses such complaints, saying there is nothing wrong with having a number of women feed his son. "In a society like ours, of course a certain percentage is going to sexualize anything to do with the breast," he said. "That's their choice."

Mr. Goodrich's wife, Susan, fell into a coma soon after Moses was born at their local hospital. The baby was delivered with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and whisked to the neonatal intensive care unit. Susan died of an amniotic fluid embolism 11 hours later.

The nurses asked for permission to feed the baby. Susan had nursed three other children for a year each. Knowing how important it was to her, he asked whether breast milk was available -- some hospitals have milk banks.

Mr. Goodrich was told breast milk could be trucked in from a milk bank in Kalamazoo, Mich., more than 700 kilometres and an eight-hour drive south. It would take two days and cost US$5 an ounce. He placed an order.

Waiting for the milk to arrive, he received a call from Laura Janowski, a family friend: She offered to breast-feed her friend's baby.

The offer appealed to Mr. Goodrich. Musing to a friend, he wondered whether other women might be willing to help as well. The call quickly went out through doulas, midwives, breast-feeding support groups and friends. By the next morning, his friends had begun organizing a nursing schedule. They checked with doctors and lactation specialists to ensure the plan was safe.

Susan died on a Sunday. The following Wednesday at 9 a.m., as Mr. Goodrich was preparing for his wife's funeral, the first "mom" turned up at the door to breast-feed Moses. The same woman, Carrie Fiocchi, breast-fed the baby just yesterday. She still arrives every morning at the same time.

"Rather than the house being full of death and mourning, it's full of life and love," Mr. Goodrich said.

Earlier this year, Hollywood actress Salma Hayek made headlines for nursing a hungry child during a charity trip in Sierra Leone. She was weaning her own daughter at the time.

Nursing another woman's baby has not always been considered rare. Throughout history, women who have been unable to nurse - or, at times, because of higher economic status - relied on wet nurses to feed their infants. The practice declined at the end of the 19th century, as bottle-feeding became more popular, said Molly Ladd-Taylor, a professor of history at York University.

Moses' story "captures the old and the new," said Prof. Ladd-Taylor, who edited "Bad" Mothers: The Politics of Blame in Twentieth-Century America, a collection of essays.

"What's interestng about this case is that the women involved are part of a community. In that sense, it goes back to a tradition of communal child-rearing - ‘It takes a village to raise a child.' "

National Post


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Anonymous said...

This is a beautifull story that clearly illustrates the kindness that can exist even in the world today...

Thank you.

Carrie said...

Thank you to the author of this story for paying attention to the details. These woman give, and it's a blessing.