My best friend hadn’t slept. And not in the normal, new-mom sort of way; Steph was sleep deprived in that dangerous, shouldn’t-drive-a-car way. Juan, her baby, was waking her up every hour, on the hour, for nearly an hour. She’d managed to drive over to Christi’s house to see the rest of us, but she slouched, dead-eyed, on the couch while one of the other women wrapped up Juan. “Go upstairs and go to sleep,” Christi said. “I can’t,” Steph said. “Juan needs to eat.” Christi and I looked at each other. I had the youngest baby, Blaise, four months older than Juan, and so I did the only logical thing I could think of: I offered to breastfeed my best friend's baby while she slept.
"Don’t worry about it,” I told her. And when she asked whether or not I'd have enough milk for two babies, I told her that my body would just make more milk once my breasts were stimulated. She practically ran up the stairs to bed.
Juan began whimpering about 15 minutes later. Our friends took him down out of the wrap. Christi took Blaise and handed me Juan. I’d known him since he was born. I can actually pinpoint where I was on the interstate when my phone rang and his father told us that Steph had just had a baby boy. A boy to match Blaise, to be his best friend. We were all thrilled. I could even recognize his cry. Juan made a kind of upset-goat noise that, in church, always led my husband and I to mouth, “Juan!” and giggle. And I’d been honored beyond anything I’d ever experienced when Steph asked my husband and I to be his godparents. I’d held him while he was baptized. But I had never held him quite like this.
I bared my breast. Everyone gathered around. Juan seemed to sniff a bit, wrinkle his nose, and latch anyway. I felt the suck, suck, suck, so similar to my son, but strangely different. He breastfed on and off that entire day. I switched between Juan and Blaise, Juan and Blaise, once breastfeeding them both at the same time. My friends brought me pillows, and I latched both babies in football holds, my hands cradling their fuzzy heads, Blaise huge compared to tiny Juan. Some women say they’re bothered by the feeling of tandem breastfeeding, but it didn’t bother me.
Once we broke the initial taboo of breastfeeding someone else's baby, our entire perspective shifted. Breast milk went from something unique between mother and baby to a communal resource. A baby who needed milk should get it, preferably from its mom, but if not, from whoever could provide it.
And it didn’t bother me when Steph’s husband brought Juan over one night so she could get some sleep. I sat in the recliner and breastfed all night long. I never felt like a milk cow. I never felt touched out. I loved breastfeeding these tiny babies, even if I had to nearly take my shirt off to do it. Juan latched familiarly the night his dad brought him to our house. He knew he could depend on me for milk.
I don't know if Steph ever felt jealous. I know that the times she needed to nap she was so grateful to lay down that she didn't care what sleep cost. She was grateful to have someone to leave her baby with for her dentist's appointment. I think she felt envious that I never got touched out, that I never tired of breastfeeding. It wasn't a mean envy, though. More like wistful, like she wished she could do the same.
I don't recall the last time I breastfed Juan, which makes me sad. I wish I had that moment to hold onto. Breastfeeding him was something precious. It was precious to have Steph's trust, and I think it deepened our friendship.
I wasn't surprised at Steph's lack of jealousy. Once we broke the initial taboo of breastfeeding someone else's baby, our entire perspective shifted. Breast milk went from something unique between mother and baby to a communal resource. A baby who needed milk should get it, preferably from its mom, but if not, from whoever could provide it.
Blaise got jealous, though. He always seemed to need to breastfeed just as soon as Juan did. This didn't happen when he was small, but once he was big enough to realize that someone was sharing his mom, somewhere around the seven-month mark, he began to need special attention along with Juan.
And we got only positive comments from friends and our husbands about the arrangement, even if my mother just sort of nodded her head and chalked it up to my being a "hippie." No one was ever grossed out, or disgusted, or at least felt the need to tell us so. Juan weaned around 18-24 months and I quit breastfeeding him at the same time. I didn't want to undermine his mom's efforts at weaning, and because I didn't need to: he was old enough to have solid food and whole milk. Breast milk wasn't his sole food, so there was no need for me to help breastfeed him.
There's a special bond that comes with breastfeeding a baby. You look at them differently. You feel closer, more loving towards them. The same happens when you breastfeed someone else's baby.
I don't recall the last time I breastfed Juan, which makes me sad. I wish I had that moment to hold onto. Breastfeeding him was something precious. It was precious to have Steph's trust, and I think it deepened our friendship. It was a gift to be handed a baby with the assumption from his mother, Here. I trust you to breastfeed and nurture him in my place.
It also deepened my relationship with Juan. There's a special bond that comes with breastfeeding a baby. You look at them differently. You feel closer, more loving towards them. The same happens when you breastfeed someone else's baby. I breastfed other babies after Juan, and I found it to be true across the board. You look for them when you come in the room. You become more attuned to their cries. That's how I felt about Juan. I already loved him as my godson. I was graced to love him as a nursling.
I breastfed Juan's older sister a few times as well. Once, when Steph was totally touched out, she sat on the couch next to me while I breastfed her 18-month-old daughter because she had asked for it and Steph didn't want to. I am so grateful to have shared that time with both Juan and his sister. But because Juan is my godson, because I breastfed him so often during a time when Steph and I were both new mothers negotiating parenthood for the first time, I feel a special bond with him that I don't with his sister. I love her to pieces. I'm grateful and humbled I could breastfeed her, but it wasn't like it was with my Juan.
In a way, he's my baby. And I don't think Steph would mind me saying that.