I nursed my best friend Steph’s son Juan when she needed it, and I wished she could breastfeed my son. But we couldn’t, not at four months, not until my son Blaise grew out of his severe intolerance to milk and soy proteins in breast milk. He couldn’t eat any milk or soy products in his system, which meant that anyone breastfeeding him had to be milk- and soy-free. So even though she couldn't at the time, I so wished my best friend breastfed my baby — it would have been convenient, and I could have left him with her. But once Blaise had grown out of his allergy at one year, Steph could. And that's when exactly when we needed her to. I was heavily pregnant with my second son at the time, and we sat in the Southern summer sun taking pictures of the boys. My milk had mostly dried up by then. Juan breastfed with Steph. Then Blaise, who’d grown up seeing me breastfeed Juan, sidled up to Steph and did the open-close, open-close fist sign for "milk?" Steph rolled her eyes. “OK, fine,” she said. And for the first time, I experienced the strangeness of watching my child breastfeed with another woman.
I felt weird at first. Then jealous. You can’t help but feel jealous when your baby is breastfeeding from another person. But then my jealousy mixed with gratitude. Blaise hadn’t had a decent breastfeeding session, with plenty of milk, for some time. Breastfeeding while pregnant made my skin crawl from a mixture of sensation and hormones, so I cut off the sessions as soon as possible. But Steph petted his head and cradled him, sat on the grass, and let Blaise breastfeed for as long as he wanted. The jealousy and weirdness disappeared. By the end, I felt nothing but grateful. It’s a grace to have someone kind enough and close enough to feed your child. I know Steph felt closer to Blaise. And I felt closer to Steph.
I went to the hospital to have Blaise’s little brother late one night. Our childless friends watched Blaise, but in the morning, Steph came over and collected 2-year-old Blaise, who was still at the breast. I'd worried terribly about him missing me and missing breastfeeding while I was gone. We’d never been separated. Steph knew that, and she eased his transition to big brother by putting him to her breast. She breastfed Blaise for me all that day and into the night, until we came home 24 hours after birth.
I’m so grateful Steph breastfed Blaise. And I’m humbled and thankful she opened her whole person to my son, without reservation, especially at a time when we needed it the most.
A few times, she breastfed Blaise and Juan at the same time, two 2-year-old toddlers sucking at her breasts. She didn’t have the same blissful feeling I did, but bless her, she did it anyway. Steph always got touched out more easily than I did, and she felt it almost immediately; the different sucking rhythms of each boy set her teeth on edge. But she breastfed Blaise sometimes when she breastfed Juan. Blaise apparently latched happily and quickly. The boys kicked while they nursed.
Blaise rarely nursed with Steph after his brother was born. I had plenty of milk for two, and I tandem breastfed my toddler and my newborn. So it seemed their nursing days were at a close.
Steph tried to breastfeed Blaise for the last time one Sunday morning in our usual diner spot. She’d been away from Juan all weekend, and her pump hadn’t worked well. She was heavily engorged and in pain. I offered to lend her Blaise — she couldn’t breastfeed my youngest because of the same protein intolerance Blaise had. “Oh my gosh, would you?” she said. We passed Blaise over the table. She opened her shirt. He leaned in, took a hefty sniff, and leaned back, shaking his head. “No,” he said.
I couldn’t provide, or adequately provide, that resource and that bond. In those times, Steph stepped in to provide it. She took care of my son when I couldn’t. How could I be anything but grateful for that?
We all laughed. “I guess I smell different,” Steph said. She never breastfed Blaise again. He was 2-and-half years old, too old to want to breastfeed from anyone but me at that point, and I suppose once nursing becomes pure comfort (which is what he was doing) and less food, he wasn't as likely to breastfeed with someone else.
I’m so grateful Steph breastfed Blaise. And I’m humbled and thankful she opened her whole person to my son, without reservation, especially at a time when we needed it the most. You’d think the jealousy and weirdness would have stuck around. After all, we typically treat breastfeeding as a special bond exclusive to mother and baby. But I couldn’t provide, or adequately provide, that resource and that bond. In those times, Steph stepped in to provide it. She took care of my son when I couldn’t. How could I be anything but grateful for that?
Steph and I always joke that our sons see milk as a communal resource instead of something between mom and baby. Milk is for every baby who needs it, and to be honest, I’m glad they grew up that way. I’m grateful that Steph made that happen by giving Blaise what he needed when I couldn’t. It meant everything to me to have a friend willing to literally give herself to my child. It deepened our friendship immeasurably. My initial jealousy dissolved into nothing but appreciation. And I feel nothing but love. So does she. So do our boys.