A caring community gives a little guy a good start
MARQUETTE -- Robbie Goodrich held his 6-month-old son, Moses, high above him Tuesday in a dining room filled with streaming morning sunlight. Moses smiled and kicked.
"You're hungry, aren't you?" he whispered. "You're excited to see Mama Carrie."
Mama Carrie is not Goodrich's wife, nor is she Moses' mother. She is one of about 25 women who either nurse or pump breast milk for Moses, trying to fill a small part of the hole created when his mother, 46-year-old Susan Goodrich, died 11 hours after giving birth in January.
The memory of that tragedy -- the result of an amniotic fluid embolism -- still brings tears to Goodrich's eyes.
"I've known grief," said Goodrich, 44, a professor of history at Northern Michigan University and also father to one of Susan's other three children, 2-year-old Julia. "I've lost a brother. My mom has died of Alzheimer's. Grief wasn't anything new. But this was different. This was despair. It was black. I really didn't know what to do."
Luckily, his community did.
'Don't leave that baby'
Goodrich wasn't with his wife, also a professor at NMU, when things started to go wrong at Marquette General Hospital. He was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where Moses was under observation after being born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.
"She was very adamant. She said, 'Don't you leave that baby,' " he said.
Two hours later, with Moses doing well, a nurse told Goodrich his wife wasn't. In fact, she was about to be transferred to the intensive care unit. Soon, a doctor told Goodrich to prepare for the worst.
"I said, 'Could she die?' And they said, 'Yes, you have to prepare for the worst.' "
Susan fell into a coma as doctors tried to figure out what was wrong. They did exploratory surgery, worked on getting her blood clotted and even did an emergency hysterectomy. She stabilized and crashed three times. The fourth time was fatal.
Amniotic fluid embolisms are the fifth leading cause of maternal death in the United States, affecting about one in every 30,000 births. They end in death about 80% of the time.
And so Susan Goodrich, described as fiery and witty, a great conversationalist, died.
A life-changing call
The Goodriches were strongly pro-breastfeeding and, once Susan was gone, Robbie Goodrich had to figure out what to feed Moses.
The nurses ordered about $500 worth of milk (at $5 an ounce) from the Bronson Mother's Milk Bank in Kalamazoo. It wouldn't arrive for two days. In the meantime, Moses would have formula.
Then came a life-changing phone call.
Laura Janowski, a family friend, wanted to do something, anything, to help. She was a nursing mother herself, so she threw it out: Would Robbie like her to nurse Moses?
"She was very cautious and almost even apologetic in her call, and I know why," Goodrich said. "Because nursing someone else's baby in our country is not a normal sight. Heck, breastfeeding itself in public still gets people offended."
The offer was hardly offensive to Goodrich. In fact, he wondered whether other women would do the same. Susan's best friend, Nicoletta Fraire, 34, took on the challenge of making a team.
Through a breastfeeding support group, the Yooper Nursers, word spread quickly. Three days after Moses was born, the women began feeding him on a schedule.
Most of the women were strangers before Susan died. That included 29-year-old Carrie Fiocchi, the first mother to nurse Moses. She had no reservations about nursing someone else's baby.
"I was like, 'I've got milk. Let's do it.' "
Each volunteer was also nursing her own child. But there was little worry about milk supplies.
"You make enough" milk, Sally Keskey said. "I just started drinking Mother's Milk a lot more. And I take fenugreek. I didn't even have to continue taking it. I just kept pumping."
Fiocchi, who nurses Moses at 9 a.m. every day, said she tried to stay detached, but it was impossible.
"I don't think of myself as his mom, but he's this little baby I see every day. I love him," she said, a sentiment each volunteer echoed. "He definitely feels like family."
That sense of community has been the unpredictable byproduct of a tragic situation. In the first six weeks, Goodrich said there was almost always a nursing mom in his home. Eventually, they came seven times a day. Now, it's five.
They often bring their own children, who romp around the house with Julia. And the women, who plan to nurse Moses until he's a year old, chat with Goodrich over tea and pastries.
"It's life-changing," said 20-year-old Keskey, who nursed Moses for two months. "I think the biggest thing is ... that people can do amazing things when they're open."
'Doing this for Susan'
Moses has grown to a solid 16 pounds, right in the middle of the growth charts. And the memory of Susan is ever-present.
"I kept thinking," Keskey said, "this is supposed to be Susan's job."
Another, 31-year-old Kyra Fillmore said, "I felt like I was doing this for Susan. ... It's really emotional. Because while it's nice to hold a newborn, I think to myself, 'It shouldn't be me.' "
Goodrich said he is not depressed, but he's always sad. He also knows how good he has it, in a sense.
His house is full of life. And his baby is a happy, babbling baldy with blue eyes and chubby thighs who is held and kissed and fed throughout the day by women who love him the best they can.
"The thing that I've come to appreciate the most is the nurturing aspect," Goodrich said. "It's the love. That's the most important thing. Maybe he would have been a happy child anyway. But he's held multiple hours throughout the day in a mother's arms. ... No one can tell me that's not just as important as the milk."
Contact KRISTA JAHNKE at 313-222-8854 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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