The Golden Circlet

All the good things in life


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The Brown Paper Bag Project

A while back Jo Anna Rothman sent me a mysterious little brown paper bag that turned out to have 10 bucks in it — 10 bucks that I was supposed to use for service, in whatever way I saw fit. I puzzled over what to do with that 10 dollars, how to make it bigger, make it expand into something that could really serve the world. Because lately, it seems to me like the entire world is a bucket with thousands of holes in it, and I felt like anywhere I could pour in my 10 dollars it would simply drain right out the bottom of the bucket without doing anything.

I needed a superhero to help me. So I turned to my daughter, whose present employment involves riding a pegasus, armed with a light saber, defending truth, justice, and liberty everywhere. At least, that’s what my father tells me.

Perhaps I should back up a bit. In July or early August, a pregnancy test told me what I already knew: I was expecting. We were so excited — 10 years of trying had finally paid off. I tried to ignore the *knowing* I had almost from the minute she was conceived: that I was pregnant, that she was a girl, that there was something wrong with her. I told my mom and my husband what I knew, and they told me what you have to say in those situations: You worry too much. She’s fine.

Except she wasn’t fine, as a bitter array of miraculous medical testing was able to show us in painful detail. The pregnancy ended at 16 weeks. I birthed a daughter in late October, but I didn’t get to take her home.

And then my milk came in — a strange, sad gift from my body to my little Amanda who didn’t need it and couldn’t use it. The doctors said this probably wouldn’t happen — my pregnancy ended too early for my body to make milk, they said. If any came in, they advised hot compresses and tight bras and it’ll go away quickly. But I didn’t want it to go away, I wanted it to be used. I thought Amanda would want to share what she didn’t need with other babies like her.

There are premature babies so young that their own mothers can’t make milk for them — and so fragile that without human milk they will die. And — maybe there’s hope for this awful world yet — there are also milk banks that collect human milk, pasteurize it, and give it to those babies. My daughter’s spirit whispered in my ear that her milk belonged to those fragile little babies. So I began to pump my milk.

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I didn’t have much — a few ounces a day at most. But the Mothers’ Milk Bank of New England generously told me that they would accept whatever I had to give. So I saved and froze my milk from the end of October until now — and finally fed-exed them a box of 120-odd ounces of human breast milk, a check for $100, and JoAnna’s 10 dollar bill.

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Hopefully somewhere out there in the stratosphere, a baby ghost in a blue nightgown on a Pegasus with a light saber is smiling, and hopefully some little ones as precious to their mamas as mine was to me, will get the chance to smile because of it.

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(You may not have milk to give, but the Mothers’ Milk Bank is a non-profit, and testing, processing, pasteurizing, and delivering milk safely to babies is expensive. I’m sure they’d be happy to have your donation, 10 bucks or otherwise.)