When Lydia was still a newborn, I was producing way more milk than she needed.
I felt – and still feel – passionate about babies being able to drink human milk in their first months of life. That’s what babies were designed to drink as they transition into life outside the womb. I feel certain there could be enough milk for everyone if we shared the burden of feeding our babies, rather than making every mother completely responsible for nourishing her child by herself (or resorting to an expensive, highly-processed, artificial imitation).
I felt so incredibly blessed to be able to give my daughter that perfect nourishment, and ached for moms who weren’t able to provide the same for their babies.
Since I had lots to spare, I began to research ways that I could donate my own milk to a baby in need. (For the record, in the future, I’d be open to nursing other people’s babies if the need and opportunity arose. I know that sounds weird, but I mean it.) I found one organization that accepted donations, but it was located in the United States. I figured that though my chances of being able to work with them were slim, it was worth a shot contacting them. (Geographically, they were fairly close. The only Canadian milk bank I could find was on the other side of the country in Vancouver.) I sent the American bank an email explaining my situation and my desire.
I got a response shortly thereafter. Sadly, they weren’t able to accept my donations.
“I suspect this will be a disappointment to you,” the responding nurse wrote. “Please know that you are helping other families by being a wonderful role model. There will be an increase in the number of women who choose to breast feed their own babies because of women like yourself who share their experiences.”
She was right. I was disappointed. But I was also stunned by the suggestion that I was already helping other families. Really? It didn’t feel like I was helping other families. I wanted to do more!
As I mulled over her email, I began to see the truth in what she said.
Every action we take makes a greater impact, beyond the people we immediately touch.
Since then, I’ve tried to let that bit of wisdom penetrate my soul: we are already helping others any time we do something good for anybody. We bless the world when we bless our own children.
Whatever good things we do, no matter the context and no matter how small it seems, they have greater consequences than what we can immediately see.
When we do good things for our children, we are doing good in the world in several ways: first, by living incarnationally – simply being Christ in the world – and letting God’s glory be manifest in our lives. I like to think of it as helping to bring heaven onto earth. And second, when we pour God’s love into our relationships, it gets passed along to others in the world and spread further. And third, we offer an example of what can be possible, inspiring others to follow suit.
Often, when I’m feeling overwhelmed with the sorrow and pain of the world, wondering what I can do, I remember what that kind nurse told me:
I’m helping already.
A few months after I had that email conversation with the nurse, I read a story in an issue of Conspire magazine about a missionary family who moved to a slum in Cambodia. In that community, mothers fed their babies infant formula because the ads on TV had them convinced that their children would be smarter, fatter, and healthier if they used it. The trouble was, they didn’t have easy access to clean drinking water. They ended up feeding their babies contaminated formula which led to dehydration, malnutrition, and sometimes death.
One of the most profound contributions the missionary mother made to the community was breastfeeding her own baby. Her neighbours witnessed this and were amazed to see her baby grow healthy and strong. Just having the chance to see a Westerner choose to breastfeed, and then seeing the positive results, was enough to help these women overcome the lies on TV. With time, the use of infant formula decreased in that slum, saving lives. All because one woman decided to breastfeed her own baby.
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My book club and I recently finished the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. It was an eye-opening read. It’s hard to believe how much harm we affluent white folks can do with our good intentions. I highly recommend it to anyone who is wrestling with questions of how we can really help the poor and suffering.
The thing is, we want to help. We see our own wealth and privilege and we feel so guilty. We have so much and others have so little. It’s not fair. We want to share.
But in our ignorance we can do so much damage. In our attempts to give back to people with less, we often injure their dignity, damage local economies, and weaken our own spirits.
I’m finding that helping out of guilt can often make things worse.
I wonder, sometimes, if we’re better off not poking around in other people’s business, looking for people and places to help. We often don’t understand the situation, and can do more harm than good.
I mean, by all means, if an opportunity arises to help, or we feel a specific call to help in a certain place or time, we should listen to that voice and offer ourselves to our neighbours.
But sometimes, I wonder if we’d better serve the world by loving the people already around us.
I get inspiration from people like Mother Theresa, who told us to Do small things with great love. I have to remind myself often of her injunction to Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.
When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Prize, she was asked, “What can we do to promote world peace?” She answered, “Go home and love your family.”
Really, these small acts will save the world. I have formulated my own ways of thinking about these things:
Your love spreads further than you realize.
Loving those closest to us is good for the whole world.
And finally: we help make the world a better place by doing what we can.
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Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman
**Please note that none of this is to say that bottle-feeding is not an act of love. I just happened to learn a greater truth in relation to my breastfeeding experience.**
Image courtesy of Pink Sherbet Photography.