Born too soon – the fight to live

KASHIEFA AJAM tells her story of hav­ing an emer­gency Cae­sarean sec­tion at 33 weeks, giv­ing birth to a 1.4kg baby Ex­press­ing the pre­cious gift of life

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - SHEREE BEGA

IT’S be­cause I’m donor 48. And be­cause, as Olga Morodi from the SA Breast Milk Re­serve tells me, my breast milk is like liq­uid gold to Joburg’s pre­ma­ture ba­bies. That, and the thought of my thriv­ing baby daugh­ter, is what keeps me an “ex­clu­sive pumper”.

There’s also the prom­ise I made to Morodi, the pro­gramme co­or­di­na­tor at the re­serve, not to stop do­nat­ing my life-sav­ing breast milk to her hu­man milk bank. “You have to keep pump­ing for at least another year,” she told me, when I asked how long breast-feed­ing moth­ers typ­i­cally do­nate. “There are many ba­bies who are re­ly­ing on your milk now.”

Another year? I swal­lowed hard. I thought of lug­ging my in­dus­tri­al­sized dou­ble breast pump around, of all the sleep I had missed and events that were in­ter­rupted to sneak away to ex­press milk. I re­minded my­self of the ur­gent, fran­tic need to pump ev­ery five hours at least, no mat­ter where I was. And my hus­band’s in­creas­ingly ir­ri­tated glares. “Okay, I prom­ise,” I gulped.

I’ve spent the past eight months ex­clu­sively pump­ing breast milk for my baby – she stopped feed­ing from me at about three weeks – and feed­ing it to her from a bot­tle. She was not pre­ma­ture, but con­tin­ues to thrive on mommy’s milk.

Ev­ery week I freeze and do­nate up to 10 bot­tles of my ex­tra milk to the re­serve. Just one bot­tle nour­ishes sev­eral of th­ese mi­cro­prems at once; most are HIV-pos­i­tive and as big as a cell­phone pouch. They are so small they only need to drink 1ml ev­ery three hours.

Pump­ing four times a day is drain­ing. It’s also ex­pen­sive – my hired pump costs R600 a month – but I’m de­ter­mined to sol­dier on. My pump has gone ev­ery­where with me – wed­dings, chil­dren’s par­ties, fam­ily braais, and now that I’m back at work, to sto­ries in emer­gen­cies.

It’s all worth it. Even though the re­serve has 65 donors in Joburg and Pre­to­ria, only about 10 are ac­tive, in­clud­ing me. Ten. To feed thou­sands of ba­bies.

This is nowhere near enough. So Morodi tra­verses Gaut­eng ev­ery day, im­plor­ing moth­ers in hos­pi­tals to ex­press and do­nate their ex­tra milk; even bet­ter, to be­come reg­u­lar donors whose milk will sus­tain th­ese tiny ba­bies in state hos­pi­tals.

“I call it liq­uid gold be­cause you look at a 450-gram­mer, that baby ends up weigh­ing above 1.8kg and it’s be­cause of breast milk. That’s the won­der of it,” said Morodi.

So, even when I feel like I’m miss­ing out on life, I think of my beau­ti­ful, chubby daugh­ter. And I re­mem­ber those pre­ma­ture in­fants who de­pend on my milk for their sur­vival. Be­sides, there’s that prom­ise to Morodi I have to keep.

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