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
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.