Goshen News, Goshen, IN

October 28, 2012

In time of tragedy, friend shares breast milk


— Jonna Maggert’s baby boy was only 7 months old when her husband, the baby’s dad, died suddenly in an automobile accident. It was an evening like many other in March 1992. Jonna had put the children to bed — then-7-year-old big brother, Zachary, and the baby, Stephen — and waited for her husband to come home.

He never came. Instead, Jonna heard from police. There’d been an accident on U.S. 6.

In an instant, the young wife became a young widow and mother who would face every pain anyone in that awful situation would. But Jonna also was a nursing mother.

With all the enormous mountains facing Jonna, her baby’s diet might seem like a minor detail. But it was not. An exclusive breastfeeding relationship — meaning the mother does not give formula — can be a tenuous one balanced on sensitive circumstances like mother’s stress level, mother’s health, baby’s sleeping and eating patterns and the home environment overall.

Certainly Jonna’s stress level skyrocketed that night in March 1992, and “skyrocketed” is even an inadequate way to put it. Her health failed to the point she lost 30 pounds quickly.

“I wasn’t sleeping much or eating right at all,” Jonna said. She cried so many tears, she said, she was — literally — dehydrated.

Jonna’s home environment changed dramatically as friends and family passed in and out and normal routines were painfully and permanently altered.

But the baby’s eating? Jonna thought quickly — thought of it within hours of getting the news of her husband’s death, in fact — that her baby’s eating was something she did not want affected greatly.

“I felt like his life was going to be upset in so many ways,” said Jonna, 49, of Goshen. “I just wanted him to at least eat what was normal for him.”

Normal for Stephen was mother’s milk, mostly directly from mother herself, though sometimes from a bottle, dropper or spoon.  But as a new widow, Jonna would not have time or energy to devote to pumping milk, and though she said her basic supply never diminished much — as can easily happen in such circumstances — Jonna didn’t have much extra.

Kris Miller and Jonna were good friends since, well, Kris said, “Forever.” Kris had a baby, her first, just a few weeks older than Jonna’s Stephen. Jonna had shared her mother’s wisdom with Kris during Kris’ pregnancy and birth, and the two shared “our stories, our heartbreaks and our babies,” Kris said.

Kris also shared her breast milk.

“It was just what you did for each other,” Kris said. “I didn’t even think twice about it.”

Kris heard about Jonna’s husband’s death fairly quickly and called to see what Jonna needed.

“Funny,” Kris said, “but she told me to bring a rug and breast milk.”

The rug would take care of wet, muddy boots associated with Indiana springs; the breast milk was for Stephen.