Breastfeeding the abandoned baby
““Goa!!…. Goal!!… Gaooal!!!”
“Look at that, man!”
The cheer went up in my living room as my best friends celebrated a beautiful late winning goal by Barcelona FC of Spain, courtesy of a magical display by Lionel Messi, which had their opponents falling all over themselves and their own goalkeeper.
Sitting quietly in my favorite armchair and sipping chilled fruit juice from a glass, I smiled quietly at the whole spectacle.
My best friends and I were great football fans. We all had individual clubs we supported fiercely, but when it came to a superstar-studded club like Spain’s Barcelona FC or Real Madrid FC, we were all on the same page. Usually, we gathered at our clubhouse to have maximum fun, but since I was still down and low, making no public appearances, they had chosen to assemble here at my place instead to watch the Thursday night match and keep me company. They had even come complete with lots of refreshments. My friends had been doing things like this recently in a bid to cheer me up and it was working great.
Just over two weeks had passed now since my discharge from hospital and I was coping adequately. The crushing depression had eased and my moods had lightened up a bit. I had these guys to thank for that. Just last week, they had surprised me with a combined relief package of sixty million naira; Solomon and Charles, both well-paid business executives, outdid themselves, businessman Rokosu topped them both and Pascal, the wealthiest aside from me, shelled out half of that despite the private loan he had already given me. Pascal was the closest to me so he was the one Ajuna had gone to for the money to settle my expensive hospital bills and other expenses.
I had settled some of my lesser debts now, the contractors were off my back temporally, employees’ wages had been paid and I now had enough money in my pockets to remain financially afloat for the next two months with careful use. I hadn’t paid the bank anything yet, but then, nothing would really happen until June, four full months away, so I wasn’t too worried. I had done everything the Prophet instructed and he had promised I would see God’s miracle in my life soon. He had even sworn the bank would never get their hands on any of my property.
The final whistle of the football game blew and my friends began the usual ‘after match’ activates; shouts of approval, handshakes, laughter, jeers, heated arguments and conversations. Everything soon settled down as their attention turned fully to the refreshment, the wine and fried gizzards were rapidly consumed.
Ajuna came over from the bar with a fresh carton of chilled fruit juice to refill my glass.
“Well, Larry, it’s about time you gave us an answer on the issue of the concert,” said Charles, bringing everyone’s attention to me.
“I’m still giving it some thought,” I said.
“Great! Another uncommitted dead-end answer,” said Rokosu sarcastically and took a drink from his wine glass.
“Man, you can’t keep bottling yourself up like this. It isn’t doing you any good at all,” said Charles, looking worried. “You’ll relapse into depression if you’re not careful.”
“What are you now, his shrink?” asked Rokosu dryly.
“More like he’s in mourning,” said Solomon. “He may just need that shrink if you ask me.”
“Give it a rest, Sol,” countered Pascal. “The guy just lost nearly a billion and his bleeding heart to an evil babe for Christ sake, you can’t just expect him to feel nothing. Last time you had a few thousand dollars stolen by a whore, you wanted to kill somebody.”
There was laughter and I smiled despite myself.
“Are you saying Larry is better off wallowing in despair?” demanded Charles, turning on Pascal.
“Hell, no!” said Pascal. “All I’m saying is that we should take it easy on him a little longer and give him more time to pull himself together properly. When he’s good and ready to socialize, he will.”
“I disagree,” said Charles firmly. “It’s been nearly three weeks since he left the hospital and I haven’t seen him really laugh. We just watched a wonderful match, how many times did you hear his voice or see him really move? He’s not pulling out of this thing fast enough emotionally which is the first step to psychological, mental and physical recovery. These will all go hand-in-hand to bring about the required financial recovery, a man simply works and thinks best in a buoyant mood, I don’t need a shrink to explain that to me.”
“I’m just keeping calm like the doctors instructed.” I pointed out.
“Killing yourself indirectly through boredom and depression is more like it,” said Rokosu dryly.
“Larry, listen,” began Charles. “It’s a well-proven fact that cheerful company lightens the mood and the spirit of any human being. Another proven scientific fact is that music and laughter are like wonderful medicine to the soul, relieving stress, relaxing and calming a person deeply like nothing else can, go and asks your doctors. You will never recover fast enough to find alternatives to your problems if you keep brooding over spilled milk. You ought to come to this concert, have some fun and lighten up, it will help clear your mind and set it thinking straight automatically again. I got those VIP tickets with you especially in mind.”
“I’ve seen several American movies that depict people in his exact condition,” put in Solomon. “Horrible experiences result in suppressed memories, traumas and personality disorders of all kinds. There’s no medical solution for any of it, but then, unintentionally inducing light and happy moods and just being around familiar things and people, begin to have some positive effects on the person until, one day, the lid just pops and all the lost memories come rushing back in an instant. And before any of you brush this off as just make-believe stories, remember that Americans filmmakers usually have prestigious experts in consultation to give their movies a real-life twist. A little fun and laughter will do you a world of good, Larry, it certainly won’t hurt. Even if you don’t come to this concert, but I strongly suggest you do, at least start coming to the club. I hate to see you this way.”
“I second that,” said Rokosu at once raising a hand.
“I got to agree on that one too, Larry,” said Pascal.
I took a deep breath and let it out. “Alright, if you guys will keep the alcohol and the women away from me, I’ll come to the concert on Saturday.”
“Should we be worried that this is just another empty promise?” asked Charles.
“I don’t think so,” said Rokosu thoughtfully. “He just gave me a good idea of how to make him do anything we want. This new allergy to babes and alcohol, that’s the key. If he doesn’t show, we’ll bring carloads of half-naked girls and cartons of booze here and throw one hell of a party!”
I was appalled.
“I say we simply tie him up and carry him to the concert then throw the party anyway. I’m sick and tired of yelling rise and shine in his ear,” said Solomon.
“There’s no need to go that far,” I said quickly, knowing exactly what they were capable of. “I’ve already agreed to come to the concert, haven’t I? I’ll even come to the club too if you guys will shield me from people, I don’t feel like socializing right now.”
“Deal,” said Charles at once.
“Yeah, you’ve got yourself a deal,” declared Pascal too, smiling.
“Wait a minute, just wait a minute. I can’t agree to that,” complained Rokosu. “I got me plans for that Antonia babe and her friend.”
“You do remember your fiancé is from my place and I have her father on speed dial, right?” asked Pascal. “We Igbo men always keep special sharp machetes for bloody bastards like you.”
We all laughed.
At that very moment, the cries of my baby son started up, loud and clear, from the area of the kitchen.
Ajuna got up at once from the stool at the bar and hurried for the kitchen. A moment after he disappeared through the door in the dining section, the cries faded away.
The guys had all gone quiet and were watching me.
“That child has been crying a lot lately,” said Pascal. “Is he sick or something?”
I sighed. “It’s complicated, but in a sentence, he’s not doing well without his mother.”
“Is he sick?” asked Rokosu.
“In a way, yeah,” I said with a nod. “He runs severe temperatures at times, does eat well, never sleeps, just cries a lot.”
“Have you taken him to a hospital?” asked Solomon.
“Three days ago, actually,” I replied. “The doctor advised I get him a wet-nurse as soon as possible and he’ll be fine. The problem is finding one.”
“It won’t be easy,” said Rokosu shaking his head. “One-woman wet nursing another woman’s baby is very unusual in this part of the world.”
“Is that girl up to the task of taking care of the child in his condition?” asked Charles.
“Mary’s a very capable twenty-three-year-old who’s been babysitting since she was six. She’s wonderful, but just isn’t the answer to the problem. According to the doctor, the child needs to be in the arms or a nursing mother period.”
“That’s it?” asked Rokosu incredulously.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s got something to do with breastmilk and hormones or rather a critical lack of both.”
“How have you been searching?” asked Pascal.
“A doctor is helping and I’ve contacted some people from my place to look around for me.”
“Have you tried that church of yours?” asked Pascal. “There’s bound to be a lot of ‘fruitful wombs’ that would jump at the chance of earning some extra cash in this hard economy. With your prestige and position there, things shouldn’t be too difficult to arrange, moreover, who can you trust to look after the child better than a Christian woman from your own church?”
I stared at him. “I never even thought of that angle.”
“That’s understandable given the magnitude of the stress you’re under,” said Charles. “But you had better start acting real fast from here on, and diversify your search too, or you’ll lose that child before you know it.”
“Hell, man, it’ll never come to that,” said Rokosu.
“I hope not. But breastfeeding is by no means as unimportant or as ordinary as it seems,” said Charles. “Breastmilk is both food and medicine to the defenseless newborn baby. Among many things, it contains sedatives to relieve any physical pain and put the child to sleep under any circumstance, and then there’s the special bond between the mother and baby. Her voice and touch alone, just by themselves, work wonders, and her body releases special hormones, pheromones, that instills a deep sense of confidence and security in the baby, making it calm and happy like nothing else can. The best baby foods in the world are highly inferior to natural breastmilk and six months is the average period to which a baby should be breastfed. A lack of proper breastfeeding could make a child grow up with all sorts of physical and psychological defects, from low intelligence, allergies and heart diseases to unusual timidity. I read an article once that linked lack of proper breastfeeding to the high infant mortality rate worldwide. There was a long list of all sorts of associating ailments and health complications that could kill a baby overnight due to lack of proper breastfeeding. The article also told of how a country like Indonesia, which is at the top of the infant motility rate list, was taking the issue in hand. Apparently, the Indonesian government has established businesses that use special machines to extract natural breastmilk from viable nursing mothers, bottle it up in insulated containers and specially deliver it as baby food right to the front doors of people who need it for their babies. Google everything up and make your own conclusion, but let me tell you this, you’re not just looking for any wet-nurse. What you want, precisely, is a surrogate mother with a baby in the same age range as yours because a mother’s breastmilk is tailor-made by her body to suit the developing baby, fortifying its body at different stages for a healthy and sickness free life.”
There was complete silence as we all stared at Charles.
“The doctor said a few things like that, but they weren’t quite this detailed,” I said, troubledly now.
“Well, Charles is a walking encyclopedia, you can always expect details,” remarked Rokosu with grudging respect.
“Those hormones, the pheromones,” said Pascal carefully. “I think I’ve heard of them before, though in a different way. While I was in New York last year, I read a magazine article on how some casinos in Las Vegas were ripping off unsuspecting customers using a synthetic form of the same hormones. Apparently, a company down there called Enhanced Air Industries produces synthetic pheromones which are chemically identical to the natural pheromones released by mothers to newborns to instill a deep sense of comfort and security in them. These casinos pump the synthetic pheromones through air conditioning systems into their gambling halls to instill the same sense of comfort and security in their customers, making them happy and confident while they gamble away their life savings and money they don’t have.”
“Jesus!” exclaimed Rokosu.
“Wonders shall never end,” said Solomon.
Pascal continued, “Estella’s been gone almost two months now and that child is under three months old. A critical lack of these hormones alone could be what is making him cry so badly while refusing food and sleep.”
I sighed heavily. “I’ll contact my church first thing tomorrow morning.”
“And we will each help you look around as well, you’re not alone in this, man,” said Charles solemnly.
“Yeah, count me in,” agreed Solomon.
“Me too, I have a doctor cousin that may be of assistance,” said Pascal.
“I’ll have a word with the older females of my extended family,” added Rokosu. “If there’s a willing wet-nurse within a hundred miles, they’ll know about it.”
There were general approval and things went quiet then for a minute.
“Christ, it’s almost ten o’clock!” Exclaimed Rokosu suddenly and got quickly to his feet. “I got to hurry home, the wife-to-be is preparing a special dinner for me tonight and I completely forgot. She’ll have my head!”
“Now, now, don’t get your balls in an uproar, you’ll still be in time to wash the dishes,” said Pascal and we all laughed.
“Fuck you,” cursed Rokosu as he came over to shake my hand in goodbye.
“You first,” retorted Pascal.
There was more laughter and the guys began to get to up to leave.
“We’ll be off too and leave you to get some rest.”
“Yeah, we’ve kept you up enough,” added Pascal.
I walked them out to their cars and bade them farewell.
Back in the house, I went straight upstairs stairs to my bedroom and got busy with my laptop doing the needed online research on breastfeeding.
In the small hours of the morning, when I finally closed the computer, I was deeply shaken. I got up from the armchair and went out of the bedroom into the hallway, walked over to the top of the stairs and stood to listen.
The faint cries of my son floated up to my ears from Mary’s room downstairs.
I stood there for a long time with great sadness in my heart, then turned and went back into the bedroom and to bed.
Sleep took a while in coming despite the sleeping pills I took.
The first thing I did on getting to the office the next morning was to put a call to the Prophet.
He answered right off.
“Hello,” came his serious-toned voice.
“Good morning, sir,” I said.
“Ah, Larry, how are you?”
“I’m okay, sir, thank you.”
“I hope there’s no problem?”
“Actually, there is, sir, and I greatly need your help.”
“What is it?” he asked readily.
“Do you remember my telling you my wife left me with a baby?”
“Yes, yes, you said a relative was taking care of him. Has something gone wrong?”
“He has been experiencing some ill-health lately and the doctors’ advice I get him a wet-nurse.”
“You mean your relative wasn’t a nursing mother and has been bottle-feeding a newborn child for nearly two months?” the prophet sounded shocked.
I sighed. “Yes, sir.”
“That was very wrong! God planned and created everything in its rightful place, cow’s milk for baby cows, which are inferior animals, but human breastmilk for human babies, a vastly superior creature. A nursing mother’s breastmilk, her touch, and even her voice are very special and the newborn child can never develop well without them. The child won’t even sleep well and his body will not fight off illnesses well, ask any well-experienced mother of these things and she will tell you so at once. Isn’t your baby crying all the time?”
“Yes, he is.”
“See what I’m saying? In rare cases where the baby is unable to breastfeed from its natural mother, a wet-nurse is brought in right away to take her place because the newborn is too delicate to survive on its own in any way. You took a very big risk here indeed, haven’t you ever heard of any of these diseases that can kill a child without a single warning?”
I sighed again. “I must confess, sir, I’ve been very ignorant on this issue. I only started learning about it on the internet last night at the suggestion of a friend. The doctor I’ve been taking the child to, besides suggesting the wet-nurse, wasn’t very edifying on the issue.”
“Most Nigerian doctors aren’t first-class materials and often no good at all when stepping outside their field of specialization. We had a case here in the church just a few months ago, where the mother had some problems producing enough breastmilk for her baby so she kept bottle-feeding it and seeing the doctor until she awoke one morning and the child was stone cold dead. The new doctors she went to called it S.I.D.S, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. That was the first I heard that medical term, but it wasn’t the first time I had seen something like it. Since I started this church, four women have lost their babies and three of them due to ailments related to lack of proper breastfeeding. Whenever I see a sick baby now, the first thing I check is if it is being breastfed properly. I don’t joke with the matter at all.”
There was a horrible taste in my mouth now.
“Sir, I would be eternally grateful if you could assist me in finding a wet-nurse from among the women of the congregation.”
“That is what you should have asked of me long before that child fall ill. Is his condition very serious? Is there a fever?”
“A little fever, but nothing too serious for now. The medicines the doctor gave are helping, but his constant crying, the refusal to eat or sleep, it really worries me.”
“How old is the child?”
“Almost two and a half months now. I’ll like a wet-nurse with a baby within the same age range, give or take two weeks.”
“Now you’re talking. I will speak to my wife right away and we will reach out to some nursing mothers among the congregation this very day but understand one thing, this is a very delicate issue which absolutely concerns the man of the house as well. Husband and wife must be in agreement to accept and treat the child well, particularly the man. Offering some money will help a lot in the matter, people are just that way.”
“Money is no issue, sir. In fact, I’m very willing to pay and pay well.”
“Good. Can your relative look after the child for two or three more days?”
“Yes, sir. She’s very capable.”
“Good, let me talk to my wife now. We must have someone ready for you by or before Sunday.”
“Thank you, I’m so grateful.”
“No problems, just take things easy and have faith, everything must surely be alright in your life again.”
“May God be with you.”
“Amen.” I closed. “Thank you, sir.”
I got off the phone and sat back in my high-backed, leather swivel chair with a deep sigh of relief. Moments later, my cell phone rang. It was Pascal.
“What’s up, man?” I answered.
“I just got off the phone with that doctor cousin of mine. He’s on sick leave at the moment and can’t be of much help. I’m sorry.”
“No problems, man. I just talked to the Prophet of my church too and he promised me someone by or before Sunday.”
“That’s pretty quick.”
“Yeah, and he’s a man of his word. He’ll deliver.”
“You know, partly out of curiosity, I googled up those things Charles said last night and it was all true.”
“I know,” I said. “I did the same thing. I was stunned.”
“Did you see the long list of ailments that could result just from lack of breastfeeding the child properly? I stopped counting at sixty. Never knew ordinary breastfeeding could be so important.”
I laughed. “I stopped at forty, too many extensive research pinned to each one. When I finished reading, I felt like apologizing to my son for depriving him of his essential rights for so long.”
Pascal laughed “The little guy would have said, ‘don’t mention it, pal. I was only trying to tell you in my own crying way, but now you know, so stop wasting time and get me some tasty big boobs fast’.”
He had mimicked a child’s voice perfectly.
I burst out laughing and he joined.
“You sound pretty lighthearted now. The worry for that child must have been weighing heavily on you.”
“You can’t even begin to imagine the half of it.”
“Feel like a game or two of lawn tennis tomorrow morning then? There should be more than enough time to get ready for the concert?”
“I think I’ll like that.”
“Good, nothing like a good thrashing from old Uncle Pascal to shake up a depressed liver.”
“We’ll see about that. If I beat you, I get a hundred thousand, beat me, you get nothing.”
“What kind of betting is that?” demanded Pascal at once.
“Fair betting. According to you guys, I literally qualify as a cripple now, don’t I? Moreover, I could sure use the extra cash for fuel or are you afraid of being beaten by a cripple?”
“You’re on, you cheeky bastard! Seven o’clock sharp.”
“Seven o’clock it is.”