A grieving mom breastfed another woman's baby and we're in tears

Jun 17, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. ET
Image: Jebaraj John/iStock/Getty Images

For those times when the world seems to be a particularly shitty place to live, we need a good news injection. This week, that comes courtesy of super mom Sarah Rieke, who has gone above and beyond what’s typically expected of a best friend.

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Rieke, 30, did something awesome for her friend Lauren Casper, 31. After losing her own newborn daughter, Rieke offered to breastfeed Casper’s newborn adopted daughter, Arsema.

In 2012, the women, who both lived in Virginia, were looking forward to entering the next stage of motherhood together. Rieke was expecting her own baby girl, and Casper was preparing to adopt a daughter. What could make motherhood even more special than watching your child grow up alongside your best friend's?

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. At her 20-week ultrasound, Rieke discovered that her little girl, Evie, wouldn’t survive for long outside the womb. After her birth in November 2012, Evie only lived for four hours. But despite her tragic situation, Rieke offered her breast milk to Casper, who was unable to feed her baby Arsema because she was adopted.

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Unbelievably, Rieke didn’t even feel that what she was doing was "that special." "I had this milk, and she had a baby," she said. "And while I was in a time of weeping, and she was in one of rejoicing, we were both able to acknowledge each other's situations."

Rieke, who now has other children, said she actually found breastfeeding Arsema therapeutic. "Breastfeeding Arsema helped me with my grief," she said. "While obviously, there were occasions when I wished I could have been breastfeeding my own daughter, and I did often think that I wished our girls could grow up together, it meant the world to me to do something for a friend who had been there for me throughout my life."

Wet nursing — breastfeeding a baby who is not your own — was common hundreds of years ago. Wet nurses were often employed when a mother was unable to — or chose not to — feed her child. It's a practice that's continued in many developing countries throughout the world (for example, wet nurses are often employed in China, Indonesia, and the Philippines as a sign of aristocracy, wealth and high status), but only in the last few years have Western women been openly sharing their wet nursing experiences. Whether that's breastfeeding their niece or nephew, sharing their breast milk with their friend (cross-nursing or co-nursing) or even offering their boobs to a stranger's baby, their stories remind us that milk sharing can be very much part of modern parenting.

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In Rieke's case, she didn't only breastfeed a baby that wasn't her own. She did in in the wake of her own baby daughter's tragic death because she wanted to help another mom. What a remarkable woman — the ultimate example of a true friend and a testimony to the power of a mother's instinct.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

birth photos
Image: Liz Jennings Photography