When the power goes out in the middle of a heat wave, so many things can and did gone wrong this week. Of the thousands of mini catastrophes, one that resonated, especially, with me was the story of Kopal Jha.
Jha lives with her husband, two children and a three-month-old baby in Takoma Park, Md. On Friday, their power went out, turning off, among other things, their refrigerator.
For anyone who thinks spoiled steaks might be the most precious food lost in a power outage, Jha can tell you otherwise.
Stored breast milk was in her fridge. The remnants of what the mother had painstakingly pumped — sometimes a tiny fraction at a time — and saved for the previous three months.
By the time she and her husband realized the refrigerator was off, the milk had partially thawed. (They also realized that recently visiting, well-meaning grandparents had also fed the baby from the stash.)
There was no frozen milk left.
The problem was compounded, exponentially, by the fact that Jha was returning from maternity leave to her job as a scientist at the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Monday.
Jha had breast-fed her older children exclusively for a year each and had planned to feed her new baby only breast milk. That stored milk was supposed to be used during Jha’s working hours.
Besides the lost milk, she couldn’t pump and store over the weekend because her power was still out. (When we e-mailed about her situation Tuesday morning, she said, her power was still out.)
There is a happy ending though, one that has been repeated throughout so many storm-damaged neighborhoods in the region and one that will stay with me during Wednesday’s celebrations.
Jha and her husband fed the baby her first bottle of formula, which she took to fine. But Jha also sent a plea out on her neighborhood e-mail exchange, looking for women who might have extra breast milk to spare.
The responses rolled in much faster than the milk came: Three women offered their stored milk.
A fourth, the mother of a newborn, offered to pump extra.
And, Tuesday morning, Jha received yet another offer.
She connected with two of those neighbors and now has about 20 ounces of extra breast milk.
“I’m at work today with not a care in the world as far as my baby is concerned,” she wrote to me.
“People constantly talk about the lack of real community in the United States (I am from India, but a naturalized citizen),” she went on.
“Nothing has shown me how much real connection there is amongst people here as this situation. Mother’s milk is a truly magical thing, made with love and dedication (all that pumping, labeling, storage, etc. takes time and effort). It is made for your most loved one, your baby.
“To share that means more to me than almost anything else.
“I am very grateful.”
How has your family been impacted by the storm and its aftermath?