Saturday, December 9, 2006

What would you not give?

I try not to get too caught up in tragic events, but I do have something to say about the Kim family. The main story, of course, is that James Kim set off into the bitterly cold wilderness on a superhuman mission to get help for his stranded family, a mission that sacrificed his life. Every news report writes a line about how the Kims had very little food with them, and that, once the food ran out, Kati Kim breastfed her two children, seven months old and four years old. That's the part of the story that affects me the most, that puts me in the frigid car, melting snow for water.

What new mother hasn't had dreams she wakes up from in a cold sweat because of some imagined threat to her baby? When Paolo was an infant, I had my share of horrible dreams of being lost or stranded and struggling to survive. I’d wake in a panic, my heart racing, wondering how to save my baby. It brought me comfort to know I could feed him, wherever we were, and as long as I could stay hydrated, I could keep him alive. That would be enough to soothe me back to sleep. When I read about Kati Kim nursing her children in the absence of food, I knew that her most horrible dream had come true. Thankfully, Kati had decided seven months ago to breastfeed her new baby, and she hadn’t stopped. According to the 2004 National Immunization Survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70% of mothers reported ever breastfeeding their infants, 36% reported still breastfeeding at six months, and 18% reported breastfeeding at 12 months. Any responsible, caring father like James Kim would have risked his life to better the chances of his family’s survival, but only one in four mothers with babies over six months old would have been able to keep their children nourished when the food ran out. One in four.

The Kim children have two heroes for parents, and I just wanted to point that out because I haven’t heard anyone else say it. I don’t know what the lesson to be learned from this tragedy is. I guess it teaches us that our nightmares can come true, and at least one in four new mothers will be able to get back to sleep tonight.

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