updated 06/15/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 06/15/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT
There's no more familiar scene of maternal bliss—only Carrie, 29, isn't Moses's mother. In fact, she's just one of 25 women in this Upper Peninsula college town who take turns nursing Moses in the wake of a terrible tragedy—the death of Robbie's wife, Susan, 46, after giving birth six months ago. "They sacrifice their time, their milk, holding and nurturing him," says Robbie, 43. "How do you repay that?"
It's a debt he couldn't have imagined when he married Susan, a witty Spanish language professor, in 2006. Drawn together by a love of children, the newlyweds welcomed a baby girl a year later and were thrilled to learn that Susan was expecting a baby boy soon after. "We were so looking forward to his birth," says Robbie, a Northern Michigan University history professor. But on Jan. 11, just 11 hours after 8 lb., 4 oz. Charles Moses Martin Goodrich arrived in the world, Susan suffered a rare amniotic-fluid embolism, causing massive bleeding. "There was no time for loving last words or goodbyes," says Robbie, choking back tears.
Though faced with raising the baby without his wife, he wanted to be true to her wishes—Susan planned to nurse Moses for his first year, as she had done with big sister Julia, 2, and her two older children from a previous marriage. He ordered $500 of frozen breast milk from a milk bank in Kalamazoo to get Moses started—then got a surprising call from a friend offering to nurse the baby. Within a day, Nicoletta Fraire, 34, another close friend, had organized a cadre of volunteer moms—mostly strangers moved by Moses's plight—to feed him every three hours during the day; at night Robbie gives his son a bottle of the mothers' donated milk. "It makes me feel good to do this," says new mom Carrie, who heard about the family's tragedy through her church. Adds Tina Charboneau, 38, who also nurses her 2-year-old son: "Moses's eyes light up when he sees me. We have a bond."
Aware that cross-nursing carries certain risks (see box), Robbie and the moms have discussed health concerns and believe their practices are safe. As for benefits, Robbie sees those every time Moses gets cuddled by so many loving arms. "He doesn't have a mother, but they give him the love of a mother," he says. "And that is such a gift."
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