Despite undergoing a mastectomy, Sarah Whitney wanted nothing more than to breastfeed her baby.
Sarah Whitney was only seven weeks into her third pregnancy when she found a suspicious lump on her left breast. An ultrasound confirmed that it was benign, so she and husband Michael breathed a sigh of relief. But their happiness would be short-lived: Six weeks later, the lump had multiplied, and by the fifth month of her pregnancy, Sarah was told she had stage 3 breast cancer.
She'd be able to safely undergo treatment—the placenta filters out toxins, so the baby would be safe—but because her cancer was especially aggressive, she opted to take an extra step and undergo a mastectomy. Whitney and her doctor decided to remove only the left breast because she desperately wanted to try breastfeeding the infant. She also stopped treatments a few weeks before her kiddo was born, in part to rid her body of any toxins that could be passed through breast milk. Whitney knew her window to nurse was small—she'd need to resume treatment shortly after delivering—so she hired a photographer to record her newborn's very first feeding session.
"Even with having been told the diagnosis and losing my hair...the hardest part for me was being told I would not be able to breastfeed for long, if at all, because of the potential harm the medications could cause the baby," she told a reporter for Eglin Air Force Base, where the family is stationed. "That's the main reason why I really wanted a photographer there to capture [the moment], if it were to happen."
The Whitneys wouldn't have to wait long for the Kodak-worthy moment—on April 21, their son, Kal-El, was born. Much to Sarah's surprise, her little boy latched on to her right breast right away, all while the photographer, Kate Murray, snapped a series of stunning black and white photos. "I prayed for that moment but didn't expect it," Whitney said. "It was amazing."
Murray clearly agreed, sharing the touching pictures on Facebook a few months ago. They've since been reposted on the Facebook page of Whitney's birthing center and recently even went viral, racking up nearly 313,000 likes and plenty of heartwarming comments. The outpouring of love and support are especially poignant now, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. "Tears.... I am a ten year survivor.. Nursed two babies on one boob, totally get the emotion!!! Sweet and touching story!" wrote one. "So beautiful! I'm a chemo baby my moms a stage 4 colon cancer survivor! What an amazing story this is!" wrote another.
Amazingly, Whitney was able to breastfeed for two weeks and now gives her son donor milk provided by a fellow military wife. She'll endure five more years of treatment and won't be able to get pregnant again, but she says she's more focused on how lucky she is to have such a healthy child. "There's been a lot of heartache with things not working out the way we wanted, but I'm just soaking everything in and appreciating all the blessings we've had with him being healthy," she said. "We don't give up in this family. We keep going. That's what we live by."
Congratulations to the Whitney family on their adorable son, and best wishes to Sarah for continued strength!
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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.