Long journey for mother’s milk
By ANGELA SHAFFER, Special to the Standard-Times
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Every two weeks since early September 2007, young Silas Bohl has received a special package from halfway around the world. His mother, Capt. Ginger Bohl, is deployed with the Air Force in Afghanistan. The packages contain 30 to 40 pounds of frozen breast milk that travels in a convoluted, globe-trotting shipping route from the war zone to the Bohls’ home. Ginger Bohl’s deployment wraps up in mid-January, and she hopes to be back in San Angelo in time for Silas’ first birthday.
Mike Bohl unpacks a cooler of frozen breast milk with his son Silas in their San Angelo home. The milk comes from Bohl’s wife, Air Force Capt. Ginger Bohl, who is deployed in Afghanistan. Toddler Silas Bohl gets special deliveries every two weeks from his mom halfway across the globe, and he just eats them up.
Silas turns 1 later this month. His mom, Ginger Bohl, is deployed overseas and sends her breast milk home from a war-torn land.
“It’s my wife,” says Michael Bohl, her husband and Silas’ father. “She is an amazing woman - her spirit, her faith, everything about her just shines.”
Ginger Bohl, an Air Force captain, is an active-duty doctor deployed in Afghanistan from Goodfellow Air Force Base. Since leaving in late August, Bohl has sent home biweekly shipments of her breast milk, frozen and shipped in 30- to 40-pound quantities directly to the Bohl family.
Thirty-five pounds of milk is about 4 gallons’ worth. This delicate commodity makes it halfway across the planet, a distance of more than 8,000 miles, in just three short days. While Michael Bohl and the children have spent the majority of the recent months in Michigan visiting family, Ginger made time each day to pump milk using a Medela breast pump. Michael said she had reservations about being able to pump and store the milk on a daily basis.
Electricity and a working freezer were a must - what if the necessary facilities weren’t available?
“My wife left with faith that everything would be provided for,” Bohl said. “And it has.”
Ginger sends the breast milk to her stateside family in one of several Igloo Ice Cube coolers using DHL shipping services. Michael then packs the cooler with items he thinks she might want or need and sends it back. He recognizes that not every family is as fortunate as his, as the shipping costs could be prohibitive.
“We’re really blessed that we can afford to make these shipments so often,” Bohl said. “But it can get quite pricey, and because of that, it’s cost-prohibitive for a lot of military families.”
On a recent day at the Bohl home, Olivia Bohl, 3 1/2 years old, squealed with delight as she played with her toys and listened to music. Her brother Silas was down for his daily nap, and Michael Bohl took a breath of temporary relief known only to those who have the important job of raising children.
Since no moratorium exists on training exercises or deployment for breast-feeding mothers, Michael Bohl said, he feels that the military should make more of an effort to provide facilities for mothers who choose to breast-feed.
“What I’d really love to see the military do is provide compensation for families who choose to breast-feed their children,” he said, “even though the mother is away on deployment.”
However, the problem is not simply cost-related: Bohl said he recognizes that what some take for granted in the U.S. is simply not an option in many parts of the world.
“Something as simple as an electrical outlet and a freezer can make all the difference,” he said.
Lt. Col. Susan Baker at Goodfellow Air Force Base said that there has been no moratorium on deployment for breast-feeding mothers beyond the first four months of a child’s life since late 2006. Baker acknowledged that deployed breast-feeding mothers can encounter obstacles. “It’s highly dependent on where a person is deployed,” she said. “Some places are better-equipped than others.”
Help with wrangling bureaucracy would help many families that share the Bohls’ desire to breast-feed. Bohl says his family encountered a lot of red tape when trying to ship the breast milk.
Shipments have been held up by customs and the USDA because of the potential for infectious diseases.
“There’s one guy at JFK (airport in New York City) who is now very informed about the benefits of breast-feeding and why we needed the milk right away,” Bohl said. “I was even sent to the IRS to get the milk because they thought we were running some kind of Afghani breast-milk ring.”
Through all the mishaps and difficulties, Ginger Bohl has been able to provide vital nutrition for Silas.
In an additional contact provided by the United Through Reading military program, Ginger also has been able to read to her children. Through the use of a webcam, the children are able to see their mother whenever they wish.
Ginger Bohl returns to her family in a few days. Whether Silas will be able to resume breast-feeding with his mother is unclear.
“She’s been gone for so long, nearly half of his life,” Bohl said. “Every time he hears her on the TV, he crawls up to touch it. He knows her face and her voice. He knows his mommy. I know it won’t be a problem.”