From Mme Martin to Mme Guérin CF 89 - March 1873.

From Mme Martin to Mme Guérin

March 1873

Since I wrote to you, I’ve had so much trouble. My little girl became worse and worse. Last Monday I sent for another doctor, Dr. Belloc. He came around five o’clock in the evening. After examining the baby, he asked me what I had been giving her. I told him what I’d been doing. He thought that this was good but not enough to nourish her in the weak state that she was in. He thinks that one can feed a baby without milk for two or three days, but not more. And for two weeks she didn’t take anything but barley water almost without milk and for two days gruel water without milk. Finally, he said to me, “This child must be breastfed right away. That’s the only thing that can save her.”

I didn’t know what to do because I couldn’t think of feeding her myself, and I didn’t have any wet nurse in mind. I explained my dilemma to him, and he gave me a prescription. Twice a day I had to give her a spoonful of rice water and one of lime water in two spoonfuls of milk.

When I saw the prescription I said to myself, “My little girl is lost. She won’t be able to tolerate two-thirds milk in the state she’s in.” Madame Leriche (Marie Nanteau Leriche, the wife of Louis’ nephew, Adolphe Leriche) came to see her that night. She was so shaken that she went to bed without eating dinner and could only cry. She looked at her child and said, “If he were in that state, I would die!” Finally, that night I was looking for a way to find a wet nurse at all costs when I remembered a woman I know very well and who suits me in every respect (she’s referring to Rose Taillé). But her child is exactly one year older than mine (Eugène), and I thought the milk was too old.

It was 7 o’clock, and I left to go to the doctor’s house. I spoke to him about the wet nurse who’s been nursing her child for one year. He thought about it a little and said to me, “You must hire her right away. She’s the only option we have now to save your baby, and if this doesn’t save her, at least you’ll have nothing to reproach yourself for.” If it hadn’t been so late, I would have left that moment to go and get the wet nurse. The night seemed long to me. My little one almost didn’t want to drink. All the gravest signs that preceded the deaths of my other little angels were present, and I was very sad, convinced that the poor darling wouldn’t take the breast given her weak state.

So at daybreak I left to go to the wet nurse who lives in Semallé, almost two leagues from Alençon. My husband was away, and I didn’t want to entrust the success of my mission to anyone else. On a deserted country road I met two men who frightened me, but I said to myself, “Even if they killed me, it wouldn’t matter.” I had death in my soul. Finally, I arrived at the wet nurse’s house and asked her if she would come with me right away to live with us full time. She told me she couldn’t leave her children and her house, but she would stay with us a week and then take the little one home with her. I agreed, knowing that my baby would do very well in her home. This woman had already cared for one of my children.

We left together after a half-hour, and we arrived home at ten-thirty. The maid said to me, “I wasn’t able to make her drink. She didn’t want to take anything.” The wet nurse looked at the child and shook her head with an expression that seemed to say, “I made this trip for nothing!” I quickly went upstairs to my room. I knelt at the feet of Saint Joseph and asked him for mercy, that the little one be cured, resigning myself completely to the will of God if He wanted to take her. I don’t cry often, but I cried while I was praying. I didn’t know if I should go downstairs … finally, I decided to go. And what did I see? The child was suckling with all her heart. She didn’t let go of her hold until about one o’clock in the afternoon. She threw up a few mouthfuls and fell against her wet nurse as if she were dead.

There were five of us around her. We were all stunned. There was a worker who was crying. As for me, my blood froze. The child had no visible breath. We bent down to try and find some sign of life, but it was no use. We saw nothing, but she was so calm, so peaceful, that I thanked God for having let her die so gently. Finally, a quarter of an hour passed. My little Thérèse opened her eyes and began to smile. From that moment on, she was completely cured. Her healthy appearance returned as well as her cheerfulness. Since then, everything is better.

But my poor little one has left (Thérèse was entrusted to Rose from March 15 or 16, 1873, to April 2, 1874). It’s very sad to have raised a child for two months and then to have to entrust her to strangers’ hands. What consoles me is knowing that God wants it this way, since I did everything I could to raise her myself. So I have nothing to reproach myself for in this regard. I would really have preferred to keep the wet nurse at my house, as would my husband. He didn’t want the others, but he very much wanted this one. He knows her to be an excellent woman. Although I have a lot of confidence in my brother, I think he was mistaken in telling me to only feed the child water with gum syrup in it because the doctor told me I shouldn’t go from one extreme to the other. The child needed nourishing food, but on the other hand this food could cause her death. Oh well, to die either way, she wasn’t going to die of hunger.

You’ll think of this what you want, but I hope with all my heart that you never have a child in this state. You don’t know what to do or how to handle it. You’re afraid of not giving her the right thing. It’s a continual death. You’d have to go through it to know what a torture it is. I don’t know if Purgatory is worse than this. Well, here’s another hard trial that’s over.


© Society of St. Paul / Alba House

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