When Gwen Hartley of Andover, Kansas, said that goat milk has been a real lifesaver for her daughters Lola and Claire, she wasn’t speaking lightly. Without goat milk the children might not be alive. Lola, age two, and Claire, age seven, both have microcephaly. Microcephaly is a neurological disorder in which the circumference of the head is significantly smaller than average for the person’s age. Because of their daughters’ microcephaly, Scott and Gwen have traveled a path of learning, adventure and growth that few parents have ever had to travel.
“They have dwarfism as part of their diagnosis,” said Gwen Hartley. “It was hard in the beginning but I wouldn’t change it now. We have learned so much about ourselves, and they are wonderful little girls. Loving and communicating on this level has been really amazing.”
Part of the journey has been learning how to nourish Claire and Lola. Like all children they are both similar and remarkably different. When Claire was born, Gwen thought she was lactose intolerant like her nine-year-old son, Cal, and her husband, Scott. But it was more serious than that. When Hartley stopped breast-feeding, Claire couldn’t hold anything down. She vomited everything up.
“Claire breast fed for about eight months,” Hartley said. “She never liked it, and it was painful for both of us. I tried pumping but she would vomit. So I took her to a naturopath in Witchita. He gave me a formula for a breast milk substitute. It called for goat milk, water, nutritional yeast, molasses and pure maple syrup. You could add flax oil but that was optional. I didn’t have all the ingredients, but I went to the health food store and got pasteurized goat milk. I gave it to her and it was the first time she ever kept anything down. It was amazing, and we were really excited.”
Eventually Hartley was able to find all the ingredients she needed for the formula. She also learned that goat milk is deficient in vitamin B12 and folic acid. To make up for that she added nutritional yeast to some organic baby food that Claire was starting to eat. By then Claire was a little more than three years old and finally settling into a good nutritional program. But then disaster struck
“Claire got rotovirus,” Hartley said. “She had vomiting, diarrhea and seizures. They admitted her to the hospital and said they didn’t know if she’d survive. I knew she would. They saw her as fragile but I didn’t.”
Claire did survive. But the Hartleys and the doctors concluded that she wasn’t getting enough liquids. To solve that problem Claire got a feeding tube.
“She gets the same diet now as she got before she got the tube,” Hartley said. “We mix the baby food with a little goat milk or water and suck it up in a syringe.”
All this worked for Claire, but then another Hartley joined the family and another learning curve emerged. Genetic testing revealed that the Hartleys have a 25 percent chance of having a microcephaletic child. They had every reason to expect that their new baby, Lola, wound not have microcephaly. But she did. After her birth, it became apparent that she had even more complicated digestive issues than Claire.
Gwen Hartley was on a continual path of research to find out how to help her little girls. She learned that raw milk is more digestible than pasteurized milk. So she switched from pasteurized goat milk to raw cow milk with Claire. She got the raw cow milk because, at the time, she couldn’t find raw goat milk nearby. Claire was doing fine on the raw cow milk.
“The live enzymes are beneficial in helping us break the milk down,” Hartley said. “If you buy pasteurized milk they’ve killed all the enzymes in the process of trying to kill the bad bacteria.”
“Lola nursed for 22 months and still does once a day,” she said. “When she tried the cow milk formula it went well for the first week. After that she started projectile vomiting. On the Weston A. Price Yahoo discussion group, online moms thought Lola might be having a reaction to the cow milk proteins. They said it probably wasn’t the lactose. That’s when I went to the realmilk.org website and found my first raw goat milk supplier.”
Little Lola quit the projectile vomiting but continued to spit up when fed the formula with the raw goat milk. Hartley went back to the moms on the Yahoo group and they advised her to just go back to the basics.
“She’s just doing the goat milk raw now,” Hartley said. “We add cod liver oil once a day, and we add probiotics. We also add coconut oil. We also use nutritional yeast, but it’s tricky because it tends to plug the nipple.”
The Hartley’s first raw goat milk supplier was a long way off. Since then they discovered a goat milk producer only minutes from their home. This has been a real blessing for the family.
“I pick up milk from Judy every Wednesday,” Hartley said. “She has a person for each day of the week. She milks, puts it in the fridge, and the people come and pick it up and leave their money. It’s the honor system. We’re getting a gallon and a half a week. The girls are finally growing and keeping down their milk. Claire is now about 18 pounds and Lola is about nine or 10 pounds. I drink raw goat milk and make smoothies with it. It’s really good. We are so thankful to have found goat milk for our family.”