Many moons ago, after trying to nurse my daughter, dealing with thrush, intense pain, nipple shields, Raynaud's, plugged ducts and a myriad of other issues I finally got to a point where I couldn't continue on. Mentally, emotionally, I couldn't keep trying to nurse my daughter. I stuck it out for 11 weeks though, and for that I'm truly proud of myself.
After having a lot of mixed emotions about the events leading up to, and then the actual, birth of my daughter I was determined to at least make breastfeeding work. There was no other option as far as I was concerned. When I decided to exclusively pump there was a couple of weeks where I struggled to get my supply where it needed to be. You see; your body, the hormones in your body that are produced when you nurse a baby, responds SO MUCH BETTER to a child actually suckling at the breast. The warmth of the baby's body against yours, the smell of their sweet baby breath, the sweet sounds of the inhale, suck, swallow, exhale, repeat while they nurse - it all triggers your body to release hormones and other chemicals to tell your body to produce milk. You don't get quite the same physical reaction from the mechanical whir of an electric breast pump. The flanges are cold and hard. There is no peach fuzz covered head to nuzzle. And pumping - especially exclusively - can feel really lonely. So, while I made the transition from nursing to EPing I had a couple weeks where I FLEW through my tiny freezer "stash" and couldn't keep up with what Madeline would drink in a day.
I went to my most favorite breastfeeding support group looking for support and reassurance that my daughter was thriving on my pumped breastmilk. One of my friends/lactation counselors asked how I was doing, and I broke down. I cried and told her that I was out of frozen milk and that I was terrified that I'd have to give her formula. She told me what I already knew: that formula wasn't the end of the world. But I just didn't want to. I wasn't going to give formula unless I was COMPLETELY giving up on breastfeeding and I wasn't ready to do that yet. I asked about herbs to take to increase my supply, I vowed to make special oatmeal lactation cookies, and drink a TON of water a day. But I was still worried.
Another mother at the breastfeeding circle who I had only previously said "Hi" and "cute baby" to, came up to me and asked why I was crying. I explained my situation and she said to me, like it was no big deal, "Don't cry. You can do this. Come to my house after the meeting and I will give you milk. I'll give you enough for a week. If you need more after it's gone come back and I'll give you more. If you don't use it all give it back. But in the meantime, focus on getting your supply up and if you fall short use mine. You can do this." I was shocked. I never would have expected someone to be so selfless. Like I said - I didn't know her, she didn't know me. That was HER milk that she had worked hard to pump that was meant for her daughter. I couldn't believe this blessing had been plopped into my lap.
Truthfully, I don't know that I even knew milk sharing existed. I knew of wet nurses "back in the day", but you don't hear about that happening anymore. I'm sure that in the days before having Madeline I probably would have wrinkled my nose at the thought, but now that I was in the situation I was in, after reading everything I could about breastfeeding, becoming educated on the topic, and being so damned determined to provide my daughter with breastmilk I didn't bat an eye.
Sure, it was someone else's brestmilk. But so is that 2% you buy in the grocery store. The difference is that the milk in the grocery store was originally intended for baby cows. And my daughter was a baby human. Thus, making the human breastmilk idea not so icky after all. Sure, you can worry about all the what-ifs, but I chose to trust that her healthy, happy, chunky-thighed 9 month old daughter was thriving on her momma's breastmilk and if it was good enough for her daughter then it was good enough for mine.
So I went to her house after that meeting and she loaded up an insulated bag full of frozen milk, gave me a genuine hug and sent me on my way. Thankfully all the herbs and water and yummy lactation cookies worked and within a week my supply was up where it needed to be and I was even able to freeze a bag of my own here or there to start my own stash. I returned what I didn't use and was - AM - so unbelievably grateful to that woman.
I always said that one day I wanted to repay the favor to someone else in need. But because I was EPing I always felt nervous to give it away since once I stopped pumping all I'd have left was what was in my freezer, and if I gave away too much my daughter wouldn't have breastmilk for as long as I'd like her to. I told myself I wouldn't donate any milk until Madeline would take another type of milk in a sippy or bottle. I'd have to feel confident that if I gave away some of her milk that she'd be ok and could drink something else.
At 14 months old she will finally drink organic cow's milk if it's warmed up and in a bottle - not a sippy. (Don't even try the sippy. She'll look at you like you're nuts and throw it on the ground.) She still prefers breastmilk - hello?? It's way sweeter! - but she'll drink cow's milk if need-be.
After counting up all the bags of frozen milk in my deep freezer I decided to take the leap and post on the HM4HB Colorado page that I had milk to donate to a baby in need. I posted that I had 60oz of milk that I could part with and was willing to meet up with a momma in Northern CO to give it to her and her baby.
My post wasn't on that page for more than 6 hours before I had someone contact me asking if it was still available. She lived down in Colorado Springs (3 hours South of where I am) but was willing to drive to get milk for her son. Her son is just shy of two years old, he is adopted (which is why she isn't BFing him herself), he has Down Syndrome, two heart defects, bad acid reflux, asthma and was FTT (failure to thrive) on all the different high-calorie formulas the Drs were prescribing to him. He spent most of last winter in the hospital with RSV 3 times and pneumonia twice. Once she switched him to donor breastmilk he finally began to gain weight and meet him developmental milestones. He is still not eating many solid foods, but is doing great on breastmilk and the few solid foods that he does eat. She is hopeful that by stocking up on brestmilk before it gets into the cold winter months she'll be able to keep him inside, feed him the "good stuff" and keep him out of the hospital this year so he can enjoy the holidays at home with his family.
I was more than honored that she trusted me to help feed her child. To help keep her child healthy. She's seen him be sssssooooo sick and weak, she doesn't want that to happen again, and she was putting her trust into ME and MY MILK to keep her little boy from having to go through all that again. I'm honored.
I met with her today at the local Target food court to give her 60oz of my milk in the same insulated bag that donor milk was given to me in a year ago. I feel incredibly blessed to have a healthy daughter who has grown and thrived on my breastmilk despite my struggles. I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to respond to the pump as well as I have so that I could build up a freezer stash of 460oz so that I'd feel comfortable giving away 60oz to someone who could truly use and appreciate it. And if I get to a point where I have more milk to donate I would love to donate again.