Taking Back My Life By Giving Away My Milk
This post was written for inclusion in the WBW 2013 Blog Carnival. Our participants will be writing and sharing their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding all week long. Find more participating sites in the list at the bottom of this post or at the main carnival page.
In the summer of 2003 I waited alone in the blood bank looking at a five year old National Geographic. For six years I anxiously avoided blood draws because it reminded me of donating blood for my father a few weeks before he bled to death from complications of his esophageal cancer. I skipped the then triple serum screen because I was young, low-risk, and afraid of needles. But here I was, vials of cells drawn from my arm, paperwork submitted to become a breast milk donor.
I always planned to breastfeed. I always planned to have a healthy little baby and a natural child birth experience. I always planned period. Then came the day that I stopped planning and starting learning harsh lessons. First, I learned about my son’s life-threatening heart defects, and our midwife thought he had Downs Syndrome. Then I learned (after a double puncture amniocentesis) that his chromosomes were actually normal. I learned his heart could never be “fixed” just palliated. I learned what it really means to choose between termination and pregnancy. I learned what it feels like to have an emergency c-section without a spinal block. I learned what it’s like to be offered hospice care for a newborn. I learned how to watch a life flight crew take my child away for a thousand mile flight. I learned to survive on 4 hours of interrupted sleep while my son was in a cardiac intensive care unit. I learned to hope and how to cope.
Part of my coping was pumping. Pumping was the only time I was ever alone. I stared blankly at the wall listening to my Medela hum while I filled bottle, after bottle, after bottle, with warm thick milk and shifted it into hospital-issued bags with my son’s patient “sticker” pasted to the front. It may have been the only time in five weeks between my son’s birth and his flight home again that I actually breathed. When I was near him I always seemed to hold my breath. Pumping while my son was in a medically-induced coma with his chest still open around his swollen heart made me feel like life was still possible. When I was not allowed to touch my son, the milk was the only warm thing my fingers touched. The milk was life, and as long as I kept pumping it, I had hope. I pumped so much milk that there was no room for it in the CICU refrigerator, or the Ronald McDonald House freezer, or anywhere in the city of Los Angeles, so I started dumping it down the sink. As my milk dribbled down the drain, tears ran down my cheeks. Such a waste.
Finally, home with our living son, despite all rational fears that he would fail to thrive, he ate like a champ. Yet, I made enough milk to feed four babies. We bought a freezer for our garage. Before my son was three months old it was completely full. I pumped close to 80 ounces at a time. I went from six to four pumping sessions in a day, but the sessions stretched from twenty minutes to forty because there was so much milk in my breasts. On the website for the hospital where I delivered my son, I read about the milk bank. Some of the premature infants born at the same time as my son were still in the same NICU where he spent his first week before the airlift. I wanted them to have my extra milk, but it required a blood draw.
So, I went, I sat, I gave a little blood so I could give a lot of milk. Before one of our son’s endless cardiology appointments, I brought a blue Coleman cooler holding gallons of frozen breast milk to the milk bank. Our son had a second open heart surgery before he was four months old, and within weeks of that I was pregnant again – something I didn’t know until suddenly I was making only 60 oz a day, then 40, then 20, then none. I ran out of frozen milk a few weeks before my son’s first birthday. I gave birth to my daughter a few weeks after my son’s first birthday.
My daughter, a healthy child, could not latch on to my J-sized breasts. She was jaundiced, and we were threatened with her hospitalization. The threat of hospitalizing my healthy child after all I’d been through with my son was too much. I pulled out my pump. Within weeks I was pumping more than 80 ounces a day. The third time my son had open heart surgery, just months later, I gave my Coleman cooler full of breast milk to my sister for my niece. No blood draw was required to give my milk to my own blood. I stopped pumping the day we were told our son might not be a candidate for the surgery he needed to survive. He wasn’t, so he had an “extra” open heart surgery to make him eligible for the one he really needed. I ran out of milk a few weeks before my daughter’s first birthday. I only have two children but I fed at least four, probably more, with the milk I made. After I ran out of milk, I started giving blood. I am hooked on giving because giving was how I took back my life.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Below are a list of links for today’s participants; you can find a complete list of links (updated throughout the week) at our main carnival page:
(This list will be updated by afternoon August 5 with all the carnival links.)
- An Unexpected Formula-Fed Attachment — Kyle (of JEDI Momster and) writing at Natural Parents Network, exclusively breastfed three healthy babies. So when she was pregnant with her fourth, she assumed she would have no breastfeeding troubles she could not overcome. Turns out, her fourth baby had his own ideas. Kyle shares her heartfelt thoughts on how she came to terms with the conclusion of her breastfeeding journey.
- It Take a Village: Cross Nursing — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares how cross-nursing helped her baby in their time of need, and how that experience inspired her to create a community of cross-nursing and milk-sharing women.
- Random little influences and Large scale support communities lead to knowing better and doing better — amy at random mom shares how her ideas and successes involved with breastfeeding evolved with each of her children, how her first milk sharing experience completely floored her, and how small personal experiences combined with huge communities of online support were responsible for leading and educating her from point A to point D, and hopefully beyond.
- Mikko’s weaning story — After five years of breastfeeding, Lauren at Hobo Mama shares how the nursing relationship with her firstborn came to a gentle end.
- My Milk is Your Milk — Lola at What the Beep am I Doing? discusses her use of donor milk and hhow she paid the gift back to other families.
- World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival – Celebrating Each Mother’s Journey — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy lists her experiences and journey as a breastfeeding mother.
- Working Mom Nursing Twins — Sadia at How Do You Do It? breastfed her twin daughters breastfed for 7 months. They made it through premature birth and NICU stays, her return to full-time work, her husband’s deployment to Iraq, and Baby J’s nursing strike.
- So, You Wanna Milkshare? — Milk banks, informed community sharing and friends, oh my! So many ways to share the milky love; That Mama Gretchen is sharing her experience with each.
- Milk Siblings: One Mama’s Milk Sharing Story (and Resources)Amber, guest posting at Code Name: Mama, shares how her views on milk sharing were influenced by her daughter receiving donor milk from a bank during a NICU stay, and how that inspired her to give her stash to a friend.
- Humans Feeding Humans — Krystyna at Sweet Pea Births shares ideas on how we can celebrate all the different ways modern mommies feed their babies. While we are comfortable with the breastmilk-formula paradigm, she proposes that we expand our horizons and embrace all the different ways mamas feed their infants.
- When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go As Planned — MandyE of Twin Trials and Triumphs shares the challenges she faced in feeding her premature twins. She’s still learning to cope with things not having gone exactly as she’d always hoped.
- Taking Back My Life By Giving Away My Milk — When Amanda Rose Adams‘s first child was born, he was tube fed, airlifted, ventilated, and nearly died twice. In the chaos of her son’s survival, pumping breast milk was physically and mentally soothing for Amanda. Before long her freezer was literally overflowing with milk – then she started giving it away.
- The Tortoise and the Hare — Nona’s Nipples at The Touch of Life discusses why we care about breast milk and formula with everything inbetween.
- Finding My Tribe of Women Through Milk Sharing — Mj, guest posting at San Diego Breastfeeding Center shares her journey breastfeeding with low milk supply and supplementing with donor milk using an at the breast supplemental nursing system. She shares the impact milk sharing has had on her life, her family, and how it saved her breastfeeding relationship.
- Human Milk for Human Babies — Sam at Nelson’s Nest shares her perspective on milk-sharing after an unexpected premature delivery left her pumping in the hopes of breastfeeding her son one day. Sam’s milk was an amazing gift to the other preemie who received it, but the connection was a blessing in the donor mom’s life too!
- Sister, I Honor You — A mother feeding her baby is a triumph and should be honored, not criticized. Before you judge or propagate your own cause, go find your sister. A post by Racher: Mama, CSW, at The Touch of Life.
- Every Breastfeeding Journey Is Different, Every One Is Special — No two stories are alike, evidenced by That Mama Gretchen’s collaboration of a few dear mama’s reflections on their breastfeeding highs, lows and in betweens.
- A Pumping Mom’s Journey — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares about her journey pumping for her son, who was born at 29 weeks.