8 years ago I made the decision to have a breast reduction surgery. I was in my last year of High School and my breasts we’re a size F, my body just couldn’t handle that much weight, I had a lot of back problems and this was really my only option. When I talked with my surgeon about the risks that came along with this procedure he told me there was a 30% chance that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed my children so I was aware that it was a possibility that I would not be able to breastfeed although, at age 17, that was not a huge concern for me.
When I became pregnant a year and a half ago, I started to panic. Breastfeeding was something that I really wanted to be able to do. I talked with my midwives about things I could do during pregnancy that would help my milk come in. Towards the end of pregnancy I had all the signs that it was going to be okay. My breasts were engorged and I even had a few drops coming out here and there! The midwives told me that since it had been so long since my surgery that hopefully my milk ducts had realigned themselves and I would hopefully have minimal issues.
When my little boy finally decided to enter the world his father and I were overjoyed. We had not bought formulas or bottles because that just wasn’t an option for us. The day after we got home from the hospital I called my lactation consultant and went and saw her because I was worried my milk was not coming in. She told me to relax and that it was perfectly normal to only be making a quarter ounce 3 days postpartum. So I waited and waited and waited and my milk never fully came in. I was heartbroken. I felt as though my body had failed me and I in turn had failed my son. I was scarily close to postpartum depression. I did make the transition from colostrum to milk but I could not pump more than an ounce at a time. At my highest point I made 4 ounces every 24 hours. I joined a breastfeeding support group where I was introduced to donor milk.
At first, I tried to go through a milk bank. The regulations for the particular milk bank I went to made it very hard to receive milk. I had a prescription for donor milk but the insurance company would not cover it and we could not afford it (almost $150 daily) so we looked for alternative ways to find breastmilk. I found great resources online. I joined both Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats on Feets. These groups are for informal breastmilk donations. Each state has their own regional group. The way it works is a mama will post either a request or a donation and connections are made. The recipient replaces the milk storage bags but other than that nothing besides milk is exchanged.
There were a few factors to consider when making the decision to use donor milk. It did make me nervous at first when I thought about the fact that the milk I would be giving to my son was untested, unlike milk coming from a milk bank, our milk was coming straight from the source. This worried my partner more than me but I empathized with his concerns. The first large donation we received we paid to have a small amount tested for the basics… drugs and infectious diseases. It took a couple of months to get my partner on bored with feeling completely comfortable about using donor milk. We established a relationship with each one of our donors. If we ever felt uncomfortable about a donor for whatever reason we would politely decline the milk but this is yet to happen. I feel like donating milk is such a labor of love. It takes an incredible amount of time and energy to produce and pump the milk and than going through the effort to donate it takes time too so I feel like it would be very rare to receive unsafe milk. I have no doubt that our donors have all had beautiful intentions and that they play a huge part in the fact that my son is the healthy and vibrant little boy he is today.
Our first donation came from a local mother, she gave us around 70 ounces and I was so incredibly grateful, it was the most milk I had ever seen in my life! To date we have had 23 amazing donors. We have traveled to Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois and all over the state of Iowa to pick up donations. We have made life long friendships along the way. It has been such a special and humbling experience for me.
We have met donors from all walks of life. These mothers have made such a huge impact on me and my family’s lives. I would like to think we have made an impact on some of theirs as well. There was one donor in particular whose story I would like to share.
We drove 3 hours to meet her and she drove 1.5 hours. When we went to meet her we went to a restaurant to grab a bite to eat. I had no idea what her story was at this point. She told me she had lost her daughter to still birth and that she had been pumping for the sole purpose of donating her milk. She explained that this had been very healing to her in her time of grief. She was feeling very uncomfortable after the long drive and had forgotten her pump. My son had been bottle fed for 4 months now and had refused to nurse from me when I tried. He latched onto this sweet mama like a champ and I sat there and watched him nurse from her for close to an hour. I truly believe in that moment my son and this mama needed each other. I got an email from her the next day saying she stopped pumping.
I am so proud to say that we have made it to 1 year on donor milk! We have not needed to supplement with formula. Our freezer is full and we have no plans to stop anytime soon. This has been such a beautiful experience for us and we are forever grateful. I did the math a week ago and my son has consumed around 77 gallons of donated milk. It’s overwhelming to think about how much time and energy and love has went into that milk. We treasure every drop. How do you thank another woman for nourishing your child when you are unable to? All I can say is thank you. Thank you to all of our donors for this special gift. We truly could not have done it without you.