This is part 2! To catch up on part 1, follow this link.
I wanted to donate, but I had to figure out where to start. I knew I needed to increase my supply, so I started by pumping. I didn’t get a large amount of excess, at first. I managed to work in pumping first thing in the morning, which wasn’t easy with a hyper two year old and a jealous, clingy baby.
I grudgingly turned to galactagogues. Milkmaids tea, fennel, and oatmeal became big staples in our home. I pumped more often, and was able to save up about 40 extra ounces. I excitedly joined the local Facebook group for Human Milk 4 Human Babies. I got stuck at “pending approval” for three days that felt like torture! I cannot imagine how much longer it would have felt to have to wait that long to receive milk. I was finally approved, and immediately found a twin family to donate to. We agreed to meet but she was unable to make it.
I tried again with another mom, whose son was only a bit older than little AM. “N” was about an hour and a half away, and I didn’t want her to make that drive for a measly 40 oz. Her son was due for surgery soon, and I knew that breast milk could help him recover. I promised to do whatever I could to get 100 oz or more before I contacted her again. I started pumping four times a day. The dishes were killer, but a cloud was starting to lift. My postpartum depression was easing slightly.
I managed to exceed 100 oz in just a few days, and excitedly texted her to let her know. Her husband drove up to pick it up and replaced the bags I’d used. I was amazed by his support. I have often heard that the support of a spouse can make or break breastfeeding success, but I never thought about it much. My husband has always supported me, but I think it would be hard for either of us to blindly trust someone that way. My heart was touched.
My supply had definitely increased. AM refused to take bottles, so when I pumped 4-10 oz at work, it went straight into the freezer for my “milk mamas”. On longer shifts, I sometimes came home with more than 20 oz of frozen milk. Pumping became an escape for me. As long as I got at least 6 oz each time I pumped, I stayed mostly sane and happy. My husband had to remind me a few times to be gentle with myself. Once, while pumping, I lamented that I had only managed to get 4 oz, and he reminded me that some women don’t do that in a full day, let alone in ten minutes.
Perspective was helpful, but the thing that helped most was getting to know one of the families I donated to. N met me at Costa Vida the first time she came up. My girls loved her little boy, and I felt more love and sincere appreciation from her in one afternoon than I had in most of my postpartum experience. (Kids don’t exactly give positive feedback.) She explained some of her feeding problems, the bad advice she was given, and the fact that she was already pregnant again. Her milk supply had been lost quickly, but she was determined to change that with the baby she now carried.
I admired her. I once fell into the “lactavist” camp, and once upon a time, I even judged women for bottle feeding/formula feeding. I no longer do that. It’s none of my business why a baby is fed formula or breast milk. It’s not of my business if a baby is formula fed in the hospital or not. My business is simply helping to support whatever feeding goals women have, and to help them cope if those goals can’t happen for some reason.
I donated to a few more moms and babies, but I felt that N and her son were ultimately the reason I had felt the pull to donate as acutely as I did. My tally ended up being 8 babies, 7 moms. I do plan to donate from the beginning if I decide to have another baby. One big reason is to help moms find middle ground. The World Health Organization suggests that breastfeeding should be the first choice when possible, then wet nursing or donor milk, and formula as the last resort. Without normalizing milk sharing, we deprive moms and babies of an option that offers tons of benefits. We also open up an opportunity for women and babies to be exploited, both by formula companies and people that stoop to selling “breast milk” mixed with water or cow milk as a way to make upwards of $4 an ounce. The safest way to milk share is to do it without an exchange of money or goods. Usually the only thing that changes hands is milk, new bags, and on occasion, lactation cookies.
Do you have any questions about milk sharing? Leave a comment below.
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