FYI – Boob talk ahead. If talk of feeding a baby the way nature intended makes you uncomfortable, well, you might want to skip this one.
Lucky for you, I did NOT include pictures of my babies breastfeeding. That is because I do not own any pictures of my babies breastfeeding. I do have lots of pictures of them doing stuff like this though:
Just before I gave birth to Baby Ellie, my midwife asked me if I ever had oversupply issues. For the non-breastfeeders in the audience, oversupply means your milk-makers make too much milk for your baby to eat. Since my boobs tend to turn from grapefruit-sized to beach ball-sized overnight upon giving birth, yeah, I do usually have oversupply issues. Even though I apparently now give birth to toddlers, they just can’t keep up with the milk I can produce.
My midwife followed up by telling me that she had a client who was one of the tiny percentage of women who physically did not produce milk. As in, doesn’t have the mammary glands to make it happen, not the women who were duped by their pediatricians into thinking that they don’t produce enough milk, or the ones who have a supply issue that could easily be fixed with some fenugreek and brewer’s yeast and a concerted effort to nurse more. I hate to get up on my hippie soapbox about it, but that kind of stuff drives me insane. Even more now that I know someone who would love to be able to just toss some brewer’s yeast onto her oatmeal and make milk. But I digress.
She asked me if I would freeze any extra milk I had for her client, who had a goal of feeding her baby donated breastmilk for six weeks. Knowing that I would never want to be in the position to have to search out donor breastmilk, and being somewhat of a “Boob Nazi” (aka someone who knows how much better breastmilk is for babies than formula, and will bend over backwards to help anyone who wants to be a successful breastfeeder), I agreed. I cannot even imagine the amount of trust it would take to ask for donor breastmilk from women you don’t know, but my midwife had been all up in my hooha, and I guess that’s enough of an interview for most people. And when the baby of the woman I’d never met was born seven months later, I delivered a cooler full of bags of pumped milk that had been in my freezer since January to my midwife’s house.
And I thought that would be that.
Ask and you shall receive, they say. Well, she asked if I’d be willing to pump some more. There would be a group of us pumping. I hadn’t pumped in a couple of months; Baby Ellie never figured out the whole bottle thing, and it was just easier to feed her straight from the tap, so to speak. Sure, I’m game. The mom whom the milk was going to found me on Facebook, became my Facebook friend, and then, through my inane Facebook postings, found me amusing and became my real friend. We have decided that we’re besties, even though we live about 45 minutes away from each other, in different states, and haven’t ever spent more than 10 minutes with each other in real life. Probably if she spent more than 10 minutes with me, she wouldn’t want to be my bestie anymore!
I’ve been to her house a handful of times, just long enough to drop off frozen milk. At some point, she acquired a bunch of reusable bottles, so now I can freeze and deliver them and pick up empties when I’m there.
There’s only a couple of us pumpers left. There is occasionally a little windfall of milk, through Milk Share or other random internet things that link up donors and recipients. One of those windfalls was so big that I found myself meeting my bestie a half an hour away, to pick up a few gallon ziploc bags’ worth of smaller bags of pumped milk from someone on Milk Share, because she didn’t have enough room in her freezer to store it all.
On Saturday, on our way to Atlanta, I left a box outside her house with her latest deposit. She was ready for the milk I had pumped since the last time I saw her, and a couple of bags of the windfall milk that have been taking up residence in our extra freezer. I have to plan my drop offs around when I’ll be in the area, because she lives darn far. I even dropped milk off after running the Chickamauga Battlefield Half Marathon last year, all stinky and sweaty and covered in salt, because I knew I’d be nearby. Bill brought it down in a cooler, and we drove by her house after the race was over.
That’s about a month of my pumped milk, in the bottles, which translates to about 4-5 days’ worth of food for her baby. (I’m still nursing Ellie, so she still gets the bulk of the breastmilk I produce.) Then two bags of pumped milk from the windfall.
Donor breastmilk is a unique thing. It just can’t be created in a factory somewhere. It has to be made by the human body. A person has to make it, pump it, label it, freeze it, and store it. No amount of money can buy an unlimited supply. In fact, the only way it can be purchased, because it’s not legal to sell human fluids, is a pasteurized version made from donor milk. The cost for pasteurized breastmilk is astronomical; I don’t know how anyone can afford it. Insurance companies don’t pay for breastmilk just because the mom is physically unable to produce milk. Say what you want, but formula is just not anywhere near as good as breastmilk.
For the record, I’m not trying to start an argument on breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. It’s common knowledge that breastmilk is best, and yes, it is WONDERFUL that formula was invented for women who cannot or choose not to breastfeed. But when you know better, you do better, and I’m in awe of this woman who has busted her behind to keep her baby eating breastmilk and not formula. I’m heartbroken when I think about the amount of frozen breast milk I washed down the sink after Chloe died. In fact, I mentioned to my new bestie that this sort of felt like karmic retribution for that. I was pretty traumatized at the time that Chloe died, and had no clue that you could donate breastmilk at all, so I’ll cut myself some slack, but we’ve agreed that I’ve made up for it.
Forget that piddly goal of six weeks; Baby L is on track to go six full MONTHS without a drop of formula, and I have a hard time believing that her mom is prouder about that than I am. (She’d fight me on that, but I’m pretty stinkin’ proud.) Yes, it takes 20 minute chunks of my time to pump, I have to keep up with the number of containers and bags I’ve got left to make sure I don’t run out. But that’s peanuts compared to how amazing it is that something that my body produced not only helped my Ellie to grow and thrive, but also helped a (previously) complete stranger’s baby to grow and thrive as well? How cool is that?
If you have breastmilk in your freezer, please consider donating it to a mom in need via milkshare.com or your state’s Human Milk 4 Human Babies Facebook page. There are moms with adopted babies, babies with special needs, or mom simply physically cannot make breastmilk. These moms are willing to come to you to pick up milk or pay for shipping. And, speaking for the mom who is now my best buddy, I’ve never met a more thankful, appreciative person.
You’d be doing an amazing thing. And who knows, you just might make a new bestie.