The Gift Milk Donation Gave ME

One of my adorable milk recipients with bags of my milk

I never thought I’d donate breast milk. For starters, in my fantasies of parenting, I was breastfeeding my full-term babies, not hooked up to a pump like a dairy cow. While my first preemie was 2 pounds and eating less than an ounce of milk a day, I was producing up to 55 ounces of milk a day; I call this overcompensating. It was as if my body realized it had evicted my son 14 weeks early, and it was bound and determined to feed him into eternity. As a result, I filled an entire deep freezer full of milk, and I was so proud that I was able to feed him a mix of breast milk and a high-calorie formula for his entire first year.

I hoped with my second baby, who would of course be full-term, that I’d finally breastfeed her as I’d always imagined, snuggled close in a soft rocking chair. The morning after I had my daughter 11 weeks early, the lactation consultant wheeled the hospital-grade pump into the room. The sight of it actually made me queasy.

For my daughter’s first few months, she tolerated breast milk, but because she too was a 2.5-pound baby, I accumulated another enormous store of milk in the freezer. Then, she started having digestive problems, and after a series of diet changes, we had to eliminate breast milk from her diet entirely.

I was crushed. I had failed to do so many things for my babies, like carrying them full-term. The least I could do was provide some of their food! My dreams of breastfeeding my daughter in an easy chair disintegrated. I had no room left in the freezer for milk, I was simultaneously caring for a 5-pound preemie and a toddler, and being hooked up to a breast pump was making life impossible. So I quit.

Just the sight of that deep freezer full of milk irritated me. It was a reminder of yet another thing I couldn’t do.

After two months, I decided to be proactive. I found a Facebook page for my area that connects donors with women needing breast milk. I posted that I had thousands of ounces to share, and within hours, I had fourteen requests. Fourteen! I sat at my computer and cried while reading each mom’s request. Their words were so pure and raw. Some of the women had adopted babies. Two had polycystic ovarian syndrome and produced very little milk. A few women had preemies who desperately needed the immune support breast milk provides. The most amazing story was of a woman who had adopted a special needs baby born early and drug-addicted. At 13 months old, he was still unable to eat any solid food. She had managed to sustain him on donated breast milk, and without it, he faced having a tube inserted into his stomach for his feedings. We met at a restaurant several hours from my house, and I was able to touch the chubby cheeks of the little boy whom I fed for a week.

Seven times I met women in mall parking lots. I opened up a cooler and removed bag after bag of frozen milk. My baby was in the NICU when I was pumping that milk. I had sobbed while pumping that milk. I pumped that milk in the dark of night when the house was sleeping. Now, it was going to baby after baby, children I’ll never know.

The truth is that milk was not given freely. Had my daughter been able to eat it, I wouldn’t have been so generous; I would have stockpiled it for months, over-compensating for my perceived failures. But, what seemed like another failure was actually a blessing in disguise. Those mothers gave me, a stranger, a depth of love and gratefulness I’d never before experienced. It was as if I had pulled a kidney from my body and handed it to them.

As I was emptying the deep freezer, I decided to reintroduce breast milk to my daughter. I’m not even surprised any more at how this preemie journey works. Of course, after I’d shared so much milk, my daughter tolerated breast milk again. Knowing that, would I change what I did? I wouldn’t take back a single ounce. My daughter will still have a small amount of milk until she turns one.

As it turns out, donating breast milk was one of the most magical of all the crazy experiences this journey has given me.

(For more information on milk donation, please email me at twotinybabies@gmail.com.)

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