“’Today I did something I’m proud of. It’s not a secret that #qaprilt is a breastfed baby, but I have also been blessed to be able to make more than she needs. Today, I met up with a mom from Massachusetts to give her 370 ounces of #liquidgold from my #freezerstash.’
Comments on my post and direct messages came flooding in from my real-life and internet friends.
‘You go girl!!’
‘OMG THIS IS AMAZING!!!! ❤️❤️❤️ You rock!!! #boobbabiesrock and so do their mamas!!’
One mama friend wasn’t so supportive. Her son was formula-fed, and she took insult to some of my hashtags. I believe it came from a position of not understanding, and some other things. She implied I thought her son was going to be at a disadvantage because he was formula-fed.
I had to stick up for myself, and for milk donation.
‘The hashtag #humanmilk4humanbabies is the name of the organization that put me in touch with the mom I donated to. That is all. I have nothing against formula, I just never needed to use it, but should I have needed to I would have. There are some moms that would prefer not to, and I’m proud I was able to help one out. A few months ago my PPA wouldn’t have allowed me to even consider letting go of some of my freezer stash. I’m proud of my ability to breastfeed, especially because not all moms can for various reasons, but I’m not going to tiptoe around something I’m proud of because 1 year of breastfeeding is one the hardest things I’ve ever done.’
Leading up to that post, I had always been supportive of breastfeeding on my social media, but never truly been open about my surplus of breastmilk. I always feel guilty my body performed well at something, while SO many mamas struggle with (what people tell us is) a biologically natural thing.
Quite honestly, some small part of me had expected to fail at breastfeeding. I had plenty of samples of formula stockpiled in case this didn’t go well. I had been told for 16 years I would have trouble having a baby, if I could have one at all, due to my PCOS diagnosis as a teen. By some miracle (and extremely good timing with a doctor’s appointment), we got pregnant the first time we actually tried. I tested positive just 5 days after conception, before my missed period would have occurred.
I knew I was pregnant 2 days before that when I got off my favorite rollercoaster and my boobs hurt when they never had before on that coaster. Pregnancy was actually kind of easy for me (don’t hate me!). No morning sickness, virtually no weight gain until the last few weeks (trust me – that luck is long gone now!), no weird food cravings, no gestational diabetes despite my PCOS. Turns out, my body liked pregnancy. It also really liked making breastmilk. Colostrum was leaking starting at the end of January, and by the time Q was born on February 17, 2019, there was no doubt there was something there for her to drink.
Q had a little trouble latching the first time we tried after birth. Due to some complications, she had to be taken for some testing right after our first hour of skin to skin after she was born, so we didn’t get to try again for a few hours. That second attempt felt like a bit of a golden moment — ‘I did it!’ Over the next few weeks, we had some struggles, but I went the ‘fake it til you make it’ route, struggling until one day we weren’t.
I quickly found out my letdowns were a bit much, to say the least. Q was happy as a clam, but the other side of my t-shirt would be soaked – right through any nursing pads, bra, etc. I had a constant stack of kitchen towels around me, to catch the letdown from the other side while Q was nursing. That’s when I discovered the Lansinoh breastmilk catcher. It’s a silicone breast milk collector that suctions onto your opposite breast while feeding. (Many people use the original Haakaa brand, but pro-tip: The Lansinoh has a lanyard that comes with it so if it comes unsuctioned or if the baby kicks it off, it doesn’t spill everything!)
I started saving what had previously dripped into a hand towel and tossed into the laundry and before I knew it, I had a freezer stash that quickly got out of control since I didn’t need to use it yet. I hadn’t gone back to work yet, but that freezer stash just kept growing. (In Connecticut, you are allowed up to 16 weeks FMLA, and I’m lucky enough my husband has a good job and I was able to take that much unpaid time off from work. Not everyone can afford that luxury.) Shoutout to my parents who let me use their upright freezer in the basement for storage when that stash outgrew our apartment’s freezer. Thanks, Mom and Dad!
Once I went back to work, I was pumping three times a day. Those three pumps gave me the bottles Q needed while I was at work, PLUS a 4-6 ounce bag for the freezer. More went into a freezer stash that was barely being touched. A few months later, my daughter had completely reverse cycled and wasn’t drinking ANY bottles during the day, and just nursing all night long. I had to keep pumping while at work to keep my supply consistent, and to physically feel comfortable.
I was exhausted, and the freezer was overflowing. I started considering milk donation since I had all this milk that wasn’t being used quickly, but every time I started looking into the process, my post-partum anxiety kicked into overdrive and the ‘what-ifs’ prevented me from letting go of a large portion at once. Half of me felt guilty for just sitting on so much milk someone could use, and the other half of me said, ‘What if something bad happens and you can’t breastfeed your baby. You need to keep the milk.’
That October, my best friend from childhood gave birth to her daughter. Breastfeeding was not as smooth a ride for them the way it had been for Q and me, and so I offered a small part of my freezer stash as a backup for emergencies thinking it might help take some of the stress away from that first week of being a mom. Maybe a bit of milk to take the edge off and calm both mom and baby down in those rough times could help them practice latching when everyone felt a bit better in a few minutes.
I brought over about 50 ounces for them to keep in the freezer and said, ‘Use it if you need it, otherwise it’s great for a milk bath!’ A month or so later they asked for some more, so I happily brought over another 100 ounces to supplement their breastfeeding journey. Being able to donate to a baby I will know for the rest of my life helped lessen the anxiety of letting go of my breastmilk. But it wouldn’t be until February, 2 weeks before Q turned 1, I would get up the courage to let go of a large chunk at once.
In one of the breastfeeding support groups I was in on Facebook, someone asked a question about milk donation and another member guided her to check out Human Milk For Human Babies. HM4HB is an online space for family-to-family milk sharing. Milk sharing arrangements are made between donors and recipients via informed choice. There are chapters via localized Facebook groups, so I checked out the Connecticut one. I loved what I saw— moms reaching out for help and also moms saying, ‘Here’s what I’ve got available if anyone needs it!’ If you wanted to know more about someone’s offer you could PM them and mini-interview them.
I took a deep breath and typed up a brief offer of about 350 ounces and clicked ‘post.’ A mom from Massachusetts reached out almost immediately. We chatted for a bit over the next few days— she asked me questions about my diet and lifestyle and we chatted about our daughters. She had been hoping for a donor that had a baby roughly around the same age as her daughter. Our girls were about 2 months apart in age so it worked well. She didn’t have a vehicle to be able to meet me so she was trying to make arrangements for a friend to meet me in her place. We decided on a place and time that weekend and we were set. I asked my mom to come with me for moral support. I think she was a little unsure of the idea of peer-to-peer milk sharing with a stranger at first, but once I explained the process, she quickly went along with it.
That Saturday, my mom, Q, and I loaded up a few coolers with breastmilk and drove to a mall about halfway between where the other mom lived in Massachusetts and where I lived in CT. When the time came to meet up, I felt this overwhelming feeling of joy fill me. As I passed over the bags filled with frozen milk, I knew this was a huge step in overcoming my postpartum anxiety. I was able to let go of a third of my stash all at once. And it felt GOOD. I was taking away some of the stress another mom had about feeding her baby, just by sharing what I wasn’t using.
When I got home that afternoon, I made a post on Instagram. I must have typed it up a dozen times. So many thoughts were going through my mind. Was it braggy I donated milk? I knew there were mama friends that had a really hard time breastfeeding, or pumping, or with postpartum depression. Were they going to be upset by my post? I didn’t want my post to trigger them. Was the entire post just TMI? I finally decided – ‘This is an important moment for me, one I’m proud of, and I’m going to make this post for me, but also to let people know something like HM4HB exists.’
Once it went up so many friends reached out to me telling me how awesome it was I donated milk or they wished they had been able to do it. One friend told me she had worked with a milk bank to donate when both of her children were born – more than 1,000 ounces between the two babies! A few people asked me why the mom needed my milk and I responded with, ‘I have no idea. I didn’t ask, it’s nobody’s business but hers.’
Some mamas breastfeed. Some mamas are exclusive pumpers (hat’s off to you ladies because that would be torture for me!). Some mamas breastfeed and supplement with formula. Some rely on donor milk. Some use strictly formula. Some use combinations of everything above. How you feed your child is nobody’s business but yours, but I am SO glad Q and I were able to help where we could.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lauren T. from Connecticut, USA. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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