“When my daughter was born in 2018, I was a new mom who had no idea what she was doing. My goal was I would be able to breastfeed her for a little while so she could gain the benefits of colostrum and breast milk while she was so small. At first, it was so challenging. She was a slow gainer and I just felt like I was doing everything wrong. But my pediatrician was supportive and breastfeeding got easier. In addition to the struggles of being a new mom, I was also suffering from postpartum depression. In a time where I felt I should be beaming and glowing and soaking up every minute, I was struggling with losing my identity and felt a deep sadness about motherhood. It was not everything I thought it would be. It was hard and I was sad.
I also felt tremendous guilt for feeling sad. Here is this perfect baby I wanted for so long. Why am I not feeling happy? I found an online community was very helpful because I realized what I was feeling was normal and there were so many moms feeling just like me. It helped to talk about it. It was okay we were not okay. I started my blog because when I read other people’s stories, it helped me. It was through this small community I was building I learned how hard this is for all moms. Whether they breastfed, bottle-fed, pumped, tried endless formulas… we moms all had the same goal. To feed and nourish our babies and hope they thrive. This goal was getting easier for me. My child was thriving after a slow start. However, there were a lot of babies who were struggling and moms who were feeling desperate. My eyes were opened to a whole new world.
I returned to work as a teacher in the fall when my daughter was 13 weeks old. I had built a pretty good freezer stash and planned to continue pumping. I did not have a crazy supply. I worked to get every ounce. But I was determined to try to keep breastfeeding, and I pumped five times a day. Working full-time as a teacher, pumping, and just being a mom was, well, exhausting. On my commute, I drove by a hotel and I would fantasize about calling in sick to work and instead of checking into the hotel and just sleeping. Every time I drive by the exit now I remember the feeling of pure exhaustion and sadness. I just kept thinking, ‘No one will know I am here. Work will think I am home and home will think I am at work.’ I never checked into the ‘mom hotel,’ but I think about that exhaustion level often.
A typical day meant waking up at 5 a.m. to pump and prep bottles. I would clean everything and pack up my pumping stuff for a day of work. I would feed my daughter before I left my house at 7 a.m. and hope I could last until my first prep period at 10 a.m. to pump, often feeling like I was about to explode. I then pumped at lunch and at the beginning, I also had to pump in the afternoon. I would usually pump on my drive home and then feed my daughter if my mom (her caretaker) could hold her off. I then would put her to bed, pump again and clean, and prep everything for the next day. Sometimes she would sleep through the night, but often I was up two or three times with a baby. I would also be up late, grading and prepping work for school. I was exhausted and this was pretty much my schedule for a year.
I was able to maintain a good stash and provide my daughter with enough milk in my absence. There is no way I would have succeeded without the support of those around me. My coworkers who understood when I left meetings early or showed up late. My students who knew every day at 2 p.m. I stepped out of class for a bit. My husband who took over the duties of washing and sanitizing pump parts when I was too exhausted. My mother who comforted a screaming baby because I was almost home and wanted to feed her so I did not have to pump again! It truly took a village and I am so thankful for mine. Breastfeeding and pumping can be tricky. It is a supply and demand process, and if you miss feedings or do not pump, you can get into some trouble. If you do not have people around you who understand, it can be very difficult.
Toward the end of her first year was the first time I donated milk. A mom on Facebook who I knew was asking if anyone knew anyone who could spare some milk for her child who was having a hard time with formula. I went down to my freezer, did some quick math, and felt comfortable unloading about 250 ounces. I certainly never went into my breastfeeding journey thinking I would have enough milk to donate, but here I was. Producing enough for my own child and able to give to another child. I gave birth to my son in November of 2020. I was much more confident at getting him to latch and feed properly. I did forget about the pain at the beginning. It is so painful when you start breastfeeding and even after breastfeeding my daughter for so long, I forgot how hard it is, how frequent it is, and how so much falls on the mom.
I wanted to quit. I realized why so many moms, especially new moms, do quit. I remembered the pain being temporary and the feedings would space out. But at first, it so hard and breastfeeding moms need a lot of support. I started pumping right away and I was shocked at how much milk I was pumping. I was getting 10-15 ounces per pump sometimes. When I first started pumping with my daughter, it would take 20 minutes to get just an ounce. I was exclusively breastfeeding, so anything I pumped was going right to the freezer, and I was stashing away a lot. Because of the pandemic, I was very unsure of what my return to work would be like, but as my maternity leave was nearing an end, it was clear I would still be teaching from home for the time being. This meant I would be able to work out a schedule with my mom, so instead of breaks with my pump I could feed my baby, and it also meant my huge freezer stash wasn’t essential at this time.
I thought about how we were running out of freezer space and was about to start looking into donating again. That is when my cousin reached out. Her friend was in need of breast milk for her son. She was not producing enough, and he was having a hard time on formula. I was able to give her 500 ounces of stashed milk. I did not go into my second breastfeeding journey thinking about being a milk donor. I went in hoping to produce enough, hoping my child could get a good latch, and hoping he would gain. Pumping and freezing milk helped me feel comfortable with a stash and helped me build up my supply, but again, I never thought that milk would be for anyone else. When I posted a picture of our milk donation to social media, I was hesitant. I did not want to post anything triggering, and seeing a picture of ounces and ounces of milk could be upsetting for a breastfeeding mama struggling with supply. I was that mama.
With my daughter, I always wondered how to produce more like some of these super pumpers. I posted and deleted the picture many times. Finally, I posted it and let it be. And the response was great because of what it has led to. It led to other local mothers reaching out in need of milk I will be able to help. It led to other mothers not knowing about donating even though they too were producing a lot. It led to mothers reaching out to me for help with their supply. I feel humbled to be in the position I am in. I am home with two babies I can nourish. They are healthy and happy. I know and have heard heartbreaking stories of mothers who lose their babies and still pump what they can and donate. They are heroic. I am just so lucky and blessed and so many are not.
There are always moments when you feel a little worried about donating milk. My baby is not yet 3 months and we have a long journey ahead. I often wonder, what if my supply drops? What if something happens to me and I have to be away from him? What if their child does not respond well to my milk? The pros certainly outweigh the cons. I simply put myself in that mom’s position and I cannot even think twice about giving what I can. Pumping and donating what I can when I can is my way of helping some moms who are struggling. Being a mom is the hardest job. You would do anything for your child, and I have learned this through talking to moms who struggled to feed their babies in their first year of life.
I never knew there were so many babies who have so many aversions to formula, leaving mothers truly desperate for breast milk. I will continue to do what I can to help parents and babies. I am always sharing how I keep my supply up, my pumping schedule, and any other tips I can provide. I have several moms I will be making more donations to. I will continue to hold sacred my own stash of liquid gold as I navigate this breastfeeding journey with my son. And I will continue to try to be a place moms can come to for advice and support. No matter how you feed your baby, this is hard. If I am doing something to make it a little easier for another mom, then it is all worth it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Melissa McLaren of Plymouth, Massachusetts. You can follow their journey on Instagram and her blog. 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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