Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of miscarriage and eating disorders that may be triggering to some.
“2,740 ounces. Eight babies. Six moms. 9 months of pumping. The feeling of donating breast milk, priceless.
My breastfeeding journey started out rocky, but has grown into something beautiful! A beauty I have been able to share with others moms and babies! When I had my first daughter, Emery, I expected to breastfeed her until she was at least 1 year old. Well, we lasted a good 2 weeks. Every latch was painful, despite various nurses telling me it looked great. I pushed on in pain, feeding after feeding, not asking for help, because, well, our latch looked good. Finally, after two excruciatingly painful weeks, a baby who was crying out in hunger, and breasts that were too engorged to even get her latched, I gave in and made a bottle of formula.
At the time, I was devastated. I felt nothing but defeat and guilt. I eventually accepted our short, but meaningful breastfeeding journey. Emery was thriving on formula, and I gave her 2 weeks of wonderful breast milk. My precious baby girl was as healthy as could be!
When I got pregnant with our second child, Max, I decided I would seek additional help this time. I would make breastfeeding work. I would ask more questions, and not stop until I got the help my baby and I needed to reach our breastfeeding goals. Max was stillborn at 23 weeks. His umbilical cord narrowed greatly, causing him to not receive proper blood flow and nutrition. Heartbreak doesn’t even begin to describe how losing a child feels. Shortly after his birth, my milk came in, adding salt to an already painful wound. I wished more than anything my baby would be needing that milk. Instead, I stood in a steaming hot shower, bawling my eyes out, and hand expressing milk just to relieve the physical pain, wishing there was a way to relieve my emotional pain.
I’ve since heard of mothers whose babies have died, pumping and donating milk in honor of their children. If I had known about breast milk donation at that time, I would have jumped at the chance. I love to do things in Max’s honor to keep his memory alive! I have created care bags for other grieving mamas, and frequenting do random acts of kindness in his name. Donating breast milk meant for Max would have helped me feel good in such a time of despair.
Shortly after, I got pregnant again and gave birth to a beautiful girl, Olivia. My pregnancy after loss journey was the scariest thing I have ever endured, second only to losing Max. Every day I was terrified I would lose Olivia too. Once she was born, it was like a weight was lifted from my shoulders, only to be replaced with an even heavier weight. The fear of keeping a baby alive in utero is scary, then the reality of keeping a baby alive and happy outside of the womb hit me. I was a total emotional wreck, but kept my head above water with the help of my husband and my parents!
I planned to breastfeed. I planned to ask for help and to advocate for my child and myself. I talked to a lactation consultant before Olivia was born and got as much info as I could, and got my breast pump! Olivia was a nursing champ! She took to it right away, but we still had a few latch issues. I ended up with mastitis and nearly threw in the towel. If you’ve had mastitis, you know what I’m talking about when I say, ‘OUCH!’ We pushed through (with some help), and are now 18 months strong!
I planned to return to work after 3 months of maternity leave, so I began pumping when Olivia was 2 months old. I had a decent supply and a cute little milk stash growing in the deep freezer. She had taken a bottle once or twice before I started back to work, and I assumed she would continue to do so. Boy, was I wrong! Olivia did not enjoy taking a bottle. She would play with the bottle, then scream and cry until she eventually fell asleep. Then it would start again. She wasn’t taking in even 1 ounce of pumped breast milk.
Thankfully, my employer is wonderful and has been so accommodating with my scheduling needs. I began working one day a week for a 5-hour shift, stopping halfway through my shift to nurse Olivia, who my mom would bring to my work for me. With this generous arrangement, I no longer needed to pump to make sure Olivia was getting her breast milk. I continued pumping, thinking, ‘You never know, we may need it eventually!’ After a couple of weeks, I had a pretty decent milk stash, and I remembered seeing a friend of mine had donated breast milk to another mama.
That’s when all of the pieces started to come together. I reached out to my friend asking how she went about donating. I also came across Human Milk 4 Human Babies Informed Milk Sharing Network and their Human Milk 4 Human Babies – Illinois Facebook page. Moms can share posts both searching for or donating breast milk, and the HM4HB shares their request or offer and their city. This is how I’ve connected with each of my mamas! I’ve made a post stating I have breast milk I’m happy to donate and have had many moms reach out to me! I highly recommend looking for a Human Milk 4 Human Babies Facebook page for your state if you’re looking to donate! There are also other options such as The Milk Bank, which donates breast milk to NICU babies!
I can’t lie though— it wasn’t all easy. I’d wake up and pump first thing in the morning. I’d pump for at least 20 minutes with two children crawling all over me, asking for things, pulling on my pump cords. After pumping, I’d put the milk into milk bags and into the freezer. Then comes the most fun part, washing all of the pump parts and bottles! I only pumped once a day, but boy did it feel like more with all of those pump parts to wash! I know my fellow pumping moms know what I’m talking about when I say pumping is work! I remember one day, sitting on the floor pumping, plugging the air hose back on the backflow protector for what seemed like the millionth time, and wondering why I kept doing this, when it was such a chore some days. Then I thought of the sweet babies who could benefit from my milk, and I pumped on!
Donating breast milk has been such a fulfilling experience for me. There was a time I wasn’t even sure I could have a baby, let alone nurse a baby. This is because I suffered from an eating disorder, anorexia, as a young girl. For many years, I spent my days in treatment centers or hospitals. For years, I couldn’t even manage to nourish myself, and now 15 years later, I am nourishing my body enough to also feed my own baby and many others! To me, breastfeeding and donating breast milk have become a symbol of love for myself. I have loved myself enough to embrace recovery and give my body the fuel it needs to thrive.
I remember that scared 13-year-old girl, sitting in a hospital refusing to eat, and I wish I could show her how much I’ve accomplished in 15 years. I wish I could show her how many countless hours I’ve spent happily loving on my children, nursing my babies, and having fun with my family. I wish I could show her how good I feel when I’m getting kisses and hugs from my girls. I wish I could show her how strong I’ve had to become, and how I’ve coped with the unbearable pain of losing a child. I wish I could tell her how good it feels to help others and expect nothing in return. I think she would be pretty proud and impressed I was able to get my life back together. I think she would be inspired by my determination. I would hope that she’d get excited about life again!
Donating breast milk has also become a symbol of my love and support for other moms and their babies. Moms have it hard. We are ‘da*ned if we do and da*ned if we don’t’ in pretty much all aspects of motherhood. We are judged and looked down on for our parenting choices. We have this mom guilt that can eat us alive. Being a mom is hard work, although it’s also the most rewarding work, but work nonetheless. Moms get scrutinized from the start over how they eat, sleep, drink, exercise during pregnancy; whether they breast or bottle feed, if they sleep train, or co-sleep. There’s no winning. It’s hard, and it’s only made harder when you’re worried about whether you can pump enough milk to last a day of work.
It was the least I could do with our excess breast milk. I wanted to make one thing easier for another mom. It’s just one less thing she has to worry about when she has extra milk on hand. I have also donated to a mama who adopted her baby. She wasn’t lactating but wanted her baby to have breast milk! All of these moms have been so gracious, and so thankful. Some have traveled 2 hours one-way to pick up milk. I’m so thankful I’ve not had any supply issues, that our excess milk was not put to waste. Olivia and I helped moms and babies. We made a difference. Breast milk donation matters, it makes a difference. This journey has been one I never want to forget, and I hope it inspires other moms to remember this: do what you can to help another mama out, we’re all in this together, just trying to raise kids in this crazy world.
I’d also love to note I have absolutely nothing against formula! I have been a formula and breastfeeding mama! However you choose to feed your baby, you’re doing great! Nourish that baby, mama! Keep up the great work!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hillary Falk from Illinois, 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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