Each morning before day care, I defrost bags of breast milk for my daughter. It’s a normal routine for pumping moms, but the only difference is most of the milk isn’t my milk. It belongs to another mom who donated it to me.
A few years ago, I wrote here about how I made my peace with both breastfeeding and formula feeding my daughter due to low supply. I still agree with what I wrote, especially that one’s value as a mother should not be defined by breast milk. Intellectually I believe that formula is a fine way to feed your child with some disadvantages, but also some advantages, over breast milk. But I also wrote about letting go of my guilt, and the truth is, it still lingers with me. More than anything, I just want to breastfeed my baby.
When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I had two things I wanted to go differently from the experience with my first: a successful Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) and to breastfeed her hopefully exclusively and certainly without all the anguish from the first time. The VBAC was much easier to plan for and easier to measure; either I would or wouldn’t have a vaginal birth. I felt I knew what had gone wrong last time, and I could fix it. I had support from a great group of midwives and my doula and had a beautiful un-medicated birth.
Breastfeeding, on the other hand, I was less sure about because I still don’t know what caused my low supply. My plan for breastfeeding this time went something like this: immediate skin-to-skin, no pacifiers, breastfeed as much as possible, get support from my doula, and if things went haywire again, see an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). I was willing to pump for a few weeks but would just supplement if I had to go longer than that.
I did everything right this time, but once again my daughter did not gain weight. I saw the IBCLC and once again started feeding and then pumping eight times a day. I had my daughter’s lip tie revised and sought out Craniosacral therapy. I ate oatmeal and went on prescription medication to raise my prolactin levels. With all of this, I was still barely able to get enough milk. I tried to pump less frequently to give myself a break, but whenever I dropped a pumping session, my supply would drop. I felt I had exhausted my options: Unless I wanted to spend all my time attached the pump, I was going to have to start supplementing again.
My doula had suggested I look into donor milk. I debated because there are risks that should not be ignored—diseases and drugs can be transmitted through breast milk. But I decided that if it was from a person I trusted, especially someone I knew, the risks were minimal. After all, they were feeding their baby their milk. I came up with a list of questions to ask, including medications and smoking habits, and began to look for milk.
Milk began to come to me in mysterious ways. A friend I think jokingly offered some to me, and I said yes, I would be happy to take it. I found two people on the Facebook groups Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies whom I had mutual friends with. One woman even posted on our synagogue family listerv that she had extra milk, and I was happy to show up to her house with a cooler and ice packs in hand.
For the past six months, my daughter has been exclusively supplemented by one mom. Alison and I met in a group of moms who were all attempting VBACs at around the same time. Her baby was born a few months after mine and had to spend some time in the NICU. Alison was pumping for her and had more milk than her baby could ever drink. The moms in this group knew of my breastfeeding struggles, so one day she offered me about 300 oz. of milk.
I had never gotten so much milk at once, and I was able to stop giving even small amounts of formula. Feeding my daughter breast milk, even though it is not mine, makes me feel less broken. Coming home from work having pumped half of what she needs no longer makes me feel sad, because I have milk in the freezer ready for the next day.
I have almost reached one year of nursing. I wrote Alison a little over a month ago because I knew her stash wouldn’t quite last to see if she had any more milk she could donate. She told me that while she wasn’t pumping much anymore, she would happily pump for me and get the amount I needed. I hate pumping so I couldn’t believe that someone would sacrifice just so my daughter would get breast milk. She told me she was just happy to help.
I wanted to thank her and came up with the idea to gift her with breastfeeding photos. We each took photos with our nurslings and a few together. Her gift to me was priceless, and I’m glad we have something to remember it by.
My breastfeeding experience once again was not the one I dreamed of, but I did get to be part of this very special experience. I live in a community where we share. My house is filled with hand-me-down clothes and toys; breast milk just seems like a natural extension. Both my girls were fed with love, but my youngest also was fed with love from five other women for which I will be forever grateful.