The Story of My Milk: How I Stumbled into Feeding a Hundred Babies

olive chan —  March 19, 2012 — 13 Comments

Being the idealist that I am, before I had Alena, I imagined our feeding times to be like this:  myself as a gentle, nurturing mother looking affectionately at the sweet babe suckling at my breast as we nestled together in the rocking chair.  A week after we brought her home, that picture could not be farther from reality.  Well, everything except for the rocking chair.  It was 6am in the morning, she was thrashing about and crying, I was hysterical and crying, and milk was everywhere but in her tummy.

Thus began the story of my breastmilk and how I stumbled into feeding a hundred babies. [Warning:  This is quite long.  I’m writing this mostly to so that I can remember it down the road.  Read it at your leisure.]

Alena was born with a very hearty appetite.  This translated into very vigorous sucking (on her part) and very sore anatomy (on my part).  After the aforementioned catastrophe of a morning, I realized that it was better for me to give up on the breastfeeding I had previously envisioned and take the route of pumping my milk and feeding her with a bottle.  If I stepped back to look at the bigger picture, I knew that I did not want her earliest memories associating eating with stress.

The decision to pump turned out to be a bigger blessing than I anticipated.  Having my milk in bottles meant that anyone could feed her (including Tim, her eager grandparents and her aunt and uncles).  This, in turn, meant that I could be free to sleep, or shower, or do my own thing.  I suddenly wasn’t tied to her feeding demands.  Sure, it required a bit of financial investment and a little more time to pump, store, and clean all the equipment, but the tradeoffs made it worth it.

The biggest surprise, however, was the way God met me in this circumstance.   From what I had been told, a lot of mothers struggle with producing enough milk for their babies, especially if they pump.  But as I began to get into the rhythm of pumping, I realized I was producing more than Alena was eating.  So I started freezing the unused portions.  Somehow I heard that the BC Women’s and Children’s Hospital ran Canada’s one and only human milk bank.  And that they pasteurized donated milk to give to premature or at-risk babies.  When I heard this, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

At that time, though, Alena was only a couple weeks old and the nurses cautioned me that pumping sometimes decreases a woman’s milk production.  So Tim and I thought it would be best to keep some milk frozen for Alena in case that happened to me.  But God had something else in mind.

One morning, as I was putting a bag of milk in the freezer and thinking about the milk bank, I felt an inner prompting.  You love exercising your gift of generosity, right?  I felt God ask me.  Well, what if this is one of those times you’re being called to give?  Can you trust me to provide all that Alena needs and more so that you can bless other babies with your milk?  Yes, my heart replied.  Yes, I want to trust You in this.  So I applied to start the donor screening process.  And though I can’t give you empirical proof, I swear that after that day, I actually started producing MORE milk!

For understandable reasons, the milk bank has quite a rigorous screening process involving a phone questionnaire, written questionnaire, doctor’s report and blood tests for HIV and Hepatitis.  Because of this, it took a lot longer than I anticipated for me to get through all the steps.  About a month into collecting milk in our freezer, we started running out of space.  There was one week where we had to intentionally only eat stuff from our freezer so that we could clear more space for the milk.  Our freezer was quickly being overrun with little bags of frozen breast milk.

At this point, God met me again.  This time, it was through a couple friends of ours from church who’d had a baby about a month after we had Alena.  I had heard they just got home from the hospital so I messaged them.  A couple minutes later, I received a call from them.  She had had a c-section so her milk was coming in slowly.  They’d heard that I was applying to be a milk donor.  Would I consider giving my milk to their baby?  Would I?!  It would be my honour to bless my brother and sister and their baby in this very intimate way.  A few hours later, our freezer could breathe again. [Update: At the time, I had no idea that their baby would be diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and that he would require open heart surgery a few months later.  It made the gesture of donating milk to them that much more meaningful.]

In the end, three months would pass before I completed the screening process and was cleared to give to the milk bank.  But what started out as a major disappointment in a time of my life when I felt like God was very far away, became a testament of His redemptive purposes and very real presence in my life.  So that, my friends, is the story of my milk and how I ended up feeding many babies (perhaps a hundred, I’ll never know) in addition to my own.

[Note: If you are interested in becoming a human milk donor, in addition to milk banks, there is a great organization called Human Milk 4 Human Babies that connects people requesting or donating milk.]

  • bernadette

    Olive, you are always a blessing to someone who’s in need, now including your breast milk. God loves you and we love you as well.

    • olive chan

      Thanks, mom. I get my love for generosity from you. You know that, right? ;)

  • Eiko

    What you are doing is incredible!
    I had a c-section myself and had very difficult time to breastfeed my baby for a while. That was really stressful time.
    What you do is helping not only babies but also a lots of moms under big stress. I admire your effort!!

  • sirui

    you are such a giver Olive, I always encouraged by your spirit. Thank you for your love to others!!

  • Meredith Martin

    Olive, Russ forwarded this to me for my ‘nursing time readings’. We were talking today about if such programs exist. Nursing is going so well for us which is an answer to my many prayers. I loved reading about God calling you to trust him to provide and how u blessed ur friends. What an amazing journey and honour. Thanks for sharing.

  • Shari McMullen

    Hi Olive,
    Such an inspiring story! Being a mother with a premature baby, unfortunately my milk never came in enough to feed my daughter. I sure wish I had known about the milk bank. That would have been such a blessing to have the option. I will let other mothers struggling know about it though.
    God bless you and your family :)

    • olive chan

      Thanks, Shari. The milk bank IS a fantastic idea, although from what our friends told us, because of the cost of pasteurizing the milk and screening the donors, they have to charge quite a bit for the milk. But yes, it’s good to have the option.

  • Tara L

    That’s awesome! I’m super inspired by your generosity. I considered doing this when Sebby was born then realized that I couldn’t because BC had Canada’s only milk bank. I am still breastfeeding Sebby, though I will be stopping in the next few months as I prepare for the arrival of our second in early Oct. I have the opportunity to do it here in the UK, though. I saw a poster at the hospital when I was in for my last appointment. I will pray about it because as someone who tried & hated pumping, it would be a sacrifice for me to put in the time to pump so I need to see if it is something God will call me to.

  • amy

    i don’t know how i missed reading this when you first posted it, but it’s wonderful to hear! you truly never know how God might use you. they’re working on organizing a milk bank for ontario, but it’s a long process to build such a complicated system (as you learned) as safety is so crucial, and there’s more to it than most people realize.

  • Pingback: An Honest Letter to my Post-baby Body | Tim and Olive()

  • I love this! It always amazes me how God makes beautiful in every situation. I love how it speaks to generosity … Just beautiful.

  • Michelle

    I’m glad you linked this in your recent post! Yay for milk donation! I definitely asked a friend for some of her breastmilk while I waited for my supply to kick in, so I love and appreciate generous mama’s with abundant breastmilk! :)

  • Pingback: Pregnancy: 1st vs. 2nd Time Around | Tim and Olive()