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.]