The idea of whether or not to nurse never really occurred to me, since I had been given plenty of opportunities to see babies fed in this natural way. As far as I was concerned, breastfeeding was the norm and there was no reason to consider another option. It also never occurred to me that it might actually be a difficult thing to do. A few weeks before my daughter’s birth, I realized that if I tried, I could hand express a bit of colostrum. Fantastic! We were all set!
After my daughter’s birth, she began nursing easily and there was never a single issue on her end of the deal. For me, however, there was. Due to a very strong suck, poor positioning, or some combination, I ended up in severe pain in the first days of my daughter’s life, and it lasted well beyond the first weeks.
I dreaded nursing her because every feeding meant my wounds were reopened. One side was worse than the other, but both hurt awfully. I searched far and wide for a lactation consultant to help me figure out what we had been doing wrong and how to fix it, but our island does not have one. The nearest, it seemed, was Japan, which really is not near at all. I managed to push through thanks to some fabulous online support, but I was frustrated by the lack of local resources for women with breastfeeding issues. Even as late as my six week postpartum appointment, my nipples were so damaged that my OB encouraged me to begin nursing from one side only. She compared my wounds to a C-section scar, and asked me to return for a follow-up a month later so that she could make sure they were healing properly.
|Going Strong at 18 Months
My daughter grew, and our nursing relationship continued. Eventually I did heal properly, and the pain of those first few months has become a distant memory. That experience, however, made me keenly aware of just how difficult breastfeeding can be in some cases
. It also made me passionate about helping other nursing mothers – especially here on Guam where informed breastfeeding support is hard to come by. So, when a friend approached me about Eats on Feets
, I was immediately interested in helping. Because of my daughter’s love of frequent nursing, I had enough milk for her and then some. I posted my offer of donor milk on my local chapter page
, but the word about EOF was slow to get out in this part of the world and some time passed before anyone came forward with a need.
When my daughter was just under a year old, a mom who needed milk for her son posted on our local Eats on Feets page and I connected with her online. We made arrangements for our families to get together for dinner. I learned that she had needed a medical procedure immediately following her son’s birth that made it impossible for her to nurse right away. She struggled with supply from the start, but fortunately had a family friend with milk to share and this milk had been feeding her son since his birth. Her friend’s supply had begun to dwindle, however, and the mom was finding that she sometimes needed to supplement with formula. I was not pumping yet, but we all felt comfortable and I offered to start expressing and storing my milk for this mama’s sweet boy. She had found another donor through EOF, so I would be their third. The father, an MD, explained that, “It’s awesome! I mean, he gets three different sets of antibodies!”
Because I stay home with my daughter, I had never needed to pump my milk. I considered buying a pump, but I started out hand expressing
and this worked so well that I decided pumping was unnecessary. I was able to express and freeze as anywhere from three or four to twelve ounces each evening, depending on how well hydrated I was and how much Annabelle had nursed that day. I kept in touch with my recipient family over the phone and on facebook, and when I had a good amount stocked up, they would come and pick it up.
Now, here’s the part where I need to be really honest. I was more than happy to share my abundance of milk for the benefit of any baby, and I think doing so is the most natural thing this side of a mama nursing her own baby at the breast. I would donate again in a heartbeat, but I was relieved when my recipient family moved off island, bringing the donor relationship to a natural end. My problem was that I failed to build a connection with the family I was donating to. This would be fine for a one time donation of milk I had stored away for no one in particular, but I was sitting down for fifteen or twenty minutes each and every day to express milk for a baby I had never even held. Our meetings to exchange milk were quick and easy, with only one parent getting out of the car.
Yesterday, Amy at Anktangle re posted her Milksharing How-To
, and one of the suggestions she gave for mothers thinking about sharing their milk was to, “regularly check in with yourself on an emotional level, so you’re aware of how you’re feeling about donating your milk.” I didn’t do this, and I think it really would have helped. I didn’t understand at first why I was feeling so disappointed. After all, I was doing something that I really believed in: Helping a baby get species specific nutrition, and sticking it to those sleazy formula companies, all at the same time. Why didn’t I feel awesome? Eventually it occurred to me that the missing piece was connection.
My offer of donor milk still stands, and I’ll gladly start expressing again if someone comes forth with an ongoing need, but next time I’ll make a point of checking in with myself more often. I’ll make a point of building a friendship with my recipient family so that I can more freely give from the heart, of both my time and my milk, because that connection is important to me.
Have you ever donated your own milk, or received donor milk? What suggestions would you have for families considering the same?