It took us almost 2.5 years to get pregnant and when we were finally there on the day my water broke, we still couldn’t believe it was actually happening! Post delivery I was in a cloud of hormones and exhaustion, cuddling my little guy and looking at him in awe. I kept bringing him to the breast and though he would latch nothing would come out. I was like the Sahara Dessert! Nurses kept coming in the room trying to help me, but I quickly began to feel frustrated with them and with myself. Every nurse had a different approach, which was annoying and confusing. I was told I better feed him formula until I “figured it out,” which is what ended up happening.
When we left the hospital my husband dropped me off and went to rent a hospital-grade pump and picked up a case of formula just in case (smart man). I tried and tried but still nothing and I needed to nourish the little guy so despite my desire to breastfeed I had to face my reality, which was disappointing and hard to do. I couldn’t understand what was going on as my breasts got bigger, they were rock solid and sore and my son was a master latcher, so why was nothing coming out? My midwife explained that my milk ducts may have been damaged due to my breast surgery, and encouraged me to keep trying but to not feel bad about using formula if need be. She also told me about the BC Women’s breastmilk bank and offered me a referral but told me they often keep the milk for babies in the NICU.
Being who I am, despite being so tired I researched breast milk donating and found out about Human Milk for Human Babies and Eats on Feets. I discussed it with my husband and although he was a bit worried about us feeding our son milk from people we didn’t know, he supported me to go for it. I too was a bit worried about it. Did it matter that I am a vegetarian and they are not? What if they were drinkers, smokers, on medications, or had health concerns that could be passed through the milk? What if they were drug users?! Was I about to put my son’s health in jeopardy all in the name of breast milk? Was it such a gamble that was worth taking when I could just rely on formula? The more I read about it the more I started to think less of the “what if’s” and focused on the positives of getting my son human milk. (I want to add here that I am not against formula and understand many people need to use it, including myself.) I had concerns about formula and how it is made and I was so connected to the idea of breastfeeding that I wanted to find a solution to still being able to provide breast milk to my son. I had also been researching how to help myself develop a supply of milk. I started taking Domperidone and ate so much oatmeal I might as well have bought shares in an oat farm! I tookfenugreek, milk thistle, goats rue, you name it. If it was a galactagogue I was indulging in it!
Finally one night I posted a message, well more like a plea, on two Facebook mom groups, telling them my story and asking if anyone had milk to share. Another part of my story is that I have Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and my midwife was very concerned about me having a postpartum MS relapse, as this is a common time for women with MS to relapse. I was putting so much energy into trying to feed my son, pump and researching that I was getting little to no rest at all, which is not good for any new mom, let alone one living with MS. By this point my son had also figured out the magical wonders of the bottle and no longer wanted to even try working for small drops of milk from my breast, which was another disappointment. At least in the beginning of trying we would be trying together, but eventually I felt like I was fighting just to keep him on the breast. It is fair to say I was consumed with trying to figure out an answer to my breastfeeding challenges. I cried as I wrote my Facebook post. I was embarrassed, felt awkward, disappointed and broken. Within minutes women started to share their stories or having had similar challenges and offering up what worked for them, though most of the suggestions I was already trying, so that made me even sadder to know that what worked for others made no difference for me. Then women started to offer milk they had stocked up in their freezers. Before I knew it, I had a list of women to pick milk up from. I organised the offers by location and about three days later off I went with my cooler picking up milk from random women off the Internet. Sounds weird I know.
I will never forget my first pick up: I arrived completely frazzled and puffy-eyed as I cried the whole way there. I cried because I was mourning the loss of not being able to feed my child myself, I cried because I felt awkward and vulnerable. I cried because I was just so exhausted but knew I wanted to do this to provide my son with the best start to his little life.
The first donor I met gave me a huge stash of milk that she had left over as was no longer breastfeeding her child. I broke down crying in her apartment lobby, and she hugged me and told me she admired me for what I was doing. She admired me? What was there to admire? I couldn’t produce my own milk and felt like I was going around cap in hand asking for handouts. I admired her for sharing her milk with a complete stranger. She told me that she admired my commitment to my son and my tenacity. It was at that moment that I stopped feeling bad about looking for donor milk and started to feel proud that I didn’t give up.
At the end of my first day collecting milk I was so moved by the experience. All my worries about using donor milk were washed away. After all, if these women were feeding their babies then it would be good for mine, right? Pumping is not a fun activity (you know what I’m talking about!) and if someone would take the time out of their busy new mama schedules to pump for a complete stranger out of the goodness of their heart then I am sure they were also being honest about the state of their health and lifestyle habits (which I would ask about).
I ended up posting the same message I had posted on the local Facebook groups on Human Milk for Human Babies and Eats on Feets. I started to feel like an addict looking for her next fix every day. The donations slowly rolled in, and off I would go with my cooler to pick up milk all over the lower mainland. Some women were even kind enough to come drop it off for me. I made a goal that I wanted to find enough donor milk to give my son at least 50% donor milk, milk that I pumped (I can now get a total of 6—8 ounces a day up from my earlier attempts of 1-2 ounces a day after 5-6 pumping sessions!) and the rest formula for at least the first year of his life. A stubborn A type I didn’t give up and kept looking for milk and driving all over to pick up any drop I could collect. Yes it was tiring to drive all around, but slowly the emotional weight of not being able to breastfeed shifted to the joy of attaining breastmilk and being moved by the generosity of others. I felt triumphant as my freezer started to fill. As my stash of milk would widdle down I would go on my hunt again, coming home with donor milk proud like a cat with a freshly caught mouse in mouth.
I believe in “Breast is Best” and though I was devastated that I could not provide for my son (to this day I still pump 5-6 times a day hoping a for a miracle), I wanted to ensure I could give him what I believed in despite it not coming from me. I started to get tired of all the posts I saw flying around Facebook and the internet about women who can’t breast feed most likely really could, they just don’t know how to do it properly. I think it is important for women to stop judging each other and remember that motherhood is hard and not being able to breastfeed your child is both a physical and emotional strain that no woman has asked for and would change if they had a magic wand! Believe me, most women with breastfeeding challenges really have probably tried every wives tale out there to help their production. They have probably seen one or more lactation consultants and have even prayed to the lactation goddesses above for just one more ounce to come the next day! I encourage all women to stop and think before they judge someone for using formula or when they share that they can’t breastfeed. The best thing you can offer a woman that can’t breast feed is milk, if you have spare. If you don’t, then just listen and show empathy, not pity.
I have learned we should not feel guilty about the choices we make to nourish our children, nor should we judge. Donor milk reminds us all of the generosity that is all around us if we open ourselves up to help. So ladies, join me in raising your breasts to the amazing donors of milk and the tenacious women that go around filling their coolers with their child’s next feed of liquid gold!
The original version of this post originally appeared on Candied Chaos.
Michele Mateus is a mother of one, a lover of salted chocolate and a photographer. She is working hard to teach her son her mother language, Portuguese, and enjoys tickling him to hear his laughter which she calls the best medicine in the world! When not busy with her family she spends her spare time building her business and enjoying cups of tea. Find her at her website, michelemateusphotography.com, Facebook, and Twitter.
We want to hear your uplifting, inspiring, funny, or touching story about your experience as a mother. Please visit our Storytellers page for more information on how to be published on the Good Mother Project blog.