Thursday, October 9, 2008

Our New Milk Family

As you'll recall, late last summer I learned all about Milk Sharing. At that time, I joined MilkShare and began reading the posts from moms in need and moms willing to donate. For the last two months I've asked a bunch of questions through this organization and researched various ways of shipping my milk (as I haven't heard of any local families looking for milk). Once I became fairly confident that I could commit to donating, I began the search for a good match.

I'm having some very BIG feelings today. So BIG, in fact, that I don't know if words can convey any of them. But I must try.

I want to tell you a little bit about my milk recipient family. For their privacy, I'll call the mom Kristi and her baby will be referred to as Sarah. Kristi is a mommy with breast cancer. Right after her first pregnancy they discovered her cancer and she endured a double mastectomy. During her second pregnancy, her doctors discovered a recurrence of the cancer in three other spots in her body. Kristi still wanted to give her baby the very best start in life--breast milk (which would also provide added protection to her baby against cancers and other diseases). Purchasing breast milk from her local milk bank at $3.50-$5.00 per ounce was out of the question (at 30oz per day, there's no way for most families). Kristi sought mother-to-mother donations and was thankfully met by a handful of breastfeeding moms in her area who donated milk to her family regularly. And by the time Sarah was 4 months old, she still hadn't had even a drop of formula.

As Sarah hit 4 months, her local donors began to not produce enough to keep up with her demands. Aided by her doula, Kristi got back to work frantically searching for more donors. A message was sent out across the MilkShare group where I daily read, with tear-filled eyes, the pleas of multiple mothers in need. With Kristi's story, I was instantly given the gift of perspective. All of my own worries in life seemed seriously meaningless. I hadn't even begun pumping and yet I knew I had found my recipient.

I contacted the doula who had put out the request and was thanked for my offer and told that due to extreme medical expenses they would be looking for local milk only because shipping costs were out of their financial means. I was sad, but I understood. Completely. So whenever I read (on MilkShare) of other donors living not too far from Kristi's area, I immediately sent them to Kristi and her doula. At least one was a match, others weren't.

:Deep Breath: Did I mention I'm having BIG feelings today?

So...I just couldn't get Kristi and baby Sarah out of my mind. It's not that I think she is any more deserving of my milk than another mom in need, but her story had been such a gift to me--a gentle reminder that even my family's serious financial hardship worries are nothing in comparison to what other families are experiencing. Here she is with barely any energy--hardly able to hold her own baby, sadly, and yet Kristi was described to me as such a positive influence to those around her--she's joyful, optimistic, and deeply committed to her family. I learned more than it seemed possible from this woman I had never even met. And then I heard, again, that they were in need of milk. Their donors were literally running dry.

Lee and I talked it over and decided to find a way to make a one-time donation to Kristi's family and pay the shipping costs from our end. We looked at FedEx, UPS, USPS, Greyhound, and DHL. USPS express was, by far, the most affordable estimated at roughly $100-$150 for the amount I hoped to have. It was a hefty price, but we were 100% committed. So after buying all our supplies, we carefully packed our bags of frozen milk inside of larger plastic bags and then placed those large bags inside of brown paper bags. We requested a shipping address and with dry ice on bottom and on top, we immediately sent off our package via express mail. I waited on the site watching the tracking and desperately hoping that it would NOT arrive all melted. The journey would take two days due to the distance.

By the way, do you know what goes in to donating milk? Can you imagine carefully scrubbing down your pumping equipment a couple times a day and occasionally doing a full lengthy boil of the parts that touch milk? Do you know what it's like to run alcohol through the tubing or to keep your breasts and hands absolutely clean while pumping and storing? It is a real commitment for donors, but I have to say that it is totally worth it. And for those of us shipping, we REALLY don't want to hear (in the end) that our milk arrived at its destination a day late or already melted.

I braced myself for the news as we waited...

...and waited.

The call came in at 12:08pm today. "The Eagle has landed..." were the first words I heard over the phone. It was all I could do to not bawl my eyes out in the rush of excitement resulting from those four simple words. Most of the milk was still frozen solid with a couple bags slightly slushy (but still completely usable in the next day). And it arrived just in time--right as the family was in desperate need for more. Between me and one other donor who sent milk on the same day, they now had 18 days of milk on hand. Hallelujah!

I cannot believe that a baby nearly 2,000 miles away is receiving nourishment from MY milk. It's such an incredibly fulfilling and humbling experience. I am so grateful. My donation was relatively small--a bit over 260oz. It will only feed Sarah for about 9 days, but that's 9 days of nourishment that she wouldn't have had without resorting to cow's or soybean milk and cornsyrup solids (I'm totally serious--have YOU looked at what is actually in a can of formula lately?). Amazing!

Many moms, probably thousands across the country, are making the sacrifice to donate extra breast milk to other families. In my previous post I shared a little bit about the reasons a family cannot provide breast milk. And today, I could tell you about moms who have donated over 10,000 ounces (and counting). And, even more touching, I could tell you about moms who birthed stillborn babies and, in their time of mourning, decided to donate their milk for a few months following their loss. WOW folks. Do we have the capacity to understand this selflessness? I really don't have the words to describe it. My heart is so warmed with love. Don't you want to be part of this?

Kristi and Sarah's family are now our milk family. I think about them constantly, pray for Kristi's health, and get all giddy about sweet little Sarah who is growing long and strong due to Brighton's extra milk. I'm starting to pump, again, for this family as we hope to raise the funds to keep sending them more when we have a nice-sized amount. If you are a breastfeeding mom (or if you soon will be), I plead with you to consider helping another family. You will not be paid for your time or effort, but I feel confident in saying that the fulfillment and satisfaction of such an act will be wholly sufficient.

And maybe...just, too, will experience these BIG feelings.

6 ♥ thoughtful comments ♥:

Shay said...

This reminded me of the days I breast-fed my children. I miss those days. It truely is a time you'll never forget. And it sounds to me if you donate, you bound with another child, family. What a wonderful experience you get to have!

agapebebe said...

That's so awesome girl!!! You are amazing!!! ;-) Sheri

jomama said...

Thank you for sharing your BIG feelings today. I am having some BIG feelings myself after reading it.

bfsandefur said...

As always, I am so proud of you, my only daughter. I love you very much.

Millie, Jake, Caroline and Clayton said...

When I was nursing Clayton and was producing so much milk, my mom suggested I donate the extra, but I had no idea where to look and sadly, put the thought on the back burner. Clayton has been weaned for over a month now and I wish I'd been more vigilant about learning how I could help others. Thank you SO MUCH for your post. When when have another baby, I hope to be able to give such a sweet gift to help other families, now that I know where to look. Love ya, girl!

Zie Zie said...

I love your passion and your zeal for serving. You have found yet another way to share some part of your Shaye-goodness. You are amazing. :)

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