Thank you for giving my son life.
I don’t want to get crazy on you here, but let me be totally transparent: I can’t imagine what my family would look like without that liquid gold. Your gold. Your life-force alchemy.
I know what it’s like to hook yourself up to a pump every day, mulitple times a day, for months on end. Extracting that milk, creating extra steps, extra dishes, extra work while engaging in the most extra energy exerting time of your life with a newborn clutched to one breast as the pump cranks on the other. You never even hinted at the burden I knew it was for you. You handled it with an elegant grace I unreservedly admire.
Last year, I found myself stuck in a nightmare with my eight month old son. My sweet baby had severe food allergies (here’s what I want you to know about FPIES), and needed more milk than I could produce. My breasts, the ones that were meant to feed him, began to fail us both. Even after all of the nutrition and support and finally pharmaceutical medication, I could not raise my milk supply to keep up with his demand. Exclusive pumping, unimaginable stress, sick baby, hormone shifts, whatever. You name it, it contributed to the decrease in my milk.
Formula was a risky option for my son, even the expensive elemental ones that work for 99.9% of infants with food allergies. We had no guarantee my son’s compromised system could tolerate the pre-digested proteins, as many other babies with his syndrome are unable to. I prayed. I researched. I lit candles and called formula companies and looked into every conceivable way to feed my son that did not require actual food.
And then my phone rang and you were on the line, understanding with your medical knowledge and feeling it all with your tender heart, and asked if you could give my son your milk.
I cried. With my back literally against the wall, sitting on the floor of my bedroom, muffling my relieved sobs, I accepted your gift with the undeniable knowledge there was no way I could ever pay this gift forward, much less pay you back. With a newborn baby who needed your milk and a toddler who needed your attention, a full-time job and active community involvement, you offered to close the gap for us. You added one more thing to your very full plate and you did it with grace and strength and love.
Every few weeks, a box would arrive, overnighted from Texas to Oregon, dry ice all but disintegrated in a custom styrofoam cooler. (One of many coolers you recruited your friends to save for you to ship your milk to us.) You pumped your milk, froze it, picked up the cooler from your friend, loaded it all into your car, bought dry ice, carefully constructed the layers of dry ice and newspaper and milk inside the cooler, put that cooler in a box and took it to the shipping place with a hope and a prayer that all your hard work and irreplaceable milk would travel 2,000 miles and still be frozen when it arrived. You, who had a million and one things to do, found time and capacity to do one more (hard) thing. And you never complained.
I followed a strict elimination diet, and at one point I could only safely eat 11 foods without causing my son’s gut to bleed and his weight to drop. You altered your diet, too. You ate the same tiny list of foods because you loved my son that much. You restricted your menu and dilligently read every label and questioned every ingredient before eating a single bite in order to keep my son safe. You were full of encouraging words and creatively figured out what to eat when you couldn’t really eat anything and shared your food hacks with me.
Last summer, after seven months of pumping and freezing and shipping, you called me in tears. Your milk was almost gone, drying up to barely a trickle. I cried, too. I offered to send back what milk I had left in my freezer for your daughter. The milk belonged to her. YOU are HER mama. That milk was made for her. I was adamant.
You said no.
Unbeknownst to me, you had already tried other supplemental options and she responded well. “My baby is healthy. We can still nurse. And two more weeks of freezer milk will buy you time to find another way.” And you were right. We found another way. Another donor, (your sister). And another donor after that, (my best friend). And eventually, another supplementation my son’s body accepted.
- Two friends in Texas (including his main donor, Allison)
- One visiting friend from England (and sister to Allison)
- My BFF who supplied milk for several months after our main donor could not continue.
- My midwife who learned she was pregnant about an hour before my son was born and donated her baby’s colostrum.
- A friend of a friend I met only once, but for whom I feel much gratitude.