You Are Gold — A Letter To My Son’s Milk Donor

Dear Allison,

Thank you for giving my son life.

ThrivingOnDonorMilk

My unlikely squishy baby.

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.

Thank you.

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.

LastDonorBottle

My son’s last bottle of Allison’s donor milk from Texas.

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.

You gave my son seven months of milk.  Seven months to heal and thrive without taxing his little body even more.  Seven months of weight gain. Seven months of knowing he had all the milk he needed and more.  You gave me seven months of relief knowing my son would not just live, but he would thrive. Seven months of a little more sleep, a little less stress. Seven months of hope.
Donors

Three of my closest friends, years before we had babies, on the night before my wedding. Each of them gave their milk to my son. Allison, the woman in green, was our main donor.

I know our friendship is life-long and this donor bond goes deeper than words can express.  But I also know you.  You with your elegant grace, generous heart, deep well of love, creative time and resource management, and desire to change the world in your strong, quietly fierce way.  I know you.
And I know you would have done this for anyone.
You, my alchemist soul sister, are pure gold.
With love and gratitude,
C
P.S. ~ My son received milk from a total of six different women over the course of 14 months, all of whom I want to acknowledge and thank from the depths of my mama soul:
  • 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.
 _________________________________________________________________________If you like this post, check out How Jimmy Fallon Saved My Morning Milk and I Am A Sh*tty Friend over on our sister site, Our Stable Table.


IMG_2895Carrie Saum brings a passion for wellness and over a decade of experience in health care to her clients. A certified Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor (AWC) from the Kerala Ayurveda Academy, she empowers individuals and families to achieve health and balance through time-honored practices and health knowledge. Carrie has extensive first-hand experience in vast array of medical and service fields.
With background in paramedic medicine, Carrie spent ten years serving in the non-profit sector managing organizations, programs, and orchestrating resources to meet health needs of people across the United States and abroad in countries such as Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya, and Zambia. As an AWC, Carrie currently coaches her clients and their families about topics including nutrition, weight loss, and stress management. In addition to her work as a wellness counselor, Carrie is a passionate “foodie” and the voice behind OurStableTable.com. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and young son.
 
Share

Comments

  1. Linda Moffitt says:

    I have not donated or received donated milk but I think this an awesome thing for BF’ing Moms to do

  2. This is exactly why I donated breastmilk. Good job mama!

  3. I have never received donor milk nor have i donated. I have such a hard time breastfeeding. My daughter nursed till she was 21months. I had to wean her since i was pregnant and have a history of preterm labor. Pumping was hard and i had to switch physicians twice before i found on to refer me to a cosmetic dentist to release her lip and tongue ties. It was a long hard road but i figured if i could give her even one ounce of breastmilk everyday it would be worth it. It was so hard to wean her. But i know i will breastfeed her baby brother to make sure he’s as healthy and wonderful as his big brothers and sister. Since my last pump gave out, i would be so excited to win a new pump.

  4. Christine M says:

    I am really curious what you and the donor ate…because your son “ate” the same thing through breastmilk. My son has several food allergies as well and I had to eliminate those foods from my diet when I breastfed him. I am really confused how he can eat nothing that isn’t breastmilk because breastmilk is what you eat!

    • Not exactly. Not all foods cross into breastmilk and much that does depends on mom’s gut health. Breastmilk isn’t just a liquified version of the foods the mother eats, if it was we would be able to just blend up mature foods and feed that. Since not all foods cross the gut blood barrier into breastmilk, it is possible that not all food the mother eats effects the baby as a result. Only those that cross (which we know isn’t all foods). Additionally, if the child has more severe and less severe sensitivities and not all food crosses into breastmilk or doesn’t cross as much, the amount may be something the child can handle in breastmilk but not in pure form. Carrie shared that there was a time when there were only 11 foods she could eat while breastfeeding and her son could only tolerate breastmilk but couldn’t handle those same 11 foods in pure form. ~Jessica

  5. I have so much milk, and have been trying to find someone who would benefit from it. I have called a nonprofit milk bank, but didn’t pass the screen because I drink herbal tea a few times a week. If you know of anyone who is looking for milk, please let me know – I would love to know it benefited someone, instead of just living in my freezer!

Speak Your Mind

*