I’d Like to Make a Withdrawal, Please

My friend Karen is such an incredible mother, giving everything she can for her daughters. Her story brings tears to my eyes and reminds me why I pump and donated my milk. I am honored to be bringing you this guest post.

Breast is best, and natural they tell me. Breastfeeding is apparently what these boobs I have been burdened with since a young age are made for . . . but my boobs didn’t get the memo. After working through some issues, I tried to breastfeed with my second child. But they would have none of it. There were three fundamental problems: 1) no milk, 2) faulty design and 3) lack of support. This led me with only 1 option, I had to make a withdrawal from the local milk bank.

I spent the entire first trimester of my pregnancy hooked up to an iv to sustain bare minimal hydration and nutrition thanks to a pregnancy disease known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). There were times when it took 5 nurses 8 attempts in over an hour to get an iv started. They called in the big guns, the nurse they sweared could ALWAYS get an iv started. Ah, but my body, it was bound and determined to foil even she. So finally they put in a port, sent me home and a nurse came to my house every 3 days to check it and change the location if needed. My wonderful husband set his alarm clock for 3 a.m. so he could wake up and change my iv bags. In my third trimester, I was hospitalized another 3 times for extreme dehydration. So it shouldn’t be surprising, but it was emotionally devastating, when I tried to breastfeed and simply couldn’t. Apparently, in basic math terms, 9 months of extreme dehydration=no milk.

The faulty design problem became apparent when it turned out there was no nipple for the baby to attach to. A lactation consultant was called in to, well, consult. She walked in, tore open my hospital gown with no announcement or, better yet, permission and declared, “yep, you have flat nipples.” Nice. Since I had given birth the day before Thanksgiving, everyone seemed more in a rush to make pies than to help a struggling mother so their basic advice was to pump as it would help bring the nipple out and the baby could create a latch. So I sent my husband to the store and he bought a pump and we were on our own for the next few days.

So here I was, trying to breastfeed and my days went something like this: Feed the baby for over an hour, because she wasn’t really get any milk. Pump for two hours, and get half an ounce. Feed the baby for over an hour. Pump for two. All I did was feed and pump, pump and feed. And cry. Remember that excellent husband I mentioned above, here he made a misstep. One day as I cried about it all, he suggested that maybe I was doing it wrong. Or was, in subtler but no less stinging words, a failure – and maybe I should just give up.

Our pediatrician wrote me a prescription for a medical grade pump, which failed to deliver on its promise quite frankly. And the lactation consultants, there is apparently only one in our county, failed to return the messages I left over Thanksgiving weekend. We were, as they say, winging it – and quite unsuccessfully at that. Then, the unimaginable happened, my baby developed severe GERD. There were frequent trips to Children’s hospital (seizure like episodes, apnea that resulted in her turning blue) and the recommendation was that we try changing formulas (we were supplementing as we tried to navigate our bfing nightmare). In the end, we had to use an amino acid based formula to minimize her symptoms that she is quite frankly still struggling from at 20 months.

In all of this, I did a ton of research, which is where I stumbled upon the idea of a breast milk bank. What a glorious idea I thought. I wanted my baby to get the health benefits of breastmilk but couldn’t deliver traditional, but now there appeared to be a nontraditional way for me to help my baby get what was best. So I called the nearest big city hospital and due to my baby’s feeding issues it was determined that I would qualify to purchase breastmilk with a prescription from my doctor. My doctor was a little more fuzzy on the idea: He was worried about sanitariness. And of course since my baby appeared to have food allergies, well – that was a different concern. But in the end we all agreed that I really, really wanted my baby to have the health benefits of breastmilk and it couldn’t hurt to try.

Well, it did hurt my pocket book. Donor breastmilk was almost as expensive as the amino acid based formula I had to buy. In the end, we could only afford to give her 1 6 ounce bottle a day for about 3 months. But, they say that a little is better than none and I hope that is true. My secret hope is that the antibodies from the breastmilk helped to make her food allergies less severe. I will say that despite her incredible issues with food (I mentioned she has incredible issues with food, right?)- she has had no other types of illness. No flu. No colds. No croup. A couple of ear infections that didn’t require treatment, but that was more than likely from the food allergies.

Since donated breastmilk from a hospital bank is pasteurized, there is some question as to how the antibodies compare to unpastuerized breast milk. But again, I am going with the some is better than none theory unless science comes back and tells me differently. I have heard that some moms are able to get donated milk from someone they know that is unpasteurized making this a moot point. I did the best that I could do for my baby – and I hope that other moms will have the opportunity.

To tell the truth this isn’t really that bizarre of a concept – when the Earthquake in China killed many of its citizens a couple of years ago, one of the stories that came out was about how one woman breastfed some of the orphaned babies to keep them alive. Imagine the generosity involved in giving not only of your nutrients, but your time and body in this way.

I am very thankful to the women that donated breastmilk to the bank I used. And now I encourage everyone who can to do so. There are many medical reasons why a woman may be unable to breastfeed, and donated milk can help their babies get the gift and benefits of breastfeeding. Do research to determine where a milk bank near you is and sign up to be a donor – it was such a blessing to my family, and it will be to many more. I am not the only woman who is looking to make a withdrawal.