When I found out I was pregnant, I knew I would breastfeed. My mother had breastfed me, and my husband’s mother breastfed him. I knew of the benefits, and more importantly, I knew it was the natural choice. I was all for natural “attachment parenting”- I wanted to give birth all naturally, cloth diaper, babywear, leave my son intact, and generally give my son the best start in life. I didn’t buy bottles, and since I was going to be a stay-at-home mom, I laughed at the idea of dropping $200 on a breast pump.
Of course, parenting is not as simple as we anticipate. Sometimes life throws us a curve ball, as I found out. Although I was able to give birth to my son Lucas all-naturally on September 15, 2011 with the help of my amazing doula, I immediately began struggling with breastfeeding. After 3 weeks of nursing exclusively (through bloodied nipples and nonstop tears/meltdowns), another 3.5 weeks of pumping exclusively (still painful), and countless tries to remedy the pain I was feeling, my doula and I came to the conclusion that I had Raynaud’s phenomenon of the nipples. Even though I had dealt with this condition in my hands and feet for all my life, I was still shocked that it could affect my breastfeeding relationship. And on top of all this, I was struggling with severe postpartum depression. My son was 7 weeks old when he got his first bottle of organic formula- and I mourned the loss of the nursing relationship I so longed for.
Although I was still giving my son 6-12 ounces of breast milk per day from my own frozen stash, I knew that wouldn’t last for very long. The nearest breastmilk bank was 4.5 hours away, required a prescription from an OB/pediatrician, gave precedence to severely ill/premature babies, and costs $3 an ounce (not including shipping). So on my doula’s urging, I decided to check out two informal milk-sharing sites called Human Milk 4 Human Babies
(HM4HB) and Eats on Feets
(EoF). I nervously contacted two mothers in my city who were offering up their extra breastmilk, completely free, out of the goodness of their hearts. My own heart bruised from my own feelings of regret, I prayed they would not judge my inability to continue nursing/pumping. Not only that, but many people I had talked to about donor breast milk seemed very wary of the idea- how do you know that this milk is safe, that the mothers aren’t sick or doing drugs?
Instead of judgment, I found kindness from these donor milk moms who were just trying to help out, who had the same belief as me- breast milk is the normal, natural, perfect food for our babies. In fact, one of these first two moms is now a very close friend, and despite her daughter being over a year old, she continues to nurse her and pump about 6 ounces a day for my son! (I also told her about the Boba 3G
, and she’s now a regular babywearing momma!)
Since the end of October/early November, my son has had 10 donors, and at 24 weeks old, he stopped needing any supplementary formula. I got to know these women, saw them pumping and/or feeding their children, and many of them offered up copies of their blood work and medical history. One of them was an elementary school friend of mine, another went to school with my husband since they were just kids, and a third was my sister-in-law’s high school buddy. All of them did it out of generosity, not for profit (which both HM4HB and EoF strictly prohibit). Through their donations, I have made many amazing momma friends from all over California, and even two from Oregon and Colorado.
I learned that it is possible to practice “attachment parenting” while bottle-feeding. I hold my son in my arms as I feed him (instead of propping his bottle or making him hold it on his own) and try to emulate the nursing relationship. Whenever we are out, I avoid using our stroller and instead opt to carry him close in the Boba 3G. I respond to his cries and avoid rigid feeding/sleeping schedules.
I never thought, in a million years, that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed my son. However, I am so thankful that I have made friends with so many selfless women. Every new donor momma that I meet, I take a photo of them with my son. One day I hope to share these photos and the story of his milky mommas with my son.