In Defense of Milk Sharing

Wednesday, October 23

Oh, the news. Oh, internet. Oh, people with opinions on things that have nothing to do with them.

What are we going to do with you.

In light of the news article that has been circulating over the past few days, I have a confession to make. My name is Sara, I feed my daughter almost exclusively donated breastmilk. Yep. You heard that right. Milk that comes from other women's bodies, not my own.

My baby was born with tracheomalacia, a condition that causes her trachea to collapse in on itself. She'd suffocate when she tried to eat, became exhausted with the effort, and would fall asleep after 90 minutes of trying as hard as she could to get full. She has never been a strong sucker, and as a result, my milk never fully established. By the time I realized pumping was going to be my baby's only option of getting my milk, my body had adjusted to feedings that took an hour and a half. What this meant? I had to pump for AT LEAST 45 minutes to get what Rosie needed for one feeding. I pumped as often as I could--woke up before Rosie, stayed up after she'd gone to sleep, every naptime for her was pumping time for me. So to put this into simpler terms, I was doing two hours and 45 minutes of work for EACH feeding. I fed her, and then I pumped, and that was all I did.
I barely managed to brush my teeth every day, let alone shower or get dressed. And despite everything I tried, and I tried it ALL, my milk supply never increased. No amount of fenugree, blessed thistle, stinging nettle, mother's milk, goat's rue, blackthorn berry elixir, fennel root, raspberry electropacs, rented Symphony pumps, La Leche League leaders' advice, lactation consultant appointments, internet research, books, or sobbing calls to my mother made any difference. I could not get my baby what she needed.
And that sucked. Especially given her genetic condition that makes digestion a literal internal battle, and how awesome is formula for little babies' tummies? Not.
In my fatigued, depressed, and disheartened state, I stumbled upon Human Milk for Human Babies, a worldwide network of women who participate in milksharing. Mothers whose bodies are able to produce an excess of milk (and what I would give to be one of them) donate to babies whose mothers cannot. I found a few donors, gave up pumping, and sobbed. Out of relief, out of exhaustion, out of frustration, and out of gratitude. I meet with my donors when we take Rosie up north for her monthly appointments with the cystic fibrosis team, and I'm usually able to stock up enough to keep her exclusively on the milk that will make her smarter, healthier, and more emotionally and socially adept .
Every day, they sacrifice time and effort from their own lives to keep up an excessive supply that feeds babies that are not their own. They are superheroes. They are incredible women. They saved me. Every day, they're saving my baby. They are paying me a service that I will never be able to repay them, and I will never cease to be grateful.
My name is Sara, I'm a recipient of donated breastmilk, and I could not be more proud or grateful to be able be part of this extraordinary group of women. And if I ever have another baby, (without malacia or CF, that is) I will do absolutely everything in my power to help women the way I've been helped, and to pay it a little bit forward.

Be educated, be aware, be involved, and for heaven's sake, be grateful for boobs.

the smallest news

Friday, May 24

I just barely picked my baby up off the ground by grabbing a handful of her dress, and by some miracle of physics and space, was able to put her in her exersaucer with each of her legs in their prospective holes without spilling a single drop of milk from either bottle.

Tell you what. I have about had it with this pumping thing.

Amsterdam International

Thursday, May 2

When Rosie was first diagnosed with CF, I met with a couple that had two little boys with the same disease. As I went to leave their house, they handed me a copy of this. Then yesterday, I came across a blog the other day called Uncommon Sense. It's written by Dana, mom to a special needs little girl. And it describes in uncanny likeness exactly how I felt/have been feeling/vacillate between feeling every twenty minutes some days. If you're interested, keep reading, or check out her original post here.

Amsterdam International
To fully get this post, please read (or re-read) Welcome to Holland before starting. Thanks.

In the special needs world, there is a poem (essay? whatever.) called "Welcome to Holland." It is supposed to explain what it's like to have a child with special needs. It's short and sweet.

It skips everything.

While "Welcome to Holland" has a place, I used to hate it. It skipped over all of the agony of having a child with special needs and went right to the happy ending.

The raw, painful, confusing entry into Holland was just glossed over. And considering the fact that this little poem is so often passed along to new-moms-of-kids-with-special-needs, it seems unfair to just hand them a little story about getting new guidebooks and windmills and tulips.

If I had written "Welcome to Holland", I would have included the terrible entry time. And it would sound like this:

Amsterdam International

Parents of “normal” kids who are friends with parents of kids with special needs often say things like “Wow! How do you do it? I wouldn’t be able to handle everything---you guys are amazing!” (Well, thank you very much.) But there’s no special manual, no magical positive attitude serum, no guide to embodying strength and serenity . . . people just do what they have to do. You rise to the occasion, and embrace your sense of humor (or grow a new one). You come to love your life, and it’s hard to imagine it a different way (although when you try, it may sting a little). But things weren’t always like this . . . at first, you ricocheted around the stages of grief, and it was hard to see the sun through the clouds. And forget the damn tulips or windmills. In the beginning you’re stuck in Amsterdam International Airport. And no one ever talks about how much it sucks.

You briskly walk off of the plane into the airport thinking “There-must-be-a-way-to-fix-this-please-please-don’t-make-me-have-to-stay-here-THIS-ISN’T-WHAT-I-WANTED-please-just-take-it-back”. The airport is covered with signs in Dutch that don’t help, and several well-meaning airport professionals try to calm you into realizing that you are here (oh, and since they’re shutting down the airport today, you can never leave. Never never. This is your new reality.). Their tone and smiles are reassuring, and for a moment you feel a little bit more calm . . . but the pit in your stomach doesn’t leave and a new wave of panic isn’t far off.

(Although you don’t know it yet, this will become a pattern. You will often come to a place of almost acceptance, only to quickly re-become devastated or infuriated about this goddamned unfair deviation to Holland. At first this will happen several times a day, but it will taper to several times a week, and then only occasionally.)

A flash of realization---your family and friends are waiting. Some in Italy, some back home . . . all wanting to hear about your arrival in Rome. Now what is there to say? And how do you say it? You settle on leaving an outgoing voicemail that says “We’ve arrived, the flight was fine, more news to come” because really, what else can you say? You’re not even sure what to tell yourself about Holland, let alone your loved ones.

(Although you don’t know it yet, this will become a pattern. How can you talk to people about Holland? If they sweetly offer reassurances, it’s hard to find comfort in them . . . they’ve never been to Holland, after all.

And their attempts at sympathy? While genuine, you don’t need their pity . . . their pity says “Wow, things must really suck for you” . . . and when you’re just trying to hold yourself together, that doesn’t help. When you hear someone else say that things are bad, it’s hard to maintain your denial, to keep up your everything-is-just-fine-thank-you-very-much outer shell. Pity hits too close to home, and you can’t admit to yourself how terrible it feels to be stuck in Holland, because then you will undoubtedly collapse into a pile of raw, wailing agony. So you have to deflect and hold yourself together . . . deflect and hold yourself together.)

You sneak sideways glances at your travel companion, who also was ready for Italy. You have no idea how (s)he’s handling this massive change in plans, and can’t bring yourself to ask. You think “Please, please don’t leave me here. Stay with me. We can find the right things to say to each other, I think. Maybe we can have a good life here.” But the terror of a mutual breakdown, of admitting that you’re deep in a pit of raw misery, of saying it out loud and thereby making it reality, is too strong. So you say nothing.

(Although you don’t know it yet, this may become a pattern. It will get easier with practice, but it will always be difficult to talk with your partner about your residency in Holland. Your emotions won’t often line up---you’ll be accepting things and trying to build a home just as he starts clamoring for appointments with more diplomats who may be able to “fix” it all. And then you’ll switch, you moving into anger and him into acceptance. You will be afraid of sharing your depression, because it might be contagious---how can you share all of the things you hate about Holland without worrying that you’re just showing your partner all of the reasons that he should sink into depression, too?)

And what you keep thinking but can’t bring yourself to say aloud is that you would give anything to go back in time a few months. You wish you never bought the tickets. It seems that no traveler is ever supposed to say “I wish I never even got on the plane. I just want to be back at home.” But it’s true, and it makes you feel terrible about yourself, which is just fantastic . . . a giant dose of guilt is just what a terrified lonely lost tourist needs.

Although you don’t know it yet, this is the part that will fade. After you’re ready, and get out of the airport, you will get to know Holland and you won’t regret the fact that you have traveled. Oh, you will long for Italy from time to time, and want to rage against the unfairness from time to time, but you will get past the little voice that once said “Take this back from me. I don’t want this trip at all.”

Each traveler has to find their own way out of the airport. Some people navigate through the corridors in a pretty direct path (the corridors can lead right in a row: Denial to Anger to Bargaining to Depression to Acceptance). More commonly, you shuffle and wind around . . . leaving the Depression hallway to find yourself somehow back in Anger again. You may be here for months.

But you will leave the airport. You will.

And as you learn more about Holland, and see how much it has to offer, you will grow to love it.

And it will change who you are, for the better.

© Dana Nieder 10/2010 All Rights Reserved

calling all time wasters

Friday, April 26

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Here's the thing about exclusively pumping after your body has gotten used to 90-minute feedings because your baby has a congenital throat condition that makes it difficult for her to regulate breathing and swallowing at the same time so it takes her for-ev-er to eat.
You spend a lot of time pumping.
Like, let's say I pump eight times a day. Each of those sessions is half an hour so I spend more than four hours sitting in a chair, attached to a breast pump, with a computer on my lap because hey, I get super bored. And here's what happened today.
I ran out of things to do on the internet. I didn't even know that was possible, but I guess it is. New shows to watch? Check. Online window shopping? Done. Obsessively following Kate Middleton's every fashion move? Yep. Pinteresting every cute outfit, DIY project, home inspiration, and recipe I come across? Absolutely. I've come to the conclusion that the rest of the world needs to be on pinterest as much as I am because my feed is not filling up with new things often enough.
Raise your hand if you can't wait for your baby to start eating solids!

not humble at all brag

Thursday, April 18

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This is my husband. He's a manly man. Once when I was ordering lunch for him at a restaurant neither of us had ever been to, I said to the waiter, "What's your manliest sandwich?" knowing that the result would be palatable for Bryan. It's just how he rolls.
Last July, Bryan took the Montana bar. Three days of eight-hour testing and a lot of missed hours of sleep, not to mention an entire summer dedicated to studying, after, ya know, three years of post-graduate education.
No biggie.
Then, he and his boss decided he'd take the Idaho bar too, thereby increasing the area in which he's certified to practice. So he started studying for that bar. And then, as you know, the year from the seventh layer of hell happened, pretty much stalling Bryan's studying. Three funerals and a life-shortening diagnosis will do that to a person. And then, the day before the bar, Bryan worked until five, started driving to Boise (which was six hours away), ran into weather suited only for the arctic circle (and I'm not talking about the restaurant), got to Boise two hours before the test started, slept an hour in his car, went in, and took two-day sixteen-hour thing like a boss.
Today, we found out he passed.

My husband, the ultra marathon runner, jumps-out-of-helicopters-for-fun-er, wild beast slayer, baby cuddler, handy man fixer, priesthood holder, lullaby singer, hand holder, rock star love of my life, is the most amazing person I have ever met. I'm grateful every day we found each other and grateful every day that he picked me. And grateful that I'll never have to go to law school or take the bar, because watching someone else do it was quite enough work for me, thank you very much.

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