This post was written for inclusion in the WBW 2013 Blog Carnival. Our participants will be writing and sharing their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding all week long. Find more participating sites in the list at the bottom of this post or at the main carnival page.
I often look and think back on the things I didn’t know when I first became a mom. I wasn’t one of those moms who was scared of the unknown and worried about whether I would be able to do everything that parenting required of me. I thought I was super prepared and that I knew it all, and that I could handle it all on my own. Oh mama, was I wrong! I lived in Japan. My husband was deployed for the first eight months of our daughter's life. I wasn’t aware of online support for moms, and the couple mom friends I had were also the types to think they didn’t need advice or help from outside sources, so they weren’t much help to me. I shake my head at some of the things I thought were okay to do with my new baby, and I cringe when I see pictures of my blatant car seat misuse. But, one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t know what I was doing when it came to breastfeeding. I started supplementing with formula when my daughter was about eight weeks old. We did a lot of traveling and I didn’t know it was okay to nurse on the plane. I didn’t know that supplementing would impact my milk production. I left her for one whole day just before she was six months old and the next day I was completely dried up. I was convinced that I did everything right and it was just supposed to happen that way. I contacted a lactation consultant at the base hospital, who told me I needed to wake her up 2-3 times a night to nurse or pump (she has been sleeping 9 pm to 10 am since she was five weeks old---so that didn’t happen). I wish I would have known better or more from the beginning.
We moved from Japan to Hawaii half way through my second pregnancy. One of my sisters came to live with us for the first two months because she was filling an Air Force reservist position at the nearby Air force base. Her two young sons stayed with me every day while she was at work. She used cloth diapers. I started to use her cloth diapers on my daughter as well, since I had to change them and wash them anyway. When I made the choice to switch to cloth for my daughter and the son I was expecting, that is when my mommy world eyes were opened. Everything changed, not immediately, but things were set in motion. She introduced me to a cloth diapering website and directed me to the for sale or trade forum where I could buy used cloth diapers for a bargain. I started stocking up. But, in the meantime, I discovered all the other forums on the website. There were forums for everything! I found out what elimination communication was and what mama cloth was. I learned about car seat expiration dates and extended rear facing. I was addicted. There were endless links and research and testimonies. It was amazing. By the time my son was born, I felt like a completely different person than when my daughter had been born just nineteen months earlier. I couldn’t believe that I thought I had been prepared when I had her! You know what they say about hindsight.
I read every post about breastfeeding support and milk supply that I could find. And, I was going to do so much better THIS time. And, I did. I learned that community is so important, even if that community only exists online.
With my son, I had pumped extra here and there, and had enough in the freezer for date nights and such. We made it to ten months without him ever tasting formula. Then, my appendix burst. I went in for emergency surgery and was on narcotics for a few days. There was only enough milk in the freezer for about a day. I had been so set on making it to one year that I was heartbroken. Yet, at the same time we were trying to get pregnant again, and had discovered that I was one of those people that doesn’t start ovulating until after she stops breastfeeding. So, we quit with the surgery. He had formula for almost two months, and then made the switch to cow’s milk. Sure enough, the next month my cycle returned, and two months later I was pregnant with number three.
As soon as number three arrived, I was bound and determined to have the biggest stockpile of breast milk possible. If I had anymore random surgeries, got in an accident or had to travel unexpectedly for something, I wanted her to have enough milk to get her through. I pumped 2-4 times a day, and got nearly five ounces each time. We bought a freezer when she was two months old, and when she was three months old, we had nearly 1200 ounces in it. Then I saw a post on facebook from a high school classmate that opened me to the world of milk sharing. I cannot stop smiling as I write this because I just love the way the whole thing worked out.
I was living in Hawaii. I am originally from central California, and my friend who shared the facebook post was in California, in my hometown. I happened to be about two weeks out from traveling back to my hometown for a friend’s wedding. This high school classmate lived just outside of town on a farm, down the road from a dairy. Her neighbor at the dairy had a new granddaughter, a couple weeks younger than my new daughter. The tragic news was that the baby’s mother had just unexpectedly passed away from a postpartum blood clotting condition. It gives me chills to even think about it. The neighbor at the dairy was helping her son care for the baby, and they were having serious difficulties feeding her any kind of formula. She was extremely colicky and every type of special formula they tried seemed to aggravate her stomach and she wouldn’t keep anything down. Someone gave them a small milk donation, and the baby girl took it like a champ! Upon this discovery, they spread the message via facebook that they were in search of donations. My former classmate shared this information and I wanted to help immediately. There I was in Hawaii with a full freezer of milk, getting ready to head back to California in about 10 days, and it just seemed meant to be.
Now, the thought of getting on a plane by yourself with a three year old, a two year old, a three month old, three car seats, a double stroller, a few suitcases, a giant diaper bag, a pack and play, a breast pump, AND two gigantic Styrofoam coolers full of frozen breast milk might seem kind of intimidating. It was. But, everything went so smoothly it was barely a slight inconvenience. I recall freaking out when my friend came to pick me up at the terminal with her husband, her two kids in car seats, and her double stroller in her van. I told her, “What is wrong with you? There is no way we are going to fit all this!” Well, super props to the Toyota Sienna because we fit three adults, five rear facing car seats, two double strollers, two big suitcases, two little suitcases, a pack and play, a diaper bag, a breast pump, and the two enormous coolers…and there was still room to stretch out!
I got to my sister’s house at about 2 am. I had been scared that my packaging might not have been sufficient and that we would lose some of the milk, but the next morning the milk was still frozen solid. I made the twenty minute drive to the dairy with my kids. I was a mess of emotions. I thought that perhaps I would have a hard time letting go of the milk I had worked so hard for, but I was never more sure of anything than the fact that all that pumping had been for the sole purpose of feeding this little girl. I was crying for the baby who had lost her mother, and then I was smiling at the timing of my friend’s wedding that brought me home at this exact time, then I was laughing…because you have to admit, making a milk delivery to a dairy is pretty funny.
The woman who greeted us was so sweet, and so thankful. I got to hold the baby girl for a long time. If I could go back, I would have offered to nurse her, but at the time it didn’t occur to me. Or maybe it did occur to me, but I was too afraid that it would be an uncomfortable request. We got a tour of the dairy, and the kids got to play with some adorable new baby calves. We got to watch the milking process, and it all just seemed so relevant! One of the mom friends I had back in Japan had chosen not to attempt breastfeeding at all because she didn’t want to "feel like a cow”. I recalled that statement and smiled so big to myself thinking, “Being a cow is awesome!” I couldn’t think of many moments in my life that made me feel like a more fulfilled contributing member to society than being able to give this gift to that baby girl. My milk was enough to keep her fed for about a month and a half. I wasn’t the only donor, so she had other milk donations to keep her going for a while. I wished I would have lived closer so I could have made regular donations.
In conversing with the dairy owner (the woman’s brother) during our visit, it occurred to me that his name sounded familiar. It turns out he is married to the sister of my mom’s sister’s first husband. That might seem a bit confusing, but he was my cousin’s uncle...or my former uncle's brother in law. How nuts is that? So, I was actually related to this baby girl!
That experience is one that will live on in my mind for the rest of my life as proof that there are no coincidences. Whether you are a believer or not, how can one refute the grand design of things after that?
I returned home and discovered Eats on Feets Hawaii and Human Milk for Human Babies Hawaii, and made a couple small donations here and there to mamas in need. Right after my trip, my husband and I got orders to San Diego. I came to San Diego for a week by myself to shop for a house. My husband took the week off of work and had more than enough milk to last him through my absence. My pump and I seriously bonded that week. I pumped about 225 ounces that week and found someone on the HM4HB San Diego facebook page to take it off my hands before I flew back to Hawaii. My baby was just over seven months old when we moved, and we couldn’t take our stockpile with us, so that went to a couple other moms. We lived in hotels and in friends' spare bedrooms for almost three months waiting to close on our house (side note: buying a short sale is a stressful and long process). There was no freezer space and our schedule was so nuts, my pumping was limited. I nursed to thirteen months and she kind of weaned herself. I was a little bit relieved because we wanted to get pregnant again. Sure enough, a month after I stopped nursing, I got my cycle back, and two months later I was pregnant with number four.
Here I am, six months along with my number four. She is my third girl. I look back at how differently I approached breastfeeding with each child, how much knowledge I have gained with each experience, and how my kids are consecutively fatter on their first birthdays--haha (related to nursing perhaps?) Nursing in public is definitely not an issue for me anymore, and the idea of sharing my milk with other moms is something that makes me super happy. We have made the decision that four babies for ourselves is a good number, so I won’t be weaning this next one for the sake of trying to conceive. I can’t wait to see how long this nursing relationship lasts. We have no plans to be moving anytime in the next few years, so I am hoping I can keep up a pumping regimen that will allow me to help out other moms and babies who don’t have the same supply that I do.
In the end I look back and see little doors opening, that led me to new doors, that led me to more doors. Each small piece of advice from another mom that I have opened my mind to, has only led me to discoveries, experiences, and knowledge that has helped me in my motherhood journey, and particularly my breastfeeding journey…and then other people’s breastfeeding journeys! A friend of mine has a onesie for her little daughter that says, “My mom doesn’t want your advice!” And, with my first, I would have thought it was cute and funny. But, now all I can think about is how much her mom is potentially missing out on by not opening herself up to the information and support that exists out there! Also, I think about how much I would have missed out on as a mom had I embraced the idea that I didn't have anything to learn…or where I would be now if my sister would have never come to Hawaii with her cloth diapers!!! Haha.
Milk sharing has opened my eyes to surrogacy, and though this will likely be MY last pregnancy, I really look forward to being pregnant again someday for someone else. And, if that someone else would like to feed their baby breast milk, I would love to pump for them as long as they desire.
So, I have been in San Diego for a little over a year now. I feel like I have come a long way in five short years, not just from Japan to Hawaii to here, or as a mom to one then two then three then four, but as a mom in general. Starting in October, I will have milk to spare (God willing). And in two years or so, I hope to venture into the world of surrogacy. Four years ago, milk sharing and surrogacy weren't even on my radar. I am so thankful that there is awareness and support in this area for those things. Southern California is really a great place to be for milk sharing support! I only hope that other moms will hear about the benefits and join in, to give or receive!
Visit NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center for more breastfeeding resources and WBW Carnival details!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Below are a list of links for today's participants; you can find a complete list of links (updated throughout the week) at our main carnival page:
(This list will be updated by afternoon August 5 with all the carnival links.)
- An Unexpected Formula-Fed Attachment — Kyle (of JEDI Momster and) writing at Natural Parents Network, exclusively breastfed three healthy babies. So when she was pregnant with her fourth, she assumed she would have no breastfeeding troubles she could not overcome. Turns out, her fourth baby had his own ideas. Kyle shares her heartfelt thoughts on how she came to terms with the conclusion of her breastfeeding journey.
- It Take a Village: Cross Nursing — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares how cross-nursing helped her baby in their time of need, and how that experience inspired her to create a community of cross-nursing and milk-sharing women.
- Random little influences and Large scale support communities lead to knowing better and doing better — amy at random mom shares how her ideas and successes involved with breastfeeding evolved with each of her children, how her first milk sharing experience completely floored her, and how small personal experiences combined with huge communities of online support were responsible for leading and educating her from point A to point D, and hopefully beyond.
- Mikko's weaning story — After five years of breastfeeding, Lauren at Hobo Mama shares how the nursing relationship with her firstborn came to a gentle end.
- My Milk is Your Milk — Lola at What the Beep am I Doing? discusses her use of donor milk and hhow she paid the gift back to other families.
- World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - Celebrating Each Mother's Journey — Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy lists her experiences and journey as a breastfeeding mother.
- Working Mom Nursing Twins — Sadia at How Do You Do It? breastfed her twin daughters breastfed for 7 months. They made it through premature birth and NICU stays, her return to full-time work, her husband's deployment to Iraq, and Baby J's nursing strike.
- So, You Wanna Milkshare? — Milk banks, informed community sharing and friends, oh my! So many ways to share the milky love; That Mama Gretchen is sharing her experience with each.
- Milk Siblings: One Mama's Milk Sharing Story (and Resources)Amber, guest posting at Code Name: Mama, shares how her views on milk sharing were influenced by her daughter receiving donor milk from a bank during a NICU stay, and how that inspired her to give her stash to a friend.
- Humans Feeding Humans — Krystyna at Sweet Pea Births shares ideas on how we can celebrate all the different ways modern mommies feed their babies. While we are comfortable with the breastmilk-formula paradigm, she proposes that we expand our horizons and embrace all the different ways mamas feed their infants.
- When Breastfeeding Doesn't Go As Planned — MandyE of Twin Trials and Triumphs shares the challenges she faced in feeding her premature twins. She's still learning to cope with things not having gone exactly as she'd always hoped.
- Taking Back My Life By Giving Away My Milk — When Amanda Rose Adams's first child was born, he was tube fed, airlifted, ventilated, and nearly died twice. In the chaos of her son's survival, pumping breast milk was physically and mentally soothing for Amanda. Before long her freezer was literally overflowing with milk - then she started giving it away.
- The Tortoise and the Hare — Nona's Nipples at The Touch of Life discusses why we care about breast milk and formula with everything inbetween.
- Finding My Tribe of Women Through Milk Sharing — Mj, guest posting at San Diego Breastfeeding Center shares her journey breastfeeding with low milk supply and supplementing with donor milk using an at the breast supplemental nursing system. She shares the impact milk sharing has had on her life, her family, and how it saved her breastfeeding relationship.
- Human Milk for Human Babies — Sam at Nelson's Nest shares her perspective on milk-sharing after an unexpected premature delivery left her pumping in the hopes of breastfeeding her son one day. Sam's milk was an amazing gift to the other preemie who received it, but the connection was a blessing in the donor mom's life too!
- Sister, I Honor You — A mother feeding her baby is a triumph and should be honored, not criticized. Before you judge or propagate your own cause, go find your sister. A post by Racher: Mama, CSW, at The Touch of Life.
- Every Breastfeeding Journey Is Different, Every One Is Special — No two stories are alike, evidenced by That Mama Gretchen's collaboration of a few dear mama's reflections on their breastfeeding highs, lows and in betweens.
- A Pumping Mom's Journey — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares about her journey pumping for her son, who was born at 29 weeks.