Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Modern Day Wet Nurse: Milksharing in All its Shiny Liquid Golden Glory

I wrote this post for World Breastfeeding Week!  Robin Wiess, LCCE, is hosting a blog carnival to celebrate WBW and I thought I'd join.  Check out other submissions at her blog; on topics from breastfeeding basics to a dad's perspective on breastfeeding.  Also, I wrote another submission on Mothers of Change, on Painful Breastfeeding.  Enjoy!

I'm a bit slutty when it comes to my milk.  It gets around town.  Or maybe a better metaphor would be that lovely grandmotherly type who keeps peppermints in her purse to share with kids in church?  The candy lady.  That's better than the slutty lady, I guess...

I had tons of milk with all my babies.  When Ayden was born I started pumping so that I could leave him for short stints to help tutor my ESL students, and eventually I had a freezer full of more milk than he could ever need.  Breastmilk lasts a long time in the freezer, but not forever, so I decided to donate over 100 ounces of frozen milk to the Vancouver Milk Bank.  They use donor milk for their sickest babies, to fill in the gaps when their own mothers cannot provide them with breastmilk.  I had all these frozen milk popsicles in my freezer that we didn't need, and what do you know, they are lifesaving popsicles for sick babies!  Win-win.

I took a cooler full of my popsicles to BC Children's Hospital, walked up to Information and asked, Where is the milk bank?
I thought they might look at me like **crickets** but they didn't.  It took some phoning and discussions, and eventually a security guard to walk me down into the back corner hallway in their maze of a basement, but we got there.

That was pretty easy.  I only had to drive down to donate once.  I filled out a questionnaire over the phone before donating.  [I think now they require bloodwork maybe?  Not sure].

Then when Riley was born I pumped milk to share with his adopted brother, my second son, Matthew.

pumping naturally inspires thirst...

Matthew benefits from Riley's milkies

That was lots of extra work, since I pumped fresh milk every day and snuck it into Matthew's cup at mealtimes.  If it was even slightly separated or weird looking, he wouldn't drink it.  But if it was fresh and looked homogeneous, he would drink it down and think it was cow's milk.  Knowingly drinking my milk would have been, to him, like knowingly drinking my snot.  Not cool.  Little did he know.... =P  Sneaky mommy.  Although it was lots of work and sneaking around town, it felt remarkably satisfying to pump milk for my adopted stinker.  It felt like I was defying the universe and all its laws regarding the limits of family love.  Guess what?  He didn't grow in my womb but he will have components from my milk in his body for the rest of his life.  Boo ya.

He still doesn't know, and he's seven.

Then when my fourth baby was born, she got to share my milk with my friend Melissa's baby.  Melissa struggled with milk supply issues for the first six months of baby Brayden's life, so I pumped and shared my milk with her so she could supplement with human milk.

Brayden, 4 weeks old
Brayden, now

Milksharing in this instance was a huge commitment.  I was so grateful to have milk in abundance and be able to share it, but it was more than just sharing.  It was carrying the burden of feeding another baby other than my own.  A baby who, without me remembering to pull out my pump every day and properly store the milk and remember to place it on the front stoop for pickup by Melissa's husband, would be hungry that evening.  It wasn't the pumping that was the hard part, it was carrying that knowledge; that Brayden would be hungry without me remembering to pump for him.
I was SO happy to do it, and, really, sitting down to pump once a day when you've got an oversupply isn't that big a job!  It's the remembering to sit down that is the job!  Especially with four small kids running around and a husband who does shift work.  

It worked best when I had a routine.  For several months my daughter Amarys would sleep in and I would get up a tiny bit earlier than normal, pump one breast for ten minutes, and put it outside on the front step for pickup. This worked beautifully!  I had a few quiet moments to myself in the morning, Brayden got milk, Amarys was happy, and everything was golden.  But after about four months, Amarys switched up this routine and started waking earlier and nursing nonstop for an hour or two before we got up.  So then I had no extra milk first thing in the morning anymore.  

I tried switching the routine around, but there seemed to be no time quite as perfect as before to ensure that I had enough milk in one breast and enough time and space to sit down and pump in peace, every day.  Several times, Melissa's husband would arrive and I would have no milk to give him.  And I'd feel SO AWFUL!  Then Amarys got sick and went on nebulizer medications so Melissa arranged with another nursing friend to have milk donated for the weeks that Amarys was treated with steroids.  By the time those two weeks were up, my body had down shifted in its milk production, and I couldn't get more than an ounce or two extra per day anymore.  It just wasn't enough, so we stopped.

Milksharing was awesome.  It was better than donating to the somewhat faceless milk bank, because I knew the baby I was feeding, and I got to see him grow and hear from his parents how happy they were he was thriving on a combination of breastfeeding and supplemental milk from me.  Brayden is one year old now, and to this day I think he recognizes my smell and feels fairly comfortable around me because of all that milk of mine that he drank.  Someday I can really gross him out with that information... =)

The final incidence of milksharing that I did was the truest form of wet nursing.  Last Christmas my sister in law left my niece Birch with us for the day, with several bottles of pumped milk for her to drink while she was gone.  Birch drank all the milk and was showing signs of being pretty hungry, so we phoned my sister in law to ask if she would rather come back and nurse my niece, or have me breastfeed her instead.  Which I was very willing to do; I'd never cross nursed before and this would probably be my only opportunity.  She said YES!  Please feed my baby!!  And so I did.

I thought it might be weird or awkward or feel totally different, or that my five month old niece would take one look at my boob and be, like, You're not my mother!  And reject it outright, but she did the whole bicycle riding circles with her leg while I was getting into position and latched on easy as pie.  [The bicycle leg thing is something my babies always did when they were really hungry and I was getting ready to feed them.  It's like they are saying Gotta ride my bike over to that boob and get me some damn snacks!!  They don't feed people in this town!!]

Bring on the auntie milk...
It felt just like nursing my own babies.  And a wee bit special that it was my own little niece.  Sweet baby bird.  ♥ ♥


See how I've pretty much been around town?  With my old lady peppermints at church milk?  Milksharing is one of the coolest things I've ever done.  Because it's free.  Because it's made with love.  Because it's nourishing and miraculous and even a little bit like liquid gold.  And because, at the end of the day, it feels intuitively right and actually on the spectrum of human behavior, incredibly normal.  This is what we've done for centuries, us women~share the job of feeding our babies the milk they need.  And that is really cool.


EarthMamasWorld said...

You totally rock!! What a beautiful post. You had me smiling, laughing, and tearing up all at the same time. Thank you for that!

Prasti said...

Thanks for sharing this. My sister pumped extra milk to give to her cousin's newborn baby after mama passed away shortly after giving birth. It was a very sad circumstance but beautiful to see how breast milk can go beyond nourishing and helping your own children.