What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Next month, I’ll wean my son.
Like most other moms at this crossroads, I’m feeling emotional and unsure, sad that this time in his life is coming to an end, anxious that we’re taking away a safety net for his health and nutrition. To onlookers, we’re just like any other family making the transition from boob to bottle.
But here’s the thing: I never breastfed. Or at least not the way most people think of it. Never did my son’s little rosebud mouth find its way to my breast like I’d so romantically pictured during nine months of pregnancy. Never did he (really, truly) latch, suckle, then fall away in milk-drunk bliss. Here's what happened instead -- pumping 24 hours a day; taking every herb, tea, and supplement known to man (or Amazon); chopping up my frozen placenta with a cleaver and eating it; following healing Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and macrobiotic regimens; endless acupuncture, chiropractor, osteopath, and lactation consultant appointments; juggling nipple shields, supplemental nursing systems, and other devices seemingly invented to torture women.
Suffice it to say: Nothing worked. My son never put two and two together, and I never produced milk, owing largely to a breast reduction that my surgeon had assured me would be a non-issue.
But let’s really fast-forward, past the part where I cried every day about not providing for my son, past the part where I felt like a useless vessel whose purpose had expired now that I’d birthed the baby, and past the part where I depress you with what was hands-down the darkest part of my life. Where I will stop is with what we found as a solution: donor milk. It was an option put forth by my midwife, lactation consultant, and pediatrician, and one that brought us a surprising amount of solace.
Getting started was simple. My midwife asked other moms in her practice if they had any to spare, and I was encouraged to do the same among moms I knew in the neighborhood. I was assured that it was far from playing Russian roulette, taking our chances with all those nursing with heroin needles hanging out of their arms while they smoked cigarettes and ate tuna (but managed to get it together enough to pump, store their milk, and respond to community listserv posts.) Instead, it was endorsed as natural and healthy. And of course, we would take precautions, just like with any decision one makes when it comes to your child’s health.
Within two weeks of my son’s birth, women across New York City started emptying the contents of their freezers into my husband’s oversized camping backpack. These women weren’t skeeved out by the sweaty man showing up at their doors to collect their milk. They were honored that we’d give their hard-earned goods to our baby.
At first I was nervous to ask about health history; it felt invasive and judgy. But do you know who loves to tell you how healthy they are? Nursing moms. Go on any nursing-related blog or Facebook group and you’ll see more #humblebrags about milk than you thought possible, from the color to the cream to the Stay Puft babies that they’re sustaining with nothing but the food that comes out of their own bodies. Have you ever asked a nursing mom about her stash? You’d think she was talking about her stock portfolio.
Every bag was labeled just so with date, time, ounces, and in one case, phases of the moon. To anyone who tried to color our pursuit of donor milk as sketchy or dangerous (I’m looking at you, New York Times), I’d only offer this: We weren’t buying previously owned VCRs on Craigslist! If I hadn’t come along to lighten the burden of a full freezer, that food would be going straight into their own kid’s mouth (or in some cases, the trash, which is why we need to spread the word about milk sharing!). These women are damn proud of their milk, and they should be.
After a few months of milk sharing, I started to shift my definition of breastfeeding. It’s not just the clinical classification of transmission of food from (one’s own) breast to baby. It is so much more than just nourishment. It’s the cultivation, it’s the intention, it’s the sharing and the connecting. So maybe I didn’t make the milk myself, but I found it, vetted it, transported it, inventoried it, and best of all, served it. Whether from body or bottle, it’s all love. And I’m proud to say that I’m a breastfeeding mom.
Reprinted with permission from LifetimeMoms. Want more?