During our pregnancy with Big E, I was on a quest for breast milk and researched sources. Doctor friends told us it would be the greatest gift we could give our newborn.
We were lucky that a friend had twenty pounds of frozen milk in Denver just after Big E was born in Colorado Springs. We packed it on dry ice and overnight’d it to New York.
There had to be another way.
I’d already learned that milk banks weren’t the way for us.
For starters, I figured there was a milk bank in every major city in the country. At the time of this writing, there are twenty two. A few years ago, the closest location was in Massachusetts which would have shipped 4 oz of milk at $7/ounce plus shipping.
So…already this was tremendously cost-prohibitive.
Further, the milk banks pasteurize. This might be a good process for sick, fragile newborns, in which case, that’s awesome. They kill bacteria and cleanse the milk. However, these bacteria are what strengthen the baby in its growth and are a natural part of the child’s intestinal development. I mean – it’s not like they’re licking a subway pole.
Plus, milk banks often refuse milk from mothers who have colds or aren’t in perfect health. But sick mom milk is the best kind for growing babies…full of antibodies.
I asked doctor friends what needed to be avoided, and obviously I couldn’t feed my baby milk from a woman who was HIV positive and it would be smart to just avoid hepatitis.
But further, breast milk is absolutely magical, especially between the breast-feeding baby and the mother. (So in this case, it wouldn’t help me, but still…the science is fascinating.)
A doctor friend of mine in New York City would actually lick her newborn’s hands after being out in the city because it’s believed her body would receive signals about the germs the baby was exposed to, thereby triggering certain antibodies to be developed in the breast milk. LOL. And amazing.
But for us, the quest for breast milk at milk banks wasn’t worth the price of shipping sterilized milk. There had to be another way.
Another Google search led me to “Human Milk for Human Bodies” (HM4HB), a global Facebook network of women with full freezers who don’t want to dump their milk.
Posting locally in New York City, I quickly found generous women willing to give me their frozen supply.
When meeting them, I awkwardly asked, “Um, I don’t mean to offend, but I’d be remiss in not asking if you’re a meth addict or HIV positive or if you flavor your milk with Nestle Quik?”
In each case, the women laughed and said, “No. But you’re smart to ask.”
I trusted them. Who would go to the trouble of pumping, freezing and the rigamarole of posting of FB if they were Hep B positive meth addicts?
One woman, a yoga teacher, had a completely full freezer. I stuffed two Trader Joe’s bags and my backpack with frozen milk. Plus, Big E hung on my chest in the Bjorn. I swear they doubled my own weight. After walking innumerable blocks and taking a subway, I questioned whether my shoulder pain was worthwhile.
But my kid drank breast milk for two straight weeks. Because this donor was a yoga teacher, we called hers “soy milk.”
Another time, I carried Big E into outer Brooklyn for a pick-up. As I stepped onto the outdoor subway platform, I called the donor, as planned.
“Hi! I see you!” she answered.
I looked around and, twenty feet away, saw a woman waving to me.
When I reached her I asked, “How did you know it was me?”
“Because you’re the only white guy, here.”
I looked at the people around me. I hadn’t realized that every person in the subway was Asian.
“It’s cool. I’m Chinese and married to a Black guy. You should call this your ‘rice milk’.”
HM4HB fed both our children with a great variety of milks (and a great variety of nicknames). It is built on generosity and need.
Like them, promote them, use them and you, too, can be on a quest for breast milk. Help us all flourish.
I love this post! It beautifully illustrates the concept of how it takes a village to truly raise a child. Thank you for affirming my belief that there is good in humanity.
Love this!! Thank you for writing it. I’m appalled with the ignorance and ick factor with which people view mil sharing. My midwife once told me a story about a friend who nursed her child when the midwife was delivering another baby. Shared antibodies, community of people who hold your baby while you work and vice versa. THAT is what it is all about.
Thanks, Stacy. Agreed, obviously. Our hyper-sanitary culture does our kids no good. Let nature take the course it’s been taking for many millennia, right? Thanks for writing. Let’s keep spreading the word.
Further- it’s how humans have helped each other survive for many millennia. Modern medicine, the church, politics, 24hr news…they’ve preached so much illogical fear for so long. We were MEANT to be raised in a village. Thx for responding!!
Oh, I just love your wit and humor in this! I am so glad that you found the perfect solution for your family! ❤
Love this story! My milk was slow to come in when my baby was born, resulting in severe jaundice and hospitalisation for my 3 day old bub. 😦 The hospital was determined that I had to give her formula. I was equally determined not to (virgin gut anyone??). Thanks to HM4HB I found a donor who had milk to spare, even some with colostrum! Her milk tided us over until my milk came in on day 5. And now my baby is nearly 12 weeks old, and I’ve already been able to pay it forward, donating some of my freezer stash to a gorgeous little man with Down Syndrome. Milk sharing rocks. Right now I’m concentrating on filling my freezer for my own little girl, since I go back to work on Monday (aaaargh!), but if I have milk to spare in the future, I’ll definitely be donating again!
Wow…you’ve got the full circle of story for hm4hb. Thank YOU for paying it forward. Too bad you have to return to work, already. But you’re giving your wee one the best. It’s so great to read these comments and know the importance of what we did a few years ago. The effort was definitely worthwhile. Pump away! 🙂
I always knew I wanted to be a milk donor. The second I found out I was pregnant, I had it all planned out. First few weeks, get into rhythm with baby. After that? Begin pumping, save a small stash for my baby, and donate the rest!
It didn’t work that way.
My first few days, I thought things were going well. It was painful, but nothing horrible. Baby was on the breast, and we were nursing.
Flash forward to first check up: 13% weight loss. Handed a box of formula, doctor told me to feed the baby or she would call cps. I cried. Cried and cried.
Then I said I would do whatever it took to not feed formula. I posted on hm4hb, eats on feets, and asked around. I got a few donations locally, but discovered that an employee of my husband had a NICU baby: she had learned to pump.
Now, simultaneously, I was pumping. I pumped day and night. Nothing came out. Ever. Tried phalange size, tried pressure, tried hot water, tried everything. And nothing. So for two months, I would drive all the way across town to pick up precious breast milk, and give it to my baby after nursing.
Finally, her weight gain (though very low) was steady. I was able to stop feeding after every nurse, but I still kept trying to pump. Still nothing. I was broken. I felt broken. I felt devastated. Every lactation consultant I saw had the same tricks, the same advice, the same cookies. Nothing worked. : / eventually, I just gave up.
I still wish I could be a donator, but I have a lot of respect for all of the women who do, and and forever grateful to my daughter’s milk mom.
Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story. It’s so frustrating when our parenting realities don’t match our expectations. But the extra mile you went to stick to your guns (bad use of words) is invaluable. Congratulations on your commitment! Thanks for sharing. (Ps- we only fed breast milk about 1/3 of the time. Wish it could have been more, but there wasn’t that much milk to be found. It’s all good.) thank you for sharing!!
Agreed! Thank you for your encouragement. It’s silly to get caught up in these labels and expectations and silliness. Of course I just want my kid to be pure and happy. And that brings me great joy! Thank you for sharing!
Gay dad here– we also fed our daughter donated milk 🙂
I wish more folks did. We knew another gay couple who were interested in donor milk for their baby at first, but then they called a milk bank who told them that peer-to-peer milk sharing was really dangerous and talked them out of it. I wish the “authorities” were more supportive of milk donations.
Thanks for sharing! How disappointing (and predictable?) that a milk bank would scream danger. I suppose it’s a matter of economics and paranoia. They need to retain business and also need to avoid public health panic if one in one billion recipients has a bad reaction to donated milk. Grrrrrr. The human condition of stupidity and bad judgment. Anyway, thanks for sharing. Keep spreading the good word. #proud
I was thrilled to find HM4HB when my daughter was born at 29 weeks. .. but not because I had a lack of supply. I was so nervous about making sure my supply came in and creating a freezer stash for my daughter (and bringing her fresh milk in the NICU every day for 56 days) that I definitely had an over supply! I froze enough to donate about 500 oz in less than 1 year, & it made me especially happy to connect with and donate specifically to other moms of preemies. 🙂 One mom often referred to our girls as milk sisters – which I loved.
Yeah, it’s a marvelous community, ain’t it? So happy you were able to contribute and spread the love. I’m happy to say my boys definitely have “milk siblings” all over the country! (Well, Colorado and New York City.) And I’m so grateful for that. Thanks for sharing!