By Mary M
I had my 3rd baby last summer and right away found myself in the same nursing situation as I had with babies #1 and #2: Desperately Seeking Donor Milk ASAP. Severed milk ducts from a necessary breast reduction surgery 16 years ago left me with functional but severely under-producing breasts. Thank goodness for the 21st century version of wet nurses or sister wives. While I have (physically) only produced about 20% of my babies' milk needs, all three of my babies have been exclusively breast-milk fed thanks to countless women who have donated their precious milk to me– most of them, a few small plastic bags full of milk at a time.
In the "olden days" – when people lived in closer-knit communities or tribes– a milk supply issue wouldn't have been much of an issue at all. Women fed each others babies all the time. Over-producers and under-producers found each other quite easily; there were no electric breast pumps, no small plastic bags for milk storage purchased at Walgreens, no freezers, no highways. An over-producing mama could feed multiple babies while an under-producing mama could do other kinds of caretaking and thus, communities functioned quite economically when it came to getting babies fed. Nowadays it is a different story.
When I was pregnant with baby #1, I anticipated having a significant supply problem and knowing how important it was to me that my baby have as much breastmilk as possible, I did a fair amount of research about procuring some donor milk. What I found is there are a growing number of resources devoted to helping connect women who have milk to share with women who need it. The 21st Century version of milk sharing isn't nearly as economical as walking over to the next hut when my baby is hungry, but it still works. We mamas find each other. How it works is the over-producing mama pumps milk, labels the plastic bag, stores it in the freezer, stockpiles it, and then posts on Facebook that she has some milk to share. Generally, a dozen needy mamas clamor to be the lucky recipient and then a pick-up is arranged. It's a little competitive, it's high-tech, but it's the village mentality that brings us together.
Baby #3 is nearing her first birthday, and thus, it has been nearly a year of supplementing with donor milk for her and a grand total of three-plus years during which I have spent a substantial amount of time and energy connecting with other mamas around breastmilk for my babies. I've thought an awful lot about it. I've cried about it, stressed about it, dreamed about it, driven far distances for it, and I have to say, it has been totally worth it. What I've come to notice is that every woman, every mama, has a different story– a different reason why she chooses to give her milk away. But each time, a mama gives her milk to me– me, a total stranger– I get the same lump in my throat, the lump that wants to say, "Thank you. Thank you for feeding my baby." And as I get the milk loaded into my car or into my deep freezer, I have a vision of this 21st Century version of a village and it gives me hope.
Hope about all things to come.