Other women’s breast milk sustained my daughter for the first 9 months of her life.
I would never have chosen to do it this way. And frankly, it sounds a little scary in retrospect. But, as some choices in life are not plucked from the ideal, this was a path born of improvisation.
It had been roughly 2 years since I woke up to crippling joint pain and roughly 1.5 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer; maneuvering the world with idealism has escaped me. One can only choose from the options available, and my choice here was to feed my baby formula or donor breast milk.
With a newly-blossomed concern against all things unnatural, a decision to use a processed “formula” derived of either cow casein or soy proteins to sustain my infant, who may be genetically predisposed to high risks of cancer, was one I was looking to avoid. I was determined to provide breast milk exclusively for at least her first 3 months.
From Day 1, this was a challenge.
The hospital, afraid of liability issues, asked me not to bring the donor milk in to my newborn. In spite of our Pediatrician’s order to allow such, we were visited repeatedly by uncomfortable administrators and, ultimately, we left the recovery ward early to feed her at home in peace.
By month 2, I had run through the entire, vast supply lovingly pumped by my best friends. It had been difficult for me to judge how long the milk stored up in my deep freezer would sustain her. Before her birth, I would lift the lid and gaze upon the frozen white treasure filling jars in every size and shape, and I mistakenly estimated we would be set for the first 4 or 5 months.Running low on the milk from my friends, who I know intimately, I started to research public milk sharing. I read up on the risks of such and the ways to minimize them.
A friend of a friend offered her excess milk. I accepted.
I flash-heated the milk and developed a method of quickly cooling it back down to a safe temperature. (This home pasteurization helps inactivate pathogens while still maintaining the majority of the nutritional value.)And then I began to develop a relationship with mothers I don’t know, via online milk sharing forums and my local La Leche League. I drove around the southern part of the state, hungry to fill my daughter’s belly with the best odds I can.
From the very moment my infant was cut from her umbilical cord and craved colostrum, I had nothing to give her. A mastectomy completely removes milk ducts. (Mothers with supply issues and adoptive parents are also in the market for donated milk.) Yes, there are some risks. And like anything remotely-controversial, there are many people who disagree with such efforts.But I feel have made the healthiest decision I could for my daughter, in difficult circumstances. Commend or condemn as you will, I am proud of this story. That my friends loved me, and her, enough… that good-intentioned strangers (who became friends) would take the time and effort to help us… that I could live my devotion to my child by driving, researching, boiling, and bottling milk… yes, I am proud.