Friday, June 7, 2013

The Giving End

I just gave away 650 ounces of breast milk. Before the week is over, I've committed to giving away 1500 ounces. It has been one of the most moving things I've ever experienced, and it's also much harder than I ever anticipated.

My son never thrived on breast milk alone, but I was able to give him about half milk/half formula for his entire first year. He is phenomenally healthy--this last year he didn't go to the pediatrician for a sick visit. At all for the entire year. It is beyond what I ever imagined for him. Because I was unable to do so many things for him, I've hoped that at least my milk helped him develop a strong immune system.

My daughter has been a different story. She was fine until she was about two months old (and two weeks from her due date). She had a reaction to the fortifier they add to breast milk to increase its calorie content. Then, she was unable to take any formula supplement and finally even my breast milk, probably because of a milk protein allergy. So, after a dairy-free diet failed to work and we discovered that soy too was a problem, we put her on a special formula mixed at a higher concentration to help her grow and gain weight. Thousands of ounces of breast milk just sat in the deep freezer.

I've just started trying to reintroduce her to a small amount. Our pediatrician said that she will get the immune benefit from just several ounces of breast milk a day, so I've made that our goal. I'd love it if she could take more, even up to half of her feedings like her brother did. But, in the meantime, I've started to worry about all that milk just sitting there. What if our deep freezer shuts off (as it has in the past) and we lose it all? What if I wait too long, and donors and milk banks don't want it? What if my daughter never takes any of it, and I've hoarded it for no reason?

So, I posted on a Facebook page meant to match up milk donors and recipients, and within hours I was swamped. I had 14 requests in 24 hours, nearly all of them with a heart-twisting story about why they desperately need milk. One mom has polycystic ovarian syndrome and doesn't produce milk. Another isn't producing enough for her preemie. A couple of moms have adopted babies and want them to have the same health benefits as other nursing babies. The most moving was an adoptive mother whose 13-month-old was born as a preemie addicted to drugs with numerous side effects. The little boy can only tolerate breast milk--if he doesn't get it, he will have surgery to implant a tube into his gastrointestinal tract to bypass the nutrition past his stomach. The mom has even undergone hormone therapy so that she produces a small amount of milk, but the bulk of his nutrition has depended on milk donations for the last year.

I feel overwhelmed by the need, by the stories, and by the conflict going on inside my own head. On one hand I want to give all that I have to give, and more. But, on the other hand, I have this compulsive need to stockpile the milk and to safeguard it for my daughter, even though there is no guarantee that she'll ever eat it. I am overcome with the gratitude of women thanking me for just considering donating--not to mention the love I have received in return for sharing my milk. It is truly one of the most amazing and surprising things I've ever experienced. It's like I'm donating a kidney or something! And yet, I look at my daughter, and I hope I'm not shirking her.

I know I'm doing the right thing. I know it. And I'm so thrilled to see my milk go to good use. I love the fact that a series of unfortunate events collided, bringing me to some wonderfully kind strangers who love their babies as much as I love mine. It has been a blessing for me to see some of my disappointments turned into gifts of love to other babies. But, after all I've been through emotionally with these two babies, how in the world can something I thought would be so simple and so easy be so emotionally draining?

A good friend of mine said this is proof of how we're all connected. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to have just what someone else needs, and I'm so glad to be on the giving end.

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