It was very difficult for our family to decide for me to return to work at the end of my blissful, 18-week maternity leave. But, with all trying situations in life there is a silver lining.
At the time of our decision we didn't know about the silver lining. I honestly didn't feel like there was much purpose for my return to work. Well, other than the lovely paycheck that graces our bank account every 2 weeks. I felt, and still do feel, that my primary purpose is caring for my daughter, husband and home. It's not easy feeling pulled in so many directions.
The week before I returned to work I discovered I had excess lipase in my stored breast milk. Here's a layman's version of what this means ... Excess lipase is an enzyme which helps milk to be digested. When there is extra lipase the milk starts to digest before it is consumed. This process makes the milk smell/taste bad once thawed. My sister was a Biology minor and is almost a middle school science teacher could probably give you the whole molecular break down of this, but the bottom line is, before you store too much milk check it for lipase!
So, there I was, one week before returning to work with 200+ ounces of frozen milk that Jemma wouldn't drink. Lipase milk can be corrected by a simple scalding process, but only before the milk is frozen. I wasn't worried about my supply. I knew I would be able to pump, scald and store enough milk for her once I returned to work. So the question was ... what was I to do with the 200+ ounces I had pumped during my maternity leave?
Being the info gatherer I am, I discovered Simply Rebekah's blog and began researching donation. The San Jose Mother's Milk Bank is the closest to my hometown and in February I started the screening process. Excess lipase is not an issue when donating to a milk bank for a number of reasons. I was, and still am, thrilled to find a way to share the milk we could not otherwise use.
While I worked through the screening process (a simple application, waiver from my and Jemma's doctor and a blood test) I continued pumping during my 2 breaks at work. Each evening my sweet husband or I scald the milk and prepare it for storage - either in the fridge for Jemma to drink the next day or the freezer for later use.
By the end of February our chest freezer was brimming with milk. Some was unscalded and waiting for my donor approval with Mother's Milk Bank. Some was scalded and waiting for Jemma. This is where the silver lining really starts to shine ...
Right now Jemma only drinks 4 ounces of milk during the day - a snack in the morning and a snack in the afternoon. Her nanny brings her to my work each day for a hefty nursing lunch. And she nurses throughout the night. Lucky me :) This cycle leaves us with lots of extra milk on a weekly basis. I have replenished our freezer stores with scalded milk and still have ounces to spare.
Enter Eats of Feets.
This non profit organization is located on Facebook, divided by state and is a resource for informal milk sharing. Moms in need of milk post a donation request and moms with extra milk post donations available. Search Eats on Feets on Facebook to find your chapter and you'll see what I mean. Each mom screens their own donor and sets up all the details of their milk sharing partnership. It's actually quite simple and quite genius.
Through Eats on Feets I have connected with a wonderful mom and 8 month old baby who are able to use my extra milk. This little one has benefited from donor milk for the last 4 months and I am one of her donors!
When I tear up over being a working mom I'm encouraged knowing that my milk is nourishing Jemma, my Eats on Feets baby and many others who are receiving my milk through Mother's Milk Bank. This is my silver lining. This is the purpose I need to get up each work day and leave home. If I hadn't returned to work I most likely wouldn't have started pumping. If I hadn't started pumping I would have never learned about excess lipase, Mother's Milk Bank or Eats on Feets. But since I do work outside of the home, I do pump and now I'm able to pass on the blessing of my extra milk. That is fulfilling. It reminds be of the verse in Isaiah where we are promised "beauty from ashes". Sharing my milk is a beautiful thing born out of the sorrow of leaving my baby at home each day.
I know not everyone is blessed with extra or even enough milk. Since I am, it feels wonderful to share the blessing. I know I'm one of the lucky ones. Pumping is a very small sacrifice for me. I'll most likely pump with my future babies if the circumstances allow so I can continue as a donor. Eats on Feets often talks about milk being a free flowing resource and therefore should be shared. I agree.
This post has been a few weeks in the making. Initially I hesitated sharing about my experience. Informal milk sharing (also know as peer to peer milk sharing) has been in the media quite a bit lately and it doesn't always have a positive spin. But, for me and the mama/baby I've teamed up with, it's right.
I decided to only send my excess lipase milk to Mother's Milk Bank for a few reasons. The main ones are the accessibility and cost. Milk from a milk bank is only available with a prescription and it costs approximately $4/ounce (a processing fee, the actual milk is free). The little baby I donate to needs around 30 ounces each day. If she had a prescription (which she doesn't) it would cost her family $120 every day; an unrealistic cost for most. Informal milk sharing fills a need within every community and as long as it's free, the risks are quite low. When it's free there isn't an incentive for moms to pump and share other than their desire to give. It takes time, emotional energy and in my case lots of food. I swear, I have never eaten more in my life. Nursing kicks up my hunger like no other! And, if you think about it, milk sharing has been around forever in the form of wet nurses. In so many ways it takes a village to raise a child; milk sharing is just one of them.
So, that's that. A long, but heartfelt story of this mama's milk. If you've never nursed it probably sounds quite foreign. Don't let it scare you. Breastfeeding is truly a gift. Whether you do if for a day, month, year or beyond nothing equates to nourishing a baby with something so unique as breast milk. Before taking on this "womanly art" I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into - milk blisters, clogged ducts, excess lipase, formal donation and informal sharing. It's been a journey to say the least!
I can't help but close with a big thank you to these wonderful people/organizations who have helped me along my nursing journey:
- My mom who nursed my sisters and I when we were babies (a rough total of 48 months between the 3 of us). She also helped me survive the process of my milk coming in (which happened on my 24th birthday), bought me cabbage for engorgement and provides lots of ongoing nursing support. She bought me my first few nursing bras too :)
- My husband who has been the ultimate breastfeeding supporter.
- My mother-in-law who set a wonderful example of a successful working/nursing mom.
- My 2 La Leche League leaders who have answered TONS of questions. If you are not a part of LLLI and are nursing, join a group! It is so fun to meet up with other nursing moms who get what you are going through. It is lovely to not feel alone.
- The San Jose Mother's Milk Bank for accepting what I first thought was useless milk. Very sick babies survive because of their work.
- Eats on Feets for creating a priceless network of moms and babies. Little ones all over are getting otherwise unattainable milk due to their organization, persistence and philosophy.
Please comment with how have you been able to bless someone lately. Big or small, our sacrifices and kind words make others' lives easier. And, if you have any questions, comments or concerns about what I've shared don't hesitate to comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.