Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The kindness of strangers

Since I've weaned from my left breast, life has been so much simpler. No more mastitis!  Not even a single blocked duct! No more absolute dread and fear every time I end up going longer than a couple of hours without pumping! The change is significant. It is glorious. 

And now, looking back, I can't believe I went through mastitis six times in a little over three months. It was fairly terrible. But I guess it felt that imperative to provide Magpie with my milk. I know it is different for different folks, but providing breast milk was important to me (and I was surprised at how strongly I felt this way). It felt like if there were any way I could do it, I wanted to. 

As a single-breast milk producing mom, life is much, much improved. But as expected, my supply is not up to snuff to provide all of the milk that Magpie needs. It's not too shabby...I am producing about 17 ounces from the one breast. That would be more than enough for Magpie if I had two breasts providing milk, but she is drinking about 30 ounces now, so 17 ounces is far short.

I had hoped to get to at least four months exclusive breast milk for Magpie. Much of the research I'd read showed benefits from that amount. I also thought it might be possible to make up for the missing supply after I weaned by working on pumping the other side. But I knew that would take time. To buy some time, I looked into milk banks and found, to my surprise, that there is only one designated milk bank in New York State (one! How crazy is that!?). So I went to them to help tide me over as I went through the weaning process on the one side. I didn't have a long-term strategy. I was hoping to get to four months and then come up with the next plan from there. Hoping to see what my supply would do once I was clear of the recurrent infections and antibiotics. The bank sold me a few small batches of pasteurized donor milk, enough to get us to four months and a little bit beyond. 

I knew I couldn't keep it up using the donor bank milk, though. It was just a stopgap. And so I planned to transition to supplementing with formula once we got to the end of my freezer stash. I wasn't thrilled about it, but I was ok with it.

But then, in the meantime, something wondrous happened. A reader contacted me and said her child is about Magpie's age. She said she had extra milk. A lot of extra milk as a matter of fact. That she had so much, she was running out of freezer space.

She asked if we wanted it. She lives across the country but she said she would ship it to us. 

Will and I were so moved. We were overcome with gratitude. And we started doing a lot of research. Would it be ok to use milk from another person? How would we even get it here? How could we ensure that the milk was safe?

We also asked ourselves how we felt about using this body fluid from another person. Was it too gross? Was it too personal? It felt simultaneously amazing (what a gift!) and a little bit icky. But then I thought... before Magpie's arrival, we had gotten to end-stage infertility. We reached the point that we looked to use another woman's eggs to have a baby, and we came close to using another woman's uterus as well, through surrogacy. Both of these things felt ok. Was using unpasteurized donor milk really any further out there?

After thinking about it awhile, we decided that yes, we could feel comfortable with this wonderful gift. The big if wasn't the yuck factor, it was safety.

Safety is a big deal when using donor milk. Breast milk is a body fluid not unlike blood. If this wonderful woman were unknowingly infected with any of a number of things, our little Magpie could also be infected. We realized this potential risk was our biggest concern.

So we talked to this woman at length about potential risk factors in her life (there weren't any). And we asked her, and she agreed, to do a ton of blood work, just to be absolutely certain all was well. We read up from many sources, including breast milk bank guidelines and Eats On Feets, a milk sharing resource guide and followed their guidelines about blood testing. And this woman kindly had bloodwork done for syphillis, HIV, HTLV, hepatitis B and C, CMV, and West Nile Virus. She checked out fine - nothing we needed to worry about for Magpie.  

We also researched in depth how to transport the milk. It needed to stay frozen solid throughout the journey, so the best way to do this was using an insulated cooler in insulated cardboard. We found informative posts about how to do this here and here. We shipped it Fed Ex overnight. And I think both she and I kept our fingers crossed and breath held the whole time!

Shipping box after arrival on my kitchen floor

Just to be extra careful that the milk stayed frozen, we also used dry ice:

dry ice left over after overnight shipping
Luckily the milk arrived safely and it's been feeding Magpie wonderfully since then.

Having this milk has been a godsend. There are no more worries that I won't produce enough milk (at least not for a while). I use this milk in conjunction with my own so that Magpie gets my fresh milk with all of the antibodies that she needs (and protection from germs she and I are exposed to) plus the donor milk with its own unique blend of nutrients and antibodies. In my mind this milk represents all of us women coming together to create a village to raise our young, banding together to offer each person what another might need.

Will and I were just overcome that we were given this gift from a stranger. That she would be willing to go to so much trouble to help us feed our little girl (and I know how much trouble pumping is!). And we were again astounded at the amazing people this blog has connected us to over the years. People who have become real life friends, people we haven't met but care deeply about, and people who have offered the most amazing things to help us in our journey (you know who you all are, and we are so grateful to you). This blog is part of our village, our community of women and families coming together across the miles.

Because of this woman's generosity, here is what our freezer - previously empty of milk - now looks like:

540 ounces of amazing donor milk. A life changer!

Our path to Magpie was a long one, but we also know there are many ways that we have been very fortunate. This is just one of them.

I am protecting this woman's privacy and am not naming her or linking to her blog. But I do want to say a public and a heart-felt thank you from the bottom of our hearts.


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  1. Yay!! I exclusively pumped for my son and connected with another woman through Eats On Feets to feed her son. I had 1000s of ozs about to be wasted and I was so relieved to find someone to use them. So happy you were able to find peace in your decision and bless that reader for her kindness. :)

  2. What a beautiful miracle. It's just as precious as your beautiful little girl. I cat wait for Magpie to hear this story when she grows up if the kindness of strangers.

  3. That's a wonderful story and solution! so glad that you found a way to make it work! Can't believe how much milk you have in your freezer- amazing

  4. WOW! As someone who truly know about the kindness of (former) strangers via the internet, this is just beautiful. An incredible gift. Hooray for the village! xo

  5. How wonderful for you and for her-- I think the prospect of not using what is produced would be crazymaking-- how great for you and Magpie and for the wonderful generous donor! winwinwin
    so very happy that you are able to breathe into some kind of relief at having weaned your loopyducted side.

    Happy for you in every way,
    especially that sunshiny little smiling bundle of twinlke-eyed mischievous joy. 4months. holy moly.


  6. That is so cool! I really need to donate some of my milk before it expires. I have multiple freezers that look exactly like that. I'm really glad you found a solution (and a relatively free one!).

  7. What a kind and generous woman; so glad that you are able to feed Magpie in the way that feels best for you. What a wonderful village this is full of generous souls, great cheerleaders and delightful people. So happy for you and for Ms. Magpie who gets cuter each time you post a picture!

  8. What a fabulous gift and so very generous. This is one of the things I love about the internet so much. People that are virtually strangers helping others, and people becoming your best friends even though you might have never met and live thousands of km away.

  9. How fabulous is the innernet sometimes?!? So glad you were able to make this connection, and that Ms. Magpie is continuing to thrive with the help of a generous stranger.

  10. Awesome!! I am getting chill bumps! This is amazing & I'm so excited you'll be able to meet AND exceed your goal of 4mths EBF. Way to go, Mo! :)

  11. What a wonderful and generous gift. I felt so happy reading this post. Kudos to you and Will for doing the research and being willing to accept this lovely gift. Kudos to the other women for reaching out and being so kind and generous. Awesome. Thanks for sharing. Heather

  12. So happy for you and so glad to hear about people donating breast milk! I've thought about how to go about donating with both kids, and just ended up throwing out. Now that I know it's more common than I thought I am willing to go the extra mile!

  13. Oh that's so amazing!!!! Really so loving! I'm disheartened that there are not more milk banks in the U.S.

  14. What an incredible gift! But then you have an incredible story yourself, Mo, so it seems only fitting that you should meet such a wonderful donor of milk for your daughter. Thank you for making my evening so nice by sharing this. :-)
    And to you, unnamed hero, thank you too!
    It is through stories like these that my shattered faith in humanity is restored.

  15. What a great post to read :) I imagine a time past when formula wasn't an option and someone local would help out, ... and now we have amazing technology that not only linked you two up, but checked for safety, enabled the milk to be collected, kept from perishing, go so many miles and nourish your baby ... and also amazing technology that allows formula to do the same when needed. Very very cool :)

    I'm glad to hear your health is improved too with the boob in question retiring.

  16. This is delightful.

    And I'm glad you feel good about your decision to stop pumping and that doing so has simplified your life and improved your health (I know this very kind gift is part of being able to feel at peace about that).

  17. Posts like this make me cry ... In a good way, of course!

  18. Love your donor for doing this for you. She's amazing!

    Love the pic of the wee one. She doesn't look at all scrawny to me, not the way my K used to. Our ped had me start her on solids at 4 months because she was at the 5th percentile (though I didn't have much extra milk to feed her). We started avocados and sweet potatoes and bananas at first. She initially sucked off my finger and quickly adjusted to eating from a spoon. The weight gain took off like crazy and she's been growing like a weed ever since. Maybe consider checking with your ped about introducing solids a little earlier to see if they'll help?

  19. "In my mind this milk represents all of us women coming together to create a village to raise our young, banding together to offer each person what another might need." -Perfect way to state this!
    What an amazing offer from a complete stranger and a cool way to keep your little one getting those things that she needs. Thank you for sharing this and for reminding me that there are wonderful people willing to go out of their way to help others.

  20. That is SOOO awesome!

  21. I am so so so impressed. And so happy you were able to find a generous kind "stranger"...... I am so glad it worked out.

    And to the donator-- Thank you!!! Thank you!! Thank you!!!


    PS Can we ever learn Magpies' real first name????

  22. First, let me say that Magpie is adorable. I can't help but smile when I see your posts. :o)

    Second, there are really amazing people out there, angels on Earth. Sounds like you met one!

  23. Oh! How wonderful! I'm glad that she came to your rescue and that you're not dealing with the mastitis anymore!

  24. She is SO adorable!

    I am so glad that things worked out for the donor and for you, Will and Ms Magpie. I myself donated milk to a friend and have heard many wonderous stories of women coming together to make sure babies are fed :)

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  26. How marvelous! Not only the equalizing of one's lack with another's surplus, but also the relief you're experiencing from the oppression of pumping and mastitis.

    I'd have to check but I'm pretty sure that 540 ounces is more than I produced in my 6.5 months of pumping. Wow that is a lot.

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