Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Part 5: Life of a Milk Donor

(This is a continuation of my previous post on my milk donating experiences)

I am at peace with my body. I have stretch marks, left over baby flab, my own natural set of inflate-a-boobs, a mouthful of repaired teeth thanks to 9 months of morning sickness and severe reflux, and a lion's mane of frizzy hair. I could look better. I am trying to look better through yoga and pilates classes, but that looking better is so that I feel better and have more strength and endurance to chase around my little crawler. I try not to spend much time looking in the mirror, aside from making sure I don't have anything on my face or in my hair. I still fight with my psyche over how I look, so it is better that I stay in my zen place. I am not fat, I am not ugly. I am not worthless. It took me so long to realize that. I struggled so hard against my confused thoughts when I was younger, and even though those thoughts surface on occasion still, I am finally at peace with the body I have.

I have realized that my body is amazing. It has nothing whatsoever to do with aesthetics, but instead with function. I gave birth naturally after laboring on my feet in my own way, after so many people doubted I would even escape without a cesarean. So what if I'm under five feet tall? So what if I started out at 110 lbs and built like a ruler? My body did exactly what it was supposed to and continued after. I have a pair of fully-functional super-capacity breasts, and though they may not be so pretty to look at anymore, they get the job done.

Actually, they're chronic overachievers. You know the type, the valedictorian who raised her hand for every question, graduated with a triple major in three years, became the youngest whatever in whatever field, all with a smile and grating spunk. I was never that overachiever, but I guess a pair of my body parts decided to be. I can do the math for that one, since the engineer in me has always been obsessed with numerics...

Tomorrow I make another donation ("small" this time, at least for me. 200oz to help a pair of twins the same age as my son to make it through their first year without needing any formula at daycare.) , and after that one, I will have donated 3000 oz to 5 babies in 4 families. In addition, I have grown my own little munchkin from a petite 6lb 5oz newborn to a energetic 17lb 8.5 month old. He's still little, but you can't expect much other than little coming out of me. I think he'd weigh more, but to him, my milk is pure energy and he's spent every minute since he learned to crawl getting into places he shouldn't be.

So... 3000oz. I have to think about that one. That amount wouldn't fit in my freezer, or in my kitchen freezer plus the new little chest freezer we got for the garage to store my extra milk. 23.44 gallons. That's a good sized fish tank, twice the gasoline tank capacity of my car. 88.7 liters. Here's a good visual for that one, line up 44 two-liters of pop, or 23 gallons of milk, and I've donated a little more than that. Add in the approximate amount I've fed my son, I'd say an average of 32oz a day over 8.5 months, and I've made at least 11,500 ounces of breastmilk. 90 gallons. That's 770 lbs, 7x my body weight.


My body did that? My flabby, stretch-marked, frizzy-haired body? I feel like a super hero. By day, a normal, unassuming mother of one, doing the best she can with what she's got, by the night the hyper-lactater, feeding the babies of the Midwest, one ounce at a time. It is easy disassociate myself from that aspect in between donations, but now that I'm about to make another one, all the feelings of accomplishment come flooding back and the super hero comes out to play. It might be a little bit of an ego trip, but maybe after all the downers in my life, I can be deserving of it because I was able to do something to help others who needed it. Something so easy for me, but so hard for so many others. I helped feed their babies, and they gave me a sense of self-worth I don't think I could have gotten anywhere else. The best therapist in the world does not compare to the ephipany that your body can do something so normal and so natural, yet so extraordinary and precious at the same time.

Its hard to believe my son is almost 9 months old. He is so grown up, trying to be so independent, and sometimes when I look at him I get flashes of what he'll look like as an adult. He still needs his mommy though, and loves his cuddle and nursing times. He still nurses every 2-3 hours during the day, and now refuses a bottle. Everything I pump now is for donation, except for a little bit to mix in with his food. I'll try to get him to drink from a cup at some point since he loves drinking water from a cup, but there is really no rush because I'm only rarely away from him long enough to miss a feeding anymore. I pump in the morning after nursing and at night before bed and get between 12-15oz a day to freeze. I think that's a little more than I got extra when I was still working. I've been donating since March, and in that time, my own little one has grown up and is quickly crawling toward toddlerhood.

I get asked about milk sharing and donating a lot. I know quite a bit about the milk banking end, but I chose to go the sharing route instead. It is more personal. My milk isn't mixed with the milk of others, pasteurized, frozen and refrozen, and sold for $3-4.50 an ounce. I've considered donating to a bank since a new one has just opened in my city, but its hard to trade the personal of donating to an individual to the impersonal of donating to a group. I still might do it next time, but we're on the old end of what a bank would accept now, and my freezer fills up faster than the paperwork would get through. Another reason I've stuck with sharing is the specific composition of my milk. I qualify to donate to the bank and am on no meds except prenatals, but what sets me apart is my diet. I've seen pleas all over the sharing forum for donations free of certain allergens, and because of my own allergies, I qualify to help many of them. I do not consume any dairy, eggs, fish, or shellfish, and those exclusions generated inquiries from all over the country. I hated to say no, but I know I can't feed everyone, and I would rather donations stay fairly close to home so the risk of shipping is minimized. The specific requirements are up to the individual families, and some families will accept donations from mothers on certain medications. It is important to disclose health information because milk sharing is built on trust. I can't see any sane woman going through the trouble to knowingly put both her child and another in harms way by exposing them to diseases or potentially dangerous substances. Have access to your prenatal testing records and make them available if requested and disclose all medications and substances you are taking, including over the counters, caffeine, and any occasional alcohol usage. Recipient families set their own terms as far as whether or not caffeine and other things are acceptable (some babies react badly to caffeine), so be honest with them. They deserve respect and honesty because it their childrens' livelihoods are at stake.

I know the families I've donated to. Not well, but well enough that I care. I've talked to them online, in person, and on the phone. I've seen pictures or met the babies I've helped feed. I know their stories and their names. We've cried and laughed and shared stories. Each family comes from a different background from my own. They have different compositions, different values, different ways of raising their children, but we are bonded through the way we feed our babies and that transcends the differences. These are families I never would have met otherwise, and I had very little in common with some of them, but we were brought together by a commonality. We all shared the desire and drive to give our children the best possible start in life, and I am so very, very fortunate and so very grateful that I have been able to help them in such a personal and meaningful way.

Despite the chaos in the rest of my life, I have a sense of peace now. I have confidence, but not too much (I still keep a just-in-case stash, after all). I look in the mirror and see past the reflection. I see me, the real me beyond the exterior, and I can finally and honestly say I like who I am.

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