I was so excited to take photos of supermom Mikaela and her beautiful family in downtown Lemoore on Sunday. The breastfeeding photos on this post are all Mikaela and her newborn son. I love taking breastfeeding photos! And I especially loved taking these ones because Mikaela is not just a new friend, but a lifesaver to me in my journey into motherhood. Let me give some history:
I was born with a congenital abnormality called tuberous breasts hypoplasia. The condition alone affects the ability of women to breastfeed because the milk glands usually do not develop enough to produce breast milk. After finding various (thankfully noncancerous) lumps in my breasts as a teenager, my doctor decided to remove them, and in the process perform reconstructive plastic surgery. Due to the hypoplasia in my breasts, I had excess fibrosis connective tissue, and so as the lumps were being removed via free nipple graft, they had to take far more tissue than at first anticipated. I ended up receiving a partial mastectomy, which removed my milk glands and damaged the nerves around my areola – sealing the deal that I would never be able to produce breast milk and breastfeed in the future.
I am, and always have been, a firm supporter of breast feeding. I know how important breast milk is to a growing baby. And so I’ve always known that I would do my absolute best to procure this invaluable source of nutrition for my future baby. But it was always something I didn’t have to think about. It was in the elusive future. It didn’t seem like that big of a hurdle to overcome.
Now, I’m pregnant. My child needs boobie foods. And I have mere months to figure out how to procure some. Suddenly, this “tiny problem” seems enormous.
I did not know how to go about broaching the subject to people who might be able to help. “Hey there, I see you have some pretty luscious titties. They got any spare boobie juice I might have?” And I certainly did not anticipate how painful inadvertent questions, suggestions or inquiries would be on the topic of breastfeeding. “Are you planning to breastfeed?” “You really should consider breastfeeding, it’s so important for a baby.” “How long do you plan to breastfeed?” “Have you produced any milk yet?” I would get ashamed, embarrassed and defensive all at once and would brush the subject off so quickly that any potential segue into asking for help or resources would be lost.
I didn’t expect to feel so helpless, frustrated and inadequate. What kind of mother am I if I can’t even feed my baby? I basically had two options when it came to finding food for my Tessa.
1) Informal milk donation, mother to mother. This is when a mother donates her excess breast milk directly to a mother that will be feeding her baby with it.
2) Purchasing milk, from a mother or a milk bank. Milk bank purchases require a prescription, the milk is usually pasteurized (which strips it of valuable nutrients) and costs roughly $3.50 an ounce. Purchasing milk from a mother is also pretty costly, running around the $2-3 per ounce mark.
While we’re willing to pay what we must to give our baby the best, the burden of $3+ an ounce is one that’s, quite frankly, out of our price range as new parents undergoing major life changes career and location-wise. Maybe for the first month, but for the first year? The cost is staggering, overwhelming. And then I’m back to feeling like an incompetent mother who can’t provide, before Tessa has even been born.
So my only option was to find a donor. And while I know some women like to donate to cancer patients or those with full mastectomies, I didn’t think I had a compelling enough story.
While discussing this issue with Emily of Joyful Abode – another amazing supermom I am blessed to know – she offered to keep her eyes open in her network of super mommies for a donor for me. I thought it was a sweet gesture, but in an uncharacteristic bout of pessimism I just smiled and nodded, thinking I’d end up spending a small fortune for a fraction of my baby’s essential newborn nutrition.
The very next day, I received a text from Mikaela. Mikaela is a Navy mom of two beautiful boys, who was looking for a mother to donate her breast milk to, and Emily had referred her to me. She asked if I’d like to have her milk, including the colostrum heavy first week milk she saved from her sons birth.
And just like that, my sweet, precious, princess Tessa has her breast milk. This unborn baby that means the world to me, has other mommies out there who are caring for and looking out for her too! When I first met Mikaela at a local Starbucks for the first milk pickup, I had to stop myself from crying and fawning all over her in appreciation. I think this was one of my first moments of realization that “things feel different once you’re a mother”. This wasn’t just an act of generosity to me, it was an act of kindness toward my DAUGHTER.
The gift of breast milk for a newborn that would otherwise have none, is a gift that positively effects a child for life. Breast milk fed babies are proven to experience:
– Lower incidence of certain viruses
– Lower incidence of respiratory illness
– Reduction in ear infections, meningitis
– A 20 percent lower risk of dying between the ages of 28 days and 1 year
– A natural buildup of protections against many forms of illness
– Potential protection from developing allergies
– An increase in cognitive development (greater intelligence)
– A lower incidence of obesity as a teen or adult
Breast milk donation truly is one of the most beautiful, pure, and selfless acts a mother could do for another.
To all mothers who have taken the selfless act of sharing good health and life-giving nutrition to a child other than your own, and relieved a fellow mother of the self-esteem destroying burden of being unable to produce milk for her child – you are amazing. THANK YOU and God Bless!!