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44 Gallons of Breast Milk, Almost Down the Drain

It all started because I wanted to get my milk supply up and running strong—the better to shed baby weight, and offset the effects of six sedentary weeks of postpartum. Of course I was motivated by the prospect of nurturing my child too. But this being my second rodeo, I already knew my boobs worked well, and that the breastfeeding relationship would be delicious. I had a double electric pump at my bedside and I pumped every few hours, adopting this task into my routine along with every other new thing. The feedings, the diapers, the washing; having a baby so totally transforms your way of being, it’s a natural time to make changes. In those first days, I took great care to lay around as much as possible. I didn’t bother pouring my pumped milk into bags and scuttling downstairs to freeze it, electing instead to pour it down the drain in the bathroom sink when I got up to pee. When my midwife came to visit, she observed this behavior and flipped out.

“Never, NEVER dump milk!” she admonished, as though I had just stepped on my baby’s face. “We can take it to the clinic and give it to other babies. Some moms don’t produce enough milk, or they are having other problems getting started, and they want the protection of breastmilk over formula.”

I guess I had sort of taken it for granted, but breastmilk is super fresh, easy-to-digest, immune-boosting superfood specifically formulated for human babies. Formula is made in a factory. I vowed never to waste another drop. Soon my freezer was bursting with baggies. A friend recommended that I join a breastfeeding group on Facebook, so I did. I wrote the following post: “Vegan, Hormone-Free, No GMO, Gluten-free, Probiotic Breastmilk needs good home.” I got swarmed.

When that first teary-eyed momma left with her cooler, I had a sense of over-flowing gratitude for my body. It was one thing to carry and birth and breastfeed my own baby. Certainly miraculous, but no more than what I already expected of myself. It was quite another to do all of that, plus nourish other babies in need. Going above and beyond in this way made me feel like I was winning at life—in spite of my raging sleep deficit, inconsolable laundry pile, and complete short-term memory loss.

I no longer cared so much about my own petty preoccupation with losing weight. Donating milk became a statement in support of women and babies and community and the world and everything I hold dear. A testimony to the power and abundance and intelligence of the human body. A prime example of resource sharing and sustainability.

Now let me be clear: that same abundant intelligence dictates that some women aren’t able to breastfeed. Who knows why. But no woman’s body is better than another when it comes to her ability to mother! We need to stop shaming and comparing and start working collaboratively with reality. ALL moms who do their best deserve to feel like heroes. I can’t imagine the heartache of wanting desperately to give your infant the benefit of your own breastmilk, and not being able to. The pain of a latch that isn’t working, the pediatrician’s cinching eyebrows, the pressure to do everything “right.”

I have tremendous admiration for the effort—and the courage—it takes to find donor milk. The effort of pumping pales in comparison. So I will continue to pump and donate milk for as long as possible. Besides, now that pumping is part of my regular routine, I have found ways to make it doubly productive. I cut two holes in a sports bra, allowing for hands-free pumping while I meditate, drive, eat snacks, look at Facebook and Instagram, respond to text messages, read novels, check my e-mail, make business calls, work on the book I am writing, update my calendar, discuss life with family members, or create playlists on Spotify.

I have donated breastmilk to drug-exposed foster babies and premature twins. I have helped moms who are heading back into the workplace “build their stash.” I have stepped up when a mom’s milk supply took three weeks to come in and her baby failed to thrive.

It’s an honor to contribute in this very basic, intimate manner. We’re in this together to do our part. And you don’t have to convert yourself into the family cow in order to make a difference. Just smiling at a mother, holding the door for her, offering a drink…these little gestures go further than we think.

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