I'm not one of those women who loved every minute of pregnancy, as I spent a great deal of the time feeling exhausted, emotional, and physically ill. But all things considered, even though I didn't love pregnancy, it was pretty easy for my body to be pregnant: I never experienced any complications, and my longest labor was only about seven and a half hours total, while my second labor only took two and a half hours.
Because of my overall positive experiences with pregnancy, I'd often considered becoming a surrogate or an egg donor. When I dug up my family's medical history to report to egg donation companies, however, I learned that my family tree is riddled with Alzheimer's Disease, cancer, and alcoholism, which isn't ideal for egg donors.
I resigned myself to the fact that maybe I just wasn't meant to help other families in this way. Then when I realized that my body produces a surplus of breast milk, I decided to become a milk donor.
When my son was 2 years old, I started running a daycare business from my home. It was a nice way for us to spend our days together, while still allowing me to bring in just a little bit of income. In addition to watching my son, I watched an 18-month-old girl, a 1-year-old girl, and a 6-month-old boy. We played games, had dance parties, did puzzles, went to see live music, and did art projects.
I thought about the babies out there who could benefit from donor milk, the moms who were struggling to produce enough milk of their own, or the adoptive parents who needed another source of donor milk. I knew I had to help.
When the 6-month-old boy joined our little crew, his mom told me that she would be bringing breast milk for him. She explained that she had not been able to produce enough milk for him and was using donor milk instead. When she told me that her donor supply would be running out soon. I thought about the babies out there who could benefit from donor milk, the moms who were struggling to produce enough milk of their own, or the adoptive parents who needed another source of donor milk. I knew I had to help.
I told her that I would be happy to donate milk to her son. I also told her that I was taking two medications, one of which was Zoloft for depression and anxiety. While my doctor had assured me when I started breastfeeding my own son that the medication was safe for breastfeeding, I wanted my friend to do her own research and talk to her son's pediatrician about the medications as well.
We also discussed the age difference between our sons, and that my breast milk may no longer have the proper composition for a 6-month-old, as breast milk composition is dynamic and changes over time depending on the infant's needs. Additionally, because breast milk is a bodily fluid, there are always other safety concerns to consider, such as exposure to infectious diseases or allergens. So I wanted to discuss that with a trusted medical professional before donating my breast milk.
Ultimately, we agreed that we both felt comfortable with the idea and I began to set aside milk for her son every day. Whenever he came to my house, I would feed him a bottle of my pumped milk, and I stockpiled milk for them to take home over the weekend. This small gesture allowed me to develop a strong relationship with this particular family.
After a few months, I decided to wean my own son. I kept pumping for as long as I could, but it didn't take long for my my supply to dwindle. I had to admit that I was done.
A year and a half later, my daughter was born. Once again, my body had handled the pregnancy and milk production fairly well, but this time, within a week of her birth, I found myself in the depths of what was eventually diagnosed as postpartum depression. One night, while my two-week-old daughter slept in her room, I sat on the porch and tried to be honest with myself about what I was feeling. I realized that I was experiencing more than just exhaustion and sadness: my brain was starting to tell me that I was a burden and a failure, and I was having thoughts that my children might be better off without me.
Within a few hours, 40 ounces of donated breast milk was dropped off at our front door.
I talked to my wife and we called my midwives. They directed me to go to an urgent care facility that specialized in mental health. I said goodbye to my wife and drove away, not knowing if I would be admitted into a mental health facility or sent home that night. Because we didn't know if I'd be back in time to feed my daughter, my wife called our tribe of mama friends and asked for help. Within a few hours, 40 ounces of donated breast milk was dropped off at our front door.
Eventually, I spoke to a counselor and was sent home with a list of mental health resources. I was incredibly moved by the gesture and while we didn't use the donor milk then, we decided to put it aside to save it, just in case we'd need it.
A few weeks later, I ate a meal with a lot of fresh peppermint in it, not realizing that peppermint decreases milk production. I woke up the next day with almost no milk at all. It took me four days of pumping and eating oatmeal, fennel, and fresh basil to get my supply back. During those four days, we supplemented my diminished supply with the donor milk we had saved. I was so grateful to have that option, and I felt so supported by my mothering community.
I'm proud that I was able to feed someone else's child with my breast milk, and I feel so grateful that other mothers were able to feed my child when she needed it as well. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and for me, milk donation has been one small, meaningful way to bond with my fellow villagers.
If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, contact your health care provider or call Postpartum Support International (PSI) at 1-800-944-4PPD.