For Nia with Love in the Form of Donor Milk
My Journey into Motherhood
Before I became a mom, I knew I wanted to give my children all the love and time in the world. For me, only two things would allow that - the first was to breastfeed and the second was to be home with them as much as possible from the ages of 0 to 3 years old. I visualized myself working from home, still earning a living, and breastfeeding my children. I wanted healthy children, emotionally and socially developed children as well, who were able to meet their milestones on time.
I was able to accomplish this for the most part with my daughter, Amaya. Amaya crawled and walked on time, and when it was time for her to eat solids, she was a produce eater (She does not like meat or eggs and will not eat either). My almost 3-year-old daughter, Amaya, will run up and hug you, and while grocery shopping the other day she said “Hello” to another little girl in a stroller. I mentioned that she said “Hello” to another little girl because Amaya was a late talker. To meet this milestone, we provided her with speech therapy at 2 years of age and participated in a social and emotional language development mommy and me class. I assumed Amaya’s delayed development in meeting some of her milestones had to do with me, so if we had another child, our plan was to duplicate the above strategy. Not long after having Amaya, my husband and I were pregnant with baby number two. I assumed we would have a similar experience with Nia, but I was terribly wrong.
My Birth Story - “I knew that there was something wrong, but I could not find anyone to listen to me.”
The entire pregnancy was difficult. I was in pain almost instantly, a lot of pain. Sometimes it was unbearable. When I went to the hospital I was sent back home because my pain was not monitored as contractions. The hospital staff assumed my pain was coming from gas or something else. However, I knew it was my baby. I knew that there was something wrong, but I could not find anyone to listen to me. I mentioned the pain I experienced because I think it is important to understand that my body was experiencing something and the constant pain was just a reflection of that.
After going into early labor one day at work, I was taken to the hospital again. This time the diagnostic radiologist found the source of my pain. My daughter, barely a full 20 weeks gestation at the time, had her foot in my vaginal area and it went through my cervix. It astounded the hospital staff. Everyone wanted to see the pictures, so the radiologist came back again with a team of physicians to show them what he found. I knew I was not going home at that time, but what I did not know was that my daughter and I would have to fight for our lives.
On December 10th of 2017, I was told that green discharge was flowing from my vagina and the doctors suspected my cervix was turning green. During my hospital stay, my temperature and heart-rate entered into what I heard a nurse call stroke territory. I was given antibiotics to keep the infection away, but I felt myself dying. I remember the day before the c-section a dear friend of mine brought my daughter, Amaya, to see me. I could not hug Amaya and I could barely understand what my friend was saying to me. She was one of the people I called the day of my emergency c-section. The pain was too much, so unbearable. I felt that I needed to die to experience healing in my body. I felt that if I did not sweat myself to death the 180 to 200 beats per minute my heart was working would kill me.
According to the surgeon, my uterus was turning green, and according to Nia’s medical records, she was not breathing when she was born. I did not know that throughout this fight, I would lose the ability to make enough milk for her, and it would take her 17 months to learn to crawl, and 22 months to learn to walk, and that she would have to attend feeding school to learn to eat, and her therapy appointments would range from 8 to 12 a month. The baby that I assumed I would carry full term, breastfeed, and spend my days holding her in my arms while working from home, would be fed by another mother, and would not meet any of her milestones on time. During the c-section I felt that I had failed her. For some reason my body was not allowing her to stay and grow, but some form of an infection had forced her out.
My Introduction to Donor Milk
I was not allowed to hold Nia for 72 hours. I pumped a few ounces that allowed me to feed her for those first 3 days. The nurses fed her through her NgTube. Nia was 1 pound 14.5 ounces. I had never in my life seen a baby so small. She could fit in my hand. After the 3 days, I did kangaroo with her for the next 3 months she was in the hospital, but I never produced enough milk. I went through classes, tried natural herbs, the hospital even had me meet with someone to perform acupuncture. During this critical time, her doctor told with me that for her to grow and survive she would need more milk than I was able to produce. He told me about a hospital program through which children in the NICU and other critical departments are able to receive donor milk.
For me, it was initially a “No” to donor milk. I could not believe that I was not able to feed my daughter. As I watched Nia sleep in the incubator, and counted the IVs and tubes entering and surrounding her body, I again felt as if I failed her. It was not until I remembered a story my mother told me about my grandmother, Lovie Mae Williams, who breastfed other babies in our family, that I considered giving donor milk to Nia. Donor milk was different because this was not a relative feeding my baby, but I also knew breast milk was the best milk for critically ill newborns. The medical staff provided me with all the information I needed to make the decision.
It was very difficult for my husband to come to terms with this, however. I remember one evening we were driving to the hospital to feed Nia and hold her when he accused me of not trying hard enough to feed Nia. He then asked me why my breast never engorged like they did when I was pregnant with Amaya. I was devastated that the person whom I loved the most would accuse me of not trying hard enough to feed our daughter. I knew at that very moment that I would never tell anyone, because if my dear husband accused me of not trying hard enough, what would others say to me? The pain and rejection I felt that evening in the car with him had caused me to jump out of the car while it was still moving. It was a cold December evening and I was lost. I felt that I had failed my daughter, that she was now still fighting to live, not breathing own her own, and I could not even feed her to keep her alive. “Damn me”, I remember saying to myself as I walked alone in the night. My dear husband returned. I think he probably just drove in circles, but his refusal to accept that I had given our daughter all that I had to give wounded my spirit, and it would take 2 years to her birth before I could forgive him.
My Change of Heart
I did not understand what caused me to have such a traumatic birth experience, but when I walked into Nia’s room the day I decided to give her donor milk, I felt thankful to the mother whom pumped and continued to pump for my daughter after she fed her own child/children. I visualized her pumping for me and discussing the entire experience with me. I visualized her praying for me and my daughter, Nia. I saw her pumping at 2am in my dreams. I saw her pumping at work. I saw her pumping after she had fed her child and I felt so much gratitude towards her. My only request of the hospital staff was to always feed Nia my milk first, my milk was labeled Mom, and that meant the world to me. I would enter Nia’s room, open the refrigerator with milk, and add my breast milk to her Ngtube. Then I would add the donor’s milk to her Ngtube. When Nia started to grow, I understood more and more what motherhood was about. I understood that motherhood involved women such as myself whom had to make decisions that were not always popular, but decisions we felt were in the best interest of our children.
As Nia and I continue down this journey with her development, which again is all delayed (she is nonverbal right now), I appreciate that there existed milk from another breastfeeding mama to help save my daughter’s life. I wish I was aware of more Black moms that donated some of their breast milk. There are so many children in critical care that need breast milk. For moms using donor milk, I also suggest pumping as well, if you are able to pump at all, and feeding your baby any milk you get.
Supporting Mothers who Receive Donor Milk
Donated breast milk is used among adopted moms, some moms who are receiving chemotherapy, moms in critical care condition, and many other moms with medical conditions, such as myself. There are ways you can help support moms who receive donor milk. Foremost, remember, there is still a stigma regarding donated breast milk, so be empathetic. If you know a mama providing her child with donated breast milk, it was not a choice of her own. The bond that happens when a mom is breastfeeding is different from providing donated milk and doing kangaroo with your baby. As mamas, our jobs are to be the best mamas we can.
Listed below are some national donor milk organizations and some local to Minnesota. If you would like to donate breast milk and you have questions, or if you would like to receive donor breast milk for your baby, you can contact me emailing Black Girls’ Breastfeeding Club (firstname.lastname@example.org). I have a ton of resources I can provide for you.
Do not stop pumping, mamas. Love you all.
Resources for Donor Milk