Joy Through Sacrifice: Alicia's Story
In her own words, Alicia shares her experience as a milk donor and mother.
Exclusively pumping certainly was not what I had planned a decade and a half ago when pregnant with my first of six children. After unbearable pain while nursing, I eventually ended up meeting with seven different lactation consultants. The last one discovered that because of my Raynaud’s disease, a circulation disorder, my body thought I was going into hypothermia each time I nursed. Expressing milk does not have this same effect, so I am able to pump and bottle feed breastmilk to my children.
I pump five times a day to maintain my milk supply and I make more milk than my babies need. After throwing away gallons of frozen breastmilk with my first baby, I researched if milk could be donated, knowing its unique benefits. When I ran across it in 2005, Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas had only been in existence for a year and was operating on a much smaller scale. I am amazed to see how much the milk bank has grown in both scale and awareness. Since my first baby, I have donated my extra milk to MMBNT.
We had several cousins born prematurely and watched their tiny bodies thrive on breastmilk in the NICU. We know the pain of losing a baby after suffering miscarriages and have been present with dear friends giving birth knowing their baby cannot survive outside the womb. We have had friends sacrifice nursing and exclusively formula feed in order to undergo chemo immediately after giving birth. We have seen friends open their hearts to adoption or have to go back to work right after birth. All of these mothers are my friends who find joy in sacrificial love as I have found in expressing and bottle feeding.
I am often asked if it is difficult to exclusively pump with a large family. Yes and no. It is a sacrifice of time and energy; however, I am grateful to have the ability to provide this precious gift for my children and for those babies who will receive my milk through MMBNT. Once I let go of the initial guilt I felt at not being able to nurse, I was able to focus on the benefits of pumping. Several of my children were born with underdeveloped intestines and by eliminating certain types of protein from my diet, I was able to give their intestines time to finish maturing without internal bleeding. I can now watch my biggest boys occasionally feed my tiniest girl, which melts my heart. I can feed a baby on a road trip without taking her out of the car seat.
I have pumped in many odd corners, in my car at tennis matches and soccer games, in heat, in cold, in airports, during conference calls, at black tie events and pool parties. Many things about motherhood are difficult. In many ways, the life of a mother is a life of sacrifice. As Mother Teresa said, “Intense love does not measure, it just gives.” Yet it is precisely this giving of ourselves, giving our bodies during pregnancy, our continual care to our children after they are born and giving milk donations to MMBNT, that brings such great joy and meaning in life.
My advice to others looking to follow a similar path is to embrace the sacrifice for your own children and for those that you are helping through donations and give it meaning. For me, this means that I tape a list of prayer intentions to my pump so that I can offer up my discomfort and inconveniences for others.
It requires very little incremental effort to donate my extra milk to the milk bank, yet I know the benefits are tremendous for those sweet little ones and their families. After the initial screening, it is just a matter of freezing milk and dropping it off at one of the numerous depots in the area. I try to involve my children in the process of labeling, bagging up, or pulling the cooler full of milk so that they can have a part in serving the babies receiving milk as well and begin to understand that in helping others, we ourselves receive joy.
As blue eyes and a mop of curls peek over the counter our 3 year-old daughter asks, “Is that the milk for the sick babies?”
“Yes,” I answer, pouring the milk into the freezer bag.
“Did you give my milk to the sick babies?” she inquires, wanting to know that “her” milk helped, too.
“Yes, and the extra milk from your four brothers.”
“Why do we give milk to the sick babies?” continues my 3 year-old, even though she’s heard the answer before.
“Because God gave Mommy the gift of extra milk so now we can share it and help other babies… Do you have any gifts or blessings you can share with others?” And I smile as she scurries off to her toddler-sized table to color a picture intended to bring joy to a grandparent or cousin.
Is it enjoyable to pump around the clock for a year at a time? No, it is not. Does it bring me joy to feed my children and help other babies? Absolutely, yes.