Before my first daughter was born, people would ask me if I was going to breastfeed or do formula. My immediate reaction was, “I’m not sure – we’ll see what happens.” There were plenty of things to worry about, and I did not want to put pressure on myself. I figured feeding my baby was the key thing, and what would be would be.
When my daughter arrived, she was full term, but a post-delivery complication sent her to the NICU. It was scary for us, but she did great and was released after just a couple days. While we were there, though, we saw other rooms that were much quieter and dimmer than ours. I could not help but think that my full-term baby didn’t need to be there – other babies needed the NICU more than mine. Those babies would be there longer and need every ounce of help they could get. Their parents would worry about them and wonder when they would get to leave with their baby. Our two and a half days was nothing.
When we got home, I decided to keep pumping in addition to nursing my daughter. I wasn’t sure what would happen when I went back to work, and I wanted to start building my stash of frozen milk immediately. By 8 weeks, I was storing 10-12 ounces of milk per day. I filled up my freezer, then I filled up my in-laws’ extra freezer. By this time, I was back at work and my production was holding steady. I made a spreadsheet – how much milk would it take to get me to a year? I concluded that I could not stop producing at my current level for a while just in case, but I was running out of freezer space fast.
That’s when I thought about the babies in the dark, quiet rooms in the NICU and I googled “Milk Bank Chicago.” That search took me straight to the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes and within a month I was an approved donor mom. The process for getting approved had a number of steps, but they all made so much sense and my donor coordinator helped me along the way. When I brought in my first donation, I could see what an amazing organization Milk Bank WGL is – they took such good care of my milk, literally treating it like liquid gold.
And when my second daughter was born and my breasts did a happy dance and started producing again, I got approved again. And every time I dropped off a donation, I handed over my milk knowing it would be cared for by people who know how much effort moms put in to get it and how needed it is by babies in NICUs. “So precious, we put it in a bank” is not a tagline, it’s their culture.
Giving my milk to Milk Bank WGL was not even a question in my mind, it was a statement. I may not have planned for it the first time around, but it was a calling. Because I may not be able to do other things, but this I can do. I can give my milk so that babies born too soon are more likely to get to go home with their parents.