I am a doula, a social worker, and a strong, well-educated woman; but despite all of my knowledge, when my son was admitted to the NICU, I was scared.

He wasn’t due to arrive until the end of October, but Mateo made his surprise entrance on 09/30/19. I was getting ready to head in to work when I felt something strange. My water broke, and I headed to the hospital instead. I had a beautiful and natural birth. Mateo was born within a few hours, and I couldn’t wait to see him, give him some skin-to-skin, and all that good stuff we Doulas know is best for baby immediately after birth. When they took my baby boy away from me to bring him to the NICU, I felt all types of emotions; anger, sadness, confusion, and superhuman strength to name a few. Yes, he was a little early and weighed only 5 lbs 10 ounces, but he wasn’t sick. Why did they need to take him? Even though I was a first time Mom, I kicked into Mama Bear mode right away.

Mateo spent 4 long days in the NICU. I know it’s a short time relatively speaking, but it felt like an eternity. I visited the NICU and held my baby every moment I could. I tried to latch him whenever I could, and I pumped day and night. I knew how important it was to provide my milk for him, despite some of the nurses suggesting I try formula instead. All of my training couldn’t have prepared me for the nitty gritty of this real life experience.

I felt like I couldn’t “Mom” in the NICU, and I just wanted to take my baby home.

Thankfully, my colleagues at Milk Bank WGL were there to support us. I started working at Milk Bank WGL as a Donor Screener about half way through my pregnancy. Another staff member, Sam, was pregnant at the same time. We even had an office pool going to guess the babies’ birthdays, but it was all wrong. Nobody could have predicted that both of the new Milk Bank WGL babies would be born on the exact same day! Vivian was full term and healthy, but Mateo was considered premature and needed a little extra help.

Mateo was over the hospital’s age and weight cutoff for donor milk, but we were able to bring in a few bottles to use as a bridge until my milk was fully available. Hearing success stories from my coworkers and knowing that Mateo had donor milk available took some of the pressure off. The restrictions in the NICU can be intimidating! Even though I knew they were professionals and only had my son’s best interests in mind, I was worried the whole time. It is hard not to compare your child to other babies in the NICU. Why were some babies going home sooner, even if they were smaller? I hated that I couldn’t just roll over and sleep next to my baby.

Later this month, we will celebrate Mateo’s first birthday! Looking at his chunky thighs now, you would never know he had a rocky start. I am so grateful for all of the Illinois and Wisconsin donors that keep the milk flowing for babies in need. I now know first-hand just how much time and dedication goes into every ounce of that precious, life-saving gift. Just a small amount of donor milk in the NICU paved the way for a successful breastfeeding journey that lasted long after we finally returned home together.