Some of you may know by now that I've long been intending to donate my extra breast milk that has been languishing in my freezer, dating back to last June/July. I haven't checked, but I started storing it at the end of last June, so there's a fair chance that there's still some of that left. (Suffice it to say, those earliest ones have reached their expiration date now.)
The truth of the matter is that when I had Abby, I didn't pump if I didn't have to and didn't work as hard at storing milk as I could have. Then, I ran out of stored milk when she was around 7 months old, and my body basically stopped producing milk, which meant it was the easiest weaning ever ! and it was emotionally difficult for me to give it up before I was ready. Prior to having Abby, I was ill prepared for many things, as I dare say any newbie parent is, and one of them in particular was how much I loved breastfeeding. I've written on it before, and for those of you who have read this far and are squeamishly still reading, this is the last I'll likely write of it again. (Actually, maybe not...I still haven't figured an exit strategy with Audrey.) I promised myself that if I ever had another child, and I did--whaddya know?, I would do a better job of doing whatever I needed to do in order to prolong my ability to breast feed for at least the first year as much as my schedule enabled.
Then, Audrey happened and like the good little amoeba that she is, she had N-O problems figuring out the nursing gig. She is a snuggler, and she shows no signs of wanting to give up her Mommy-&-Me time. As my OB said when she came and checked on me once in the hospital, "The bigger babies always seem to do better eating." Yes. She was a champ. Being the second child, we got lazy on the bottle routine with Audrey, and she never fell in love with it, probably because it was sporadic at best, then once a week, then only whenever I had to be gone, which wasn't often. For Audrey, bottle feeding was simply a learned behavior that was not regularly enforced, so it comes as no surprise to us that she eventually refused to accept it. She'd play with it, wiggle it around in her mouth, spit at it, and ultimately just push it away. Even more unfortunately, she refused to accept breast milk in any container, not just a bottle. Give her any temperature of water in any cup...happy day! (Now that she's 1 year, she's also upgraded to whole milk in a cup...also yummy in the tummy!) Juice? Yes, please (especially if it's room temperature). But the only other beverage that she's ever been offered--that's a big fat "No, thank you. I'd rather throw the cup on the floor or wrench the cup out of your hand and then throw it on the floor. Repeatedly." Here's the other deal about bottle feeding. Eventually, it turns out that I wasn't going to be returning to a day job, so the need for her to accept a bottle was immediately negated. That was around the time when she was super iffy on whether she would accept it or not, and subsequently, that's also when we truly gave up trying. We had other battles to fight, most of them pertaining to a certain older sister. Pumping, storing, preparing, and cleaning bottles & such was not something about which we wanted to fight the good fight.
So the bottles were removed from the shelves in the kitchen (frees up valuable shelf real estate!), but the frozen milk continued to pile up in the freezer. Frozen milk which it quickly became apparent that I was never going to get to use with this child. Anyone with me on the irony here? With my first child, I was back at work and truly could have used that valuable cache of milk. With my second child, I didn't need to have a supply built up and ta daa! there it was.
I started keeping it in boxes. Then boxes stacked on boxes. Then boxes wedged between stacked boxes. Really, my freezer became a big Tetris game, especially when I needed to rummage for something on the bottom. Like big people food. A quick trip out to the freezer to grab some ground beef for chili turned into a 5-minute expedition juggling achingly cold milk cubes.
Eventually, I became aware of an organization based out of Indy, the Indiana Mother's Milk Bank, which accepts donations of human milk. Perfect! Solution! I'll get my freezer back! Except that I procrastinated and didn't get anything done on that for a couple of months. And then it took time for my paperwork to process. And then I had to give a blood sample and find a lab that would draw my blood and then ship it. And then, wait some more. And then, I was approved--months later, first milk approaching 1 year old (expire! expire!), must get going on this donation process.
But my first donation cooler didn't come. Three weeks later, I finally checked on it (emails were slow to be answered, I thought 3 weeks was a justifiable period of time to wait...maybe not) and then had another cooler shipped to me in 2 days. But, I got it on a Thursday, and I couldn't ship until the following Monday per instructions. Monday morning was a dentist fiasco and the dry ice necessary to ship frozen milk was not be found anywhere, so shipping got pushed back to Tuesday. Then, no dry ice from my last option. I'm an hour away from any donation location and I literally had no way to safely ship this milk, which I wasn't about to just flush down the drain. That is some serious time spent to get the milk so that it could be stored in the first place. The majority of my stored supply was pumped any time between midnight & 6 am. MIDNIGHT TO 6 AM! Every night for a couple of months!! (My body has totally cooperated this go-round, and milk I have had in abundance. So much so that my daughter couldn't really take advantage of the nighttime feast that was her's for the choosing. For my own comfort level as well as saving for the future, I pumped every night after the odd hour feeding.) If my child can't use it, someone else better be able to, dang it!
To heighten my frustration and proclivity to worry, the phone lines were down at the milk bank as well, so I couldn't call them to ask what in the world I should do with no way to ship the donation. And I was determined to start moving it out of my house because time is not my frozen milk's friend. So I packed it in the cooler, threw in a slew of ice cubes, loaded the car, and trekked it down there myself. I make it, store it, and transport it, apparently. And it was, finally, easy. Walk in, drop off cooler, smile at the friendly faces, pick up another cooler, make face-to-face arrangements for this one, leave. Go eat a cupcake and enjoy some quiet time alone in the car on a sunny day.
And just for my own curiosity's sake, I kept track of how much milk I was able to fit in the first donation cooler: somewhere around 60 containers and 298 ounces total. And that was the most recent milk back to the end of November, a period when I wasn't pumping/storing nearly as much as the first fruitful months. I've heard that the IMMB sells each ounce of milk for $6, which strictly covers the cost of processing the milk (i.e. no profit), which means that my 1 hour journey netted $1800 in precious, healthy milk for sweet little babies around the state who for a whole host of reasons need that liquid gold (for $6/ounce, an apt term, no?) much, much more than anyone in this house does. For some babies out there, my mid-night pumping sessions were the least that I can do.