I am so close to being able to ship off my freezer-full of milk. Well, that sounds like I have tons to send. In reality, I have just about a gallon of frozen breast milk that I collected for 3 1/2 weeks. But I made it to the minimum before I started using an eye medication that inhibits my ability to keep collecting for the milk bank, and I’m satisfied with that.
The milk bank was supposed to send me blood work forms two weeks ago, but they got delayed until a couple of days ago. I guess they put the wrong address on the envelope and had to resend it. So while I was in the area for an eye appointment, I got my blood drawn today so that I can hopefully get moving on getting my milk out of the freezer and to someone who can use it.
After a bit of a hassle with checking in (I guess the doctor who works with the milk bank put the wrong code on the form and it needed to be verified and fixed), I was paired with a very chatty phlebotomist. She immediately asked, “So did you have the baby yet, or are you pregnant still?” I was taken aback. I was being tested for hepatitis and HIV–diseases that could be passed through breast milk that they needed to ensure I didn’t have before taking my milk–so I didn’t know how she knew I had been pregnant. I told her I had the baby in February. She asked the typical questions, boy or girl? what did you name him? how much did he weigh? (noting he was premature when I said he’d been 5 lbs) what colour were his eyes? are you going to have any more kids? I kept using the past tense but she didn’t pick up on it one bit. I thought maybe she was aware I was working with a milk bank because of her phone call and assumed I had lost the baby so she didn’t ask anything else.
But then she took another look at my form and asked, “Wow, do you really have to go all the way to Portland to see this doctor?” I replied that I’d actually never met the doctor–she just works with the milk bank there that had agreed to accept my milk and they needed to make sure I didn’t have any diseases that might get passed to the babies that received my milk. She was excited and surprised that I was donating my milk, and immediately chatted on about a friend of hers who had a foster baby and purchased donated breast milk from a similar bank for her. I, too, know a family from our church who was buying breast milk for an adopted baby several months ago. I told that to the phlebotomist, adding, “I didn’t know until then that there was a need for it or else I would’ve never thought to do it. And I guess seeing the babies in the NICU reminded me that some women have their babies so early that at least at first they might need some breast milk to supplement theirs since it doesn’t come in right away. I realised that if my baby had made it, I probably would’ve needed some at first since mine took a whole week to come in.”
I guess she put two-and-two together right then that my baby had died, and she gushed, “Oh I am so sorry… I guess what I asked must have been really painful for you to answer. I’m really sorry about that.” And actually, it wasn’t painful. I was guarded because I didn’t know what types of things she was going to ask or how I would respond, but all of her questions were things I got a chance to brag about my baby. He was a boy, he was five weeks early and just five pounds, his name was Seraphim, he had brown eyes like mine, and my husband and I have just been married for a year and hope to have more children when the time is right. These are facts of my life, and facts of my baby’s life. These are the questions I want, the interest in my baby I crave. I don’t get to show him off (except through pictures), so I want to talk about him. I don’t want to forget him and don’t want others to forget him.
And I guess that’s part of the reason I decided to donate my milk. I needed to know my baby existed, and the food I produced for him reminded me continually that he had lived and my body so desperately wanted to help him grow and thrive. I never pumped very often (only when I felt it was convenient for me) and I never produced very much (I also couldn’t afford a state-of-the-art pump, so I probably met less success with my methods), but it was enough that I could help someone else who is struggling with a premature baby, or low milk production, or an adopted child. It was something I could do in honour of my baby’s life–my milk was life-giving liquid designed for him, and hopefully it can be for someone else since he doesn’t need it.
I’m glad I did it for other reasons as well–putting off engorgement until it was on my clock when I was ready for it (and by the time I had stopped pumping, I really only experienced a couple of hours of pain instead of days), helping my body do what it was supposed to to heal (I had stopped bleeding almost entirely by day 3 after the baby was born and could only get my body to keep evacuating my uterus with pumping-induced contractions), and giving me a bit of responsibility and structure that my first few weeks without my baby desperately needed.
I almost feel lonely now that I’ve stopped pumping, now that my body is mostly healed, now that the reality that my baby’s presence in my life is no longer physically altering since he no longer needs anything physical I can offer him.