I was diagnosed with leukaemia when I was 12 weeks pregnant. I was scared for myself but also for the future of my growing baby. Despite it probably seeming like a small detail when I’d just been diagnosed with a life threatening illness the thought of not being able to breastfeed was one of the factors that most upset me.
I’d heard about human milk banks and thought it was worth looking into. I contacted a few and most informed me that they were only able to donate milk to premature or unwell babies, or that I would need to obtain funding from my local CCG (NHS funding board) to receive milk which sounded complicated and stressful. However the response from Hearts was different, they were understanding and flexible and have managed to slash through all the funding red tape by fundraising themselves to take the pressure off the individuals they provide milk to. The process was so easy and they offered to provide me with donor milk for the first month of my baby’s life which was more than I could have hoped for.
Just before I was induced at 37 weeks to start chemotherapy treatment I went to collect my first batch of donor milk. There was so much! I thought back to my own experience of expressing milk and how much effort it was alongside having a young baby. I felt overwhelmed by the huge generosity of all of the women who’d taken the time and care to make this milk available to my baby and many others. I was able to breastfeed for 3 days before starting treatment. It was lovely to have those days of that closeness with my little boy – Alby. Having to stop breastfeeding while also starting chemotherapy medication was sad despite being prepared for it. However, being able to continue to give my baby breast milk made a huge difference to how upsetting I found that difficult time.
The team at Hearts Milk Bank were all incredibly kind, well informed and supportive throughout. Alby thrived on the milk and is now a content and sleepy 6 week old.
I’m sure this pregnancy and second time motherhood will remain prominent in my memories for how stressful they were but Hearts will remain in my thoughts for the opposite reason. I will always feel grateful to them, all of the women who donate milk to them, and everyone who supports them financially, for giving my baby the best possible start despite really difficult circumstances.