A woman’s breastfeeding journey is unique to her. Some women can’t breastfeed. Some women don’t want to breastfeed. I am a midwife and I always tell women I will support whatever they choose.
I am also now a mother and as a mother it was never a question of how I was going to feed (or should I say how I wanted to feed) my baby. My journey to motherhood was not an easy one…
After 10 years of trying, multiple fertility issues, miscarriage, 5 IVF attempts and much more in- between, our miracle girl arrived in August 2021.
Turns out our trauma wasn’t over there. During pregnancy, our daughter was diagnosed with a serious heart condition. We were suddenly faced with a whole new world of hospital appointments and a new reality that even now I struggle to contemplate. Not only would she need open heart surgery in the first few days of life but I also had to face the fact that she wouldn’t be able to breast feed from me for goodness knows how long or maybe not at all. I of course wanted to give her the best start I could.
My husband and I came to the conclusion that if I had to exclusively express and feed her through an NG tube for as long as she needed then that’s what we would do.
When she was born the decision was made for her to have her first surgery at 2 days of age. Thankfully she was strong enough and big enough! I went about a routine of leaving her bedside and expressing every 3 hours. The routine of expressing actually made time pass a little quicker and gave me a sense of achievement doing the one thing I could do for her while the mountains of equipment did the rest.
I sat in a little room with other mums, all of us trying our best to establish our milk supply to provide the best nutrition for our heart warriors and some of whom really struggled to even get a few mls. All of us united in this new realm of machines pumping our milk instead of our precious babies having skin to skin and feeding on demand.
All of us also away from our babies.
She however had other ideas, she started breastfeeding as soon as she was allowed to!
This baby had faced more in her first few weeks of life than most face in a lifetime and yet she knew exactly what she wanted and took to it like a dream.
Now I had another dilemma…I had 15+ litres of expressed breast milk that I had painstakingly collected in the first few weeks of life. My husband had even resorted to doing a courier ride home every few days to store it in our spare freezer as I had too much! As much as I wanted her to have everything I produced, she was feeding exclusively and didn’t need the frozen milk.
I simply wouldn’t use all this milk before it expired and so I made the decision to look into donating it to mothers/families and babies who need it most. The thought of throwing it down the drain was NOT an option. Initially I was only going to donate that first batch of milk but I choose to continue to donate because I still have great supply and reading your stories inspired me to keep going.
When the courier collected that first batch he told me just how much it means to those receiving it and that little insight of knowing it was doing so much good was enough for me to keep going. I have now seen women struggle from the perspective of a midwife and a mum and so it was an easy decision in the end.
Whenever my daughter has been in hospital (including over her 1st Christmas) I maintain my supply and donate all the milk that would have been hers. My daughter continues to be exclusively breastfed and is now thriving after having two open heart surgeries and a separate procedure for a stent. I was told she may never feed well (common for cardiac babies) or need an NG tube with prescription formula. She hasn’t needed either. With each hospital admission she has wanted one thing…her Mumma’s milk!
So to all those crying because they can’t get their supply going, to those who desperately wanted to but can’t because of medications or illness, to any family and baby who needs this milk for whatever the reason may be…this is my gift to you. I resented my body for my infertility but now I am so unbelievably proud of my body for being able to help you in some way. I’m one of you. I see you. I feel you. You’re not alone. You’ve got this.
Kerry & Eleanor