Sitting Shiva For My Breast Milk
Bottle Feeding Breastfeeding Parenthood

Being A Milk Donor Was Harder Than I Thought

By Miriam Levine

The first time my husband met a stranger in the lobby, I sat on the toilet in our apartment upstairs and cried. He had filled a cooler with 500 ounces of breast milk and dragged it into the elevator.

For three months I had a colicky baby.

She screamed as if her entire body was on fire. There was nothing more excruciating than seeing her in constant pain. It turned out that my milk – the very substance that was supposed to nourish her – was causing her tremendous discomfort due to a sensitive GI tract. After countless elimination diets to attempt to get to the bottom of her agony, the lengthy process of trial and error was not yielding any conclusions.

As soon as I transitioned her to a hypoallergenic formula, she transformed into a sweet, happy girl and I knew that our breastfeeding days were over. I was depressed that I couldn’t experience breastfeeding her for longer than the three months that we tried. But there was no denying that she was a completely different child. Without the colic, I was seeing her personality for the first time. Her character wasn’t camouflaged by suffering.

Since my baby was born, I had pumped a lot of milk and refused to throw it out even though I couldn’t use it anymore.

So I logged onto Facebook and joined the group “Human Milk 4 Human Babies.” In this group, mothers posted their need for breast milk or their willingness to donate. I tried to divvy out my ounces to those who were most in need – the mom who had a double mastectomy, the one whose baby had a formula intolerance, parents of children with fatal diseases. Even though I knew I should feel good about donating my milk to people who were desperate, I felt uneasy sharing my bodily fluids with strangers. Who were these random children who got to gulp my hard-earned milk while every second I had pumped I envisioned giving it to my baby? I was angry that I couldn’t use what I had worked so hard to accumulate.

As soon as my husband returned upstairs, I interrogated him. “What did she look like?” “What did she say?” “Was she weird?” He mumbled some generic description and told me the few words of appreciation they may have expressed before accepting the cooler bag.

I needed more.

I had never felt so naked. So exposed. These women were collecting my blood, my sweat and my tears. They were giving their babies what I so badly wanted to give my own. And all they said was thank you? I deserved a parade. A monument.

And that’s when I realized that my overblown reaction had nothing to do with my breast milk.

I was mourning the intimacy that it had afforded me. I felt deprived of a precious stage with my infant daughter. For me, nursing was a drug. I got high off feeling needed, the chemical release and the physical closeness. I was now in withdrawal.

But the truth is feeding her had never been a bonding experience.

She had latched on and off, shrieking in between. She was miserable and I was anxious. In our case, using my body to give her calories was not connecting us. Now, when I give her a bottle, I look deep into her eyes. I tell her how much I love her and how blessed I feel to have her in our family. When she’s done eating, she smiles. She’s no longer miserable and I’m no longer anxious. She is joyful and healthy and I have found other ways to create intimate moments that don’t include my boobs in her mouth.

I thought I knew what she needed, but I only knew what I needed to give. My daughter led me to a detour and I adapted. I can only hope that this lays the groundwork for a relationship based on trust, understanding, and flexibility. My love transcends my milk.

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