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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Milk Sharing: circle that we create is never ending.

Thank you to Ana in Wisconsin for allowing me to share her amazingly beautiful story.

Hello! My name is Ana, and this is my milk donation story.

My beautiful daughter Clara was born on March 2nd of last year. Her pregnancy was blissful and I spent many happy months looking forward to finally meeting this amazing little person and starting on our long nursing relationship together! Her older brother had been a champ at the breast from the very start and had nursed all throughout the pregnancy, so I was also looking towards tandem nursing my baby girl and her 3 year old brother!
Her birth was a bit rough, but when she was finally in our arms all was peace. She latched right on and fed hungrily from the very get go :) No problems at all. So we thought....

3 days later, as we prepared to go home her blood work started coming back showing signs that her liver was in distress. 2 weeks in the NICU and a zillion tests later, she was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia, a rare but serious liver disease.
We were transported to Children's Hospital to await the first of her major surgeries. All went well, and we were given hope that the procedure (which involved taking 1/2 her liver, portions of her bowl, and rerouting her intestine) would allow her body to function properly. She was 3 weeks old at this point and still nursing great.
However in the months that followed, as we watched our sweet baby grow more and more yellow, watched as her belly swelled, and as she grew weaker by the day...we knew that the surgery hadn't been a success. Her weekly blood tests showed marked worsening of her condition.
And that 9 day early separation from the breast, despite my fervent pumping, and the stress of living in a hospital and watching my precious girl bet cut apart and sewn up again started to take it's toll on my milk supply.
But after 6 weeks, we went home. And still, we nursed. I laughed about it. After all I'm a LC! If anyone could do this, it was me!!

Then month 4 hit. She was hospitalized with a massive infection and we started to move towards full liver transplant.
It was during this hospitalization that our kind, wonderful group of doctors and advisers sat us down and told us that there was a good chance that she would not make it. Her body wasn't responding to treatment, and she wasn't the ideal candidate for transplant as it was. She continued to grow weaker. Suckling at the breast became a massive exertion that would leave her exhausted and expend more calories then she took in. With a failing liver, food absorption was enough of a problem already! So we put in a Nasal Gastric feeding tube to ease her struggle. And I pumped. God, did I ever pump. I had to get up every hour on the hour with her throughout the night to medicate and care for her as it was, so I pumped then too.
But despite my knowledge as a LC, and seasoned nursing mother, my milk dwindled. I didn't sleep. I cried. My baby was dying front of my eyes and I couldn't even give her the one thing she needed most. Due to the extensive injury and openness of her bowl, formula wasn't even an option. We tried out of desperation and it was very quickly obvious that it hurt her, and I took it off the table of her nutritional care options entirely.

So I put out the call. And it spread. It spread like wild fire.

As I type this, I'm sitting here crying a waterfall of tears remembering each and ever woman, many of whom I didn't even know at the time, showing up at my door with coolers full of their own liquid gold. Women from other states driving up to deliver milk. Friends, relatives, sisters in motherhood. Giving my child the gift of life. And this TRULY is what it came down to. My sweet Clara's life would not have been as long without all of that precious breast milk.
It was a gift that I can never repay. These women gave selflessly, expecting nothing in return. Holding me and crying with me and essentially nourishing my child as their own.

I wish I could say that this story has a happy ending. That Clara's transplant was a success. But after 6 months of fighting and pain and suffering we were told she was not a candidate for transplant at all.
So, we took her home.
And there she rolled in the grass, she played with soft kittens, she snuggled up on our warm chests every night. It was the most joyful time of my life.
She lived 8 long beautiful months and she took her last breaths in the comfort and security of our arms November 6th.

As I came slowly out of the shock and grief in the weeks that followed, I realized that my freezer still held the milk that ongoing donations had piled up and had sustained my Clara.
So again. I put out the call.
And late one December night I drove back to Children's and walked up those familiar steps into the NICU to deliver a cooler of milk to yet another mother. And I held her, and she held me, and we cried.

This is the gift that keeps on giving. And to each and every mother out there who is sharing her milk I say THANK YOU!! You are sharing life. You are sharing love.
Thank You.

Much mama love,