Hi Everyone! I can’t tell you how excited I am to be posting this blog finally! I wrote this quite some time ago but my hard drive crashed and over a month later and £500 later I am now so pleased to share my story with you. Please bear with me as some things like the next sentence were obviously wrote a month or so ago! I just received in the post today a letter and certificate from the Northwest Human Milk Bank. I am so proud to say I donated my breastmilk which had been initially expressed for Silver and I would love to share with you my expressing journey and the process of donating milk. Read to the end to see just how much I donated!
As mentioned in my fundraising post, Silver and myself were given “mini boo’s” when she was born to exchange scents to encourage milk supply. I had actually breastfed my son Beau for 14 months, he self-weaned when I was around 2 to 3 months pregnant with Silver – I believe this was due to hormones changing the taste. So when she was born I wouldn’t say my body had fully stopped producing milk which made it pretty easy to establish a supply. Then again, I had never expressed before so I didn’t really know what to do. I had a lovely midwife in the postnatal ward who showed me how to express one tiny drop at a time of colostrum and collect it into a tiny syringe. Its funny to look back on now and think of how proud I was to produce 1ml of milk every few hours from each side.
Easily by the next day my milk was really starting to come in. I was now getting around 15 – 25mls per breast at each session. This also meant I got to upgrade from hand expressing to using the electric pump which was pretty easy to work out. I am not going to lie, I didn’t particularly like the feeling. It felt super strong even on low settings and somehow I soon had nipples covered in blisters and was begging for cream to soothe the pain. They even bled a little they were that sore (that milk was generally discarded due to being on the heparin injections post C section)! Of course I always felt so proud whenever we went to see Silver and take my refrigerated milk to be put into the freezers but this was certainly a different ballgame than actually breastfeeding a baby.
You wouldn’t believe how quickly my supply increased, I was even having to wake up half way through the night otherwise I would leak absolutely everywhere and wake up soaked! Not only that but if I didn’t express every couple hours I would get painfully engorged which if you’ve ever experienced that you know just how uncomfortable it is. All the midwives at the postnatal ward and Silver’s nurses commented on just how much milk I kept bringing to be put in the freezer. I was even given my own roll of labels and large bags filled with bottles I was requesting them so often. Of course it came naturally to me but I soon realised from talking to other parents just how much a struggle it can be for some mums. This was one of the reasons why I felt it was only fair I donated my milk after Silver had passed away, knowing just how much it could help other babies in circumstances which may not allow them to have their own mothers milk. I know personally if I did have issues myself I would still wish to give human milk rather than formula.
Luckily I can say that Silver did have some of my milk, and seemed to really enjoy it. Every six hours she would have “cares”. This basically meant nappy change, physio on her leg and then mouth care. Mouth care is where we would dip a cotton bud into some of my defrosted or fresh milk and place it on her tongue, around her breathing pipe. She absolutely loved lapping this up and it was a joy to see her reactions and know she did get to enjoy tasting the liquid gold which was made for her. It also meant that despite the stress of us changing her nappy we could turn the experience into something positive for her, as well as allowing her to make the positive connections and bond with our voices as we fed her. This had to be a favourite part of the hands on care we got to do with her.
They did try feeding her my milk via a tube that went through where the umbilical cord had been however we then realised she was getting pretty bloated, which turned out to be a blockage. She hadn’t been poop since being born so obviously it wasn’t going anywhere. Through surgery they discovered it was meconium which was stuck and blocking her pipes. They then fitted a stoma bag in the hopes she would be able to pass bowel movements but unfortunately it never did get chance to work and they had to stop giving her the milk after a day or so of trying just so she didn’t get bloated again. She sadly passed away before they got the chance to try again.
(The image below isn’t very clear due to the low lighting required in NICU but this was the machine which dispensed my milk directly into Silver’s tummy. The octopus I had crocheted for her was not allowed in her incubator for risk of infection so it happily sat on top of her machine watching over her.)
We were very well accommodated for by The Sick Children’s Trust also who not only provided a room for us to sleep in as a family once my discharge but also in the communal kitchen was a specific milk fridge so I could store my milk if I expressed during the night and could then take it to Silver in the morning to be frozen. I did have to use a hand pump whilst at Crawford House which I can tell you now, once you’ve got used to an electric pump it is quite an arduous task. You can imagine how I felt when I managed to spill my milk one night and all my pumping went to waste!
I actually have a guilty confession to make here too. As you can see my expressing journey has had highs and lows and unfortunately the day before Silver passed away was a low for me. I am so thankful I did express and it was of course all worth it for Silver but wow I really hated it! I hated that I couldn’t sleep through on a night but it wasn’t like I was waking up to breastfeed a new born, I was waking to sit in the dark, alone and expressing into a plastic bottle. Emotionally it was draining and I was exhausted too. The day before Silver passed away I got very upset and stressed and said I didn’t want to express anymore, I hated it and wanted to stop. I also was struggling with the social aspects of a communal kitchen and living space in Crawford House and it just overwhelmed me. I now wish I could take it all back, I can’t tell you how much I wish I was still in that house 5 minutes away from my living breathing baby, still expressing milk for her. This has been possibly one of the hardest parts of the grief I have had to deal with, the guilt I have felt for not being grateful and realising how lucky I was at the time.
Once Silver did pass away I was very conflicted about what to do. Despite hating expressing I now didn’t want to stop. It was a connection I shared with her and I didn’t want to let go. For a couple of days I debated what I wanted to do, obviously I now knew I wanted to find a way to donate the milk but I didn’t know how long to keep going. I eventually came to the conclusion I had expressed rather a large amount already and it was time to start weaning down. I tended to do it once or twice a day, only until it was comfortable and not empty. The only time I would empty them was when it was just before bedtime so it wasn’t waking me during the night. I did have the help of a breastfeeding nurse who not only helped me know how to wean down whilst being aware of the signs of mastitis but also helped orchestrate my donation.
We did originally apply to donate to Glasgow milk bank however as we were not within their country they could not accept and directed me and my information to The Northwest Human Milk Bank. I had to fill in a questionnaire which details what I had done whilst expressing, such as drinking caffeine, any alcohol or medications or drugs. I also had to detail my sexual past in terms of risks of STI’s and my husbands risks. I had to detail my own general health and diet too. After speaking with the milk bank on the phone they were not able to take my milk from the first few days due to having the antibiotics during surgery and then the heparin blood thinning injections, so it’s a good job I refused them after a few days despite being told to keep having them.
Once all the paperwork was completed I had a blood box posted out to me where I was required to go to my GP’s for blood samples to be taken so they could ensure I was disease free and safe to donate my milk. I am actually a needle phobic but thankfully EMLA cream works a treat for blood tests and I’ve had a wonderful hypnotherapist work with me for quite a while on my needle phobia so I actually had no nerves at all for this blood test. I felt so proud to know I was doing something that despite disliking was worthwhile for the babies it would help. It was also lovely to hear the nurse compliment me on how well I did considering in the past she has seen me have to be held down for blood tests as I’ve hysterically cried! I then had to option as to whether I wanted to take the samples to the post office but we decided it was easiest for the nurse to send it out with their daily post collection.
The results came back all clear which was expected and then I simply had to eagerly wait to find out how much I had actually donated. I was informed they collected my milk via the blood bikes as it keeps the milk cool for transport. I knew I had filled one and a half trays in an industrial freezer but nothing could quite prepare me for seeing the compliments strip which stated I had donated 9.25 litres! Wow, what a proud moment. Of course emotionally I am still broken that my little girl didn’t get to drink that milk but donating it was such a feel good moment and I was so pleased to know I could help save other babies lives.
As a way of rewarding myself I recently ordered a badge I had seen other mums with on Instagram. I’m not really a pin badge person, nor do I like gold but I am in love with this badge which celebrates the woman’s ability to produce this amazing elixir that is liquid gold. I absolutely love all her empowering pins and she does do a few other breastfeeding related ones but I had been desperate for this simple liquid gold badge. It now proudly sits on the shelf in our bedroom next to all of Silver’s boxes and teddy’s.
I hope this blog inspires other mums to express, donate milk, breastfeed if you can or utilise your local bank if you can’t. I know expressing literally sucks but it’s the perfect way to give your baby your amazing milk whilst still having a social/ work life or even if you just don’t feel confident breastfeeding in public. If you can donate I promise its a much rewarding feeling too. I am proud to say with Beau I never once used a bottle. I spent many times breastfeeding in the car or leaking in public because I was nervous to feed and it wasn’t always convenient when I was the sole feeder but I loved it and can’t wait to do it all again in January with our rainbow baby.
Until next time,