It really all began when Aiden died.
Aiden was a sweet baby boy born to my friend Kristen in May 2012, but he became ill with pertussis (whooping cough) at just a couple weeks of age. After a long battle in Children’s Hospital, Aiden passed into Heaven at seven weeks old. I wasn’t there, but I remember this time so vividly. My grief was thick, my heart ached, and my hands felt empty for a long time. What I found over time is similar to what all kinds of people experience in the grief cycle, which is an eventual turning from inwardly-focused sorrow to an outwardly-focused promotion of legacy. In other words, as the months passed I needed to cry less and do something. Specifically, I intended to find a helpful way to honor Aiden and his life.
That was when I stumbled upon the Oklahoma Mothers Milk Bank (OMMB). At the time that I was searching for a way to give back, OMMB was just preparing to open its doors to Oklahoma hospitals. The organization was active in the news and social media, and I saw a friend of mine express interest about it on a Facebook news feed. Briefly, what I learned is that OMMB is a non-profit organization with a mission of providing human breast-milk to hospitalized critically-ill and premature babies.
These particularly vulnerable little ones are often in dire need of breast milk as a means of survival, as their delicate systems are better able to process breast milk than formula, with the added bonus of the antibodies, which are preserved through the pasteurization process. I was interested in the idea because I was breastfeeding my second son and, with some effort, could pump some milk to spare. I immediately inquired about how to become a donor.
The process to become a donor was involved, yet efficient. I was quickly put at ease by the kind demeanor of the donor coordinator, who asked me several questions over the phone to begin my screening process. All donors have to meet the qualifications, and for good reason. After all, these critically-ill babies are exposed to everything a donor has consumed. The phone screen was straightforward; I was asked questions about daily habits such as if I use supplements, drink 14 cups of coffee per day, smoke cigarettes, drink hard liquor in large quantities, have been exposed to HIV, etc.
The second step is the donor packet, which includes several pages asking about pertinent medical histories of you and your baby, exposure to hazardous substances, and some general information. The packet contains a medical release to both your obstetrician and to your baby’s pediatrician. You are expected to sign the releases, and the OMMB will contact each of these doctors to make sure that the doctors believe that neither you nor your baby will be adversely impacted by you giving away some breast milk. Also included in the packet are instructions on how to label the milk bags, how long you can store them, and where you can drop them off.
The milk bank has several “milk depots” in the state of Oklahoma where donors can drop off their milk. Finally, you will be expected to have your blood drawn (paid for by the milk bank) to ascertain that you don’t have a communicable disease. The blood draw paperwork is included in the packet and you can go to any of the Oklahoma Blood Institute facilities listed in the paperwork. Because the OMMB goes to considerable expense to have your blood work done, they ask for a commitment to donate a minimum of 100 ounces of milk. It’s a commitment, but it is so worth it!
I pumped long, and I pumped hard. On top of what I was nursing and pumping for my own baby, I added in a pumping session per day on most days to increase my milk supply. All in all, I was able to joyfully donate 173 ounces of my own milk to babies who needed it! A friend made the commitment with me, and we decided to journey together to drop off our milk. We made a morning of it, touring the facility and putting the milk into the freezers ourselves before treating ourselves and our kids to a celebratory lunch.
There’s just something about giving that truly does make it better than receiving, and when the gift you’re giving is your own liquid gold, believe me, the feeling is priceless. I walked out of the milk bank that day half sobbing, half laughing. I had done something deeply personal in Aiden’s name that could help other little babies like him–babies that still had a chance. Maybe, just maybe, those 173 ounces made a difference to someone, somewhere. I like to think so.
Since my initial donation in 2013, my work with the Oklahoma Mothers Milk Bank has not stopped. I donated again with my third son, and I am currently undergoing the process to become a donor again with my fourth son. Actually, I turned in my paperwork and got my blood drawn today! I have had the opportunity to write and speak publicly for the precious cause of milk donation, which is so dear to my heart. Each time, I feel Aiden continuing to make waves in this world.
If you’re in Oklahoma and you think you might be interested in becoming a milk donor, I would encourage you to consider it. It feels so good to help! You can reach Lauren, the donor coordinator, at the Oklahoma Mothers Milk Bank at (405)-297-LOVE.