Breastfeeding sounded so simple.
Step 1: Pop out the boob
Step 2: Let baby eat
Wrong. It was WAY harder than I could have ever imagined.
Our little Della was born two weeks early and was pretty tiny. She came home from the hospital at 5 pounds, 14 ounces.
As a first-time mom, my nipples were not large enough for her to easily feed. For the first several days, it took four hands to get the nursing position just right. With one hand, my husband squeezed my nipple to make it stick out more and used his other hand to hold her head, while I held her little body with one hand and squeezed the top of my breast with the other... It was quite the production!
For months we struggled with getting a good latch. Della hated the nipple shield, but it was often the only way she could nurse without me feeling a ton of pain. I felt so much shame because breastfeeding hurt every time and usually ended with the small plastic barrier between me and my newborn.
Channeling my inherent super mom, I went to regular La Leche League meetings, hired two lactation consultants, and had several consultations with a local breastfeeding clinic. We saw some improvements, but nursing was still difficult and painful.
It’s still hard for me to write this next part, even though it happened months ago. But Della didn’t gain much weight in her fifth month of life. I blamed myself and felt so much grief and guilt because my body wasn’t easily supplying all the milk my daughter needed.
In an effort to reduce the pain, we made an appointment for a frenectomy surgery to correct her lip tie which wasn't fun for anyone, especially dad who was in charge of stretching the surgery site three times each day.
While waiting through the holidays for our appointment date, we didn’t want to start her on formula because I hadn’t found a clean ingredient formula I absolutely loved. The worst ones use corn syrup or soy as the main ingredient -- yuck! And the best formulas out there aren’t even that great because they include harmful industrial seed oils and synthetic vitamins that are bad for baby.
But I didn’t want to deprive her of milk... and I was starting to get desperate.
I immediately thought back to how my midwife had connected me with a milk donor just days after I had given birth. I had been exhausted and delirious from postpartum sleep apnea and she recommended this stranger’s milk so that my mom could bottle-feed Della at night while I caught up on some sleep.
I quickly sent my sister to this stranger’s house in East Austin to collect it, which she said it felt like a back alley drug deal. But those six bags of milk were a godsend and a much needed solution for my sanity!
This opened my mind to the idea that other mamas might have excess milk, so I put out the call on social media to friends, family, and my mommy community.
Six moms fed my baby. Well, seven including me which really brings a whole new meaning to the phrase: it takes a village. Six powerful, generous, and loving moms donated their milk so Della could grow healthy and strong.
First was the stranger in East Austin. Second was our Serenity Kids’ affiliate manager with a ten month old. Third was our COO’s wife with an 18-month old. Fourth was a church friend who donated over a hundred bags. Fifth was my cousin who overnight shipped us two huge boxes from Kentucky. And sixth was a total stranger that heard my cry and generously offered her surplus.
It is such a massive relief to know my baby is getting this liquid gold, even if it isn’t always from me. I am so grateful to all the women who were willing to share their milk with my baby. I know all too well how tedious pumping can be so their willingness to donate speaks volumes to how supportive moms are of each other.
Little Della is now 8 months old, latches very well, and has sipped down to the last bag of her donated breast milk which we've been using alongside our baby food pouches. I can never express my gratitude enough to all the women who supported us and to the organizations out there like Mothers Milk Bank of Austin, La Leche League, or Human Milk 4 Human Babies and more, who continue to support struggling moms.
We’re all in this. Together.