I imagined my final farewell to my breast pump would mimic the baseball-bat-to-the-copier-machine scene in “Office Space.” Instead, as I packed it up to pass on to another mom-to-be, I couldn’t stop the tears. Intermittently across five years, that pump was my constant (and annoying) companion. I pumped in bathrooms, offices, cars, hotel rooms and even to, from and in Mexico for five days. As I unexpectedly mourned the end of an era, I thought about my three beautiful babies that pump helped me nourish. I thought about the countless NICU babies, whose names and stories I don’t know but to whom I feel deeply connected, the pump helped me supply donor milk to when they needed it most.
I woke up early and I stayed up late, carefully collecting, recording and storing extra ounces for donation. 1,733 to be exact. But my decision to be a human milk donor has very little to do with me. Instead, credit is due to my lifelong friend Sara Crawford.
Sara and husband, Tom, gave birth to twins, Grady and Wren, on May 6, 2012, at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital. They were born at 32.5 weeks, Grady weighing 3 pounds, 4 ounces, and Wren weighing 3 pounds, 11 ounces. Along with hundreds of family and friends, I had prayed for these babies as the Crawfords battled years of infertility, difficult treatments and, finally, the joyful news of pregnancy. The twins would spend a long four weeks in the NICU at Children’s Hospital gaining strength to go home, with parents both elated and anxious.
Soon after the twins’ birth, Sara and Tom were asked whether they wanted their babies to receive formula or donor human milk until Sara’s milk came in. Offering this choice was a new practice at the hospital and the Crawfords were thrilled.
“My goal was to provide them breast milk, and it allowed me to do so before my body was ready,” said Sara. “I felt like I could still do my best for them; the donor milk filled that gap.”
Grady and Wren had donor milk for about a week until Sara could provide them her own breast milk, fortified with high-calorie formula to help them gain weight. When the babies came home, Sara’s body couldn’t keep up with demand. Her decision to stop breastfeeding was an emotional one, and it made Sara all the more appreciative of the gift of donor milk. Sara hopes breastfeeding moms will think about the reasons they want to provide breast milk to their own babies and then consider the moms with babies in the NICU who don’t have that option right away, or ever.
“They (donors) were blessed with an ability other women wish for,” said Sara. “Donor milk can be a blessing to a mother and a child that could thrive with the nutrition of that extra milk.”
I know how fortunate I was to be able to breastfeed my children, much less have an excess of milk. I knew that blessing had a purpose and Sara helped me find it. Not long after the twins were born, my own first child was nearing a year of age and my freezer was packed with breast milk, Sara sent me an article about the Texas Mothers’ Milk Bank. At the time, donating breast milk through the Texas Bank was the only option for Oklahoma moms. After donors were approved, the milk could be dropped off at The Children’s Hospital, where a Texas Bank courier would pick it up, deliver to Fort Worth to be pasteurized and then send it back out to NICUs across Texas, and our own Children’s. I called the Texas Bank and went through their efficient and thorough donor screening process. Soon after I was approved, my daughter, my mom and I drove to The Children’s Hospital, where a nurse greeted me out front with a cart to wheel 734 ounces of hard work to a freezer to wait for the courier service. I hoped some of that milk would make it back to Children’s.
By the time I was pregnant with my second child in 2013, Oklahoma had opened our very own milk bank, only the 13th in the nation. I toured Oklahoma Mothers’ Milk Bank with a baby boy in my tummy and tears in my eyes, knowing when it was time to donate, all those precious ounces would stay right here in Oklahoma. When I made my final donation after my third child in 2016, OMMB was already providing milk at every major hospital in the state, making it one of the fastest-growing milk banks in history. As of 2017, OMMB provides donor milk regularly to 11 hospitals, including two out of state that don’t have local milk banks. There are also 11 milk depots (drop-off locations) for approved donors, around the state, with three more to be added soon. Since the bank opened, OMMB has processed more than 236,000 ounces of donor milk from 1,200 donors.
Grady and Wren are thriving, happy, soon-to-be kindergartners. Wren loves to eat bacon, play in the sandbox and wants to be a police officer when she grows up. Grady loves to ride his bike, watch “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and listen to his mom sing “Baby Mine” Donor milk was one piece of the puzzle that helped them thrive in their first week of life. Each time I carted my own milk donations across town, I prayed it would find its way to a baby who needed a boost of nutrition and mom who needed to know she wasn’t alone. Sara, Grady and Wren gave me the resolve to keep pumping. For a mom whose baby lies critically ill, unable to breathe on his own or too small to go home, moms like me can give a few extra minutes of our time to provide healing and hope.
Become A Donor
Potential human milk donors can complete an initial interview online, and then will be contacted by an OMMB staff member to answer a few more in-depth questions over the phone. Questions pertain to donor and baby health, as well as type and frequency of medications, alcohol and caffeine consumed. If approved, the potential donor will be mailed a detailed packet containing paperwork to be filled out by the donor, as well as paperwork to be provided to and filled out by the donor’s pediatrician and OBGYN. Also included is a list of labs where the donor can give blood to be tested and paperwork to supply the lab technician, paid for by OMMB. Once the paperwork has been received from the donor and medical professionals and blood work approved, the donor is approved to drop off milk donations at one of 11 milk depots around the state.
There is no minimum or maximum to be donated at one time, but donors are asked to commit to donating a total of at least 100 ounces. Frozen breast milk can be up to six months old when donated if kept in a deep freeze, or 3 months if kept in a regular freezer. Once received by OMMB, the milk is pasteurized and lab tested before being sent to NICUs around the state.
For more information about becoming a milk donor or volunteering at OMMB, visit okmilkbank.org or call 405-297-5683.
Erin Page is an Edmond mom of three and proud milk donor.