One of my jobs is volunteering at the donor depot for the milk bank. I run the program at Providence St Vincent's hospital. (We also have a donor site at the Newberg Providence where I learned how to do facilitate the process.) I have been processing donated milk since last September, but today was very different than any other donation I have had before. Today I had the honor of packaging up the milk a mother donated after she lost her baby born at 23 weeks gestation. The baby lived for many days even though she had little chance of survival, and the mama selflessly pumped every 3 hours every day she was alive. Today I ran around the hospital as I normally do, collecting boxes, dry ice, packing materials, and running for Fed Ex by 3 pm (this is typical donation day fare). However today I felt like I had donated organs in my cooler boxes, just awaiting a life to save.
Preterm breastmilk is an amazing substance biochemically. The colostrum that a new mother produces cannot be duplicated in terms of immune properties, and it is the most life giving food source (some would say 'medicine') you can give a fragile baby struggling for life. It is ironic to me that the milk that was made for this baby that didn't have much of a chance in life, will now be used to save perhaps multiple babies' lives. This seemed especially precious to me today. Not just thanking a young mother who is going home without her baby (but with a new title of 'milk donor' to ease a bit of the pain of her loss) but looking at the milk, being grateful for the gift itself, and mindful of each moment she took to collect it, label it, store it, and bring it with her on donation day.
The hospital works together collaboratively to make the donor depot happen. The lactation clinic donates much of the what is needed including space, a phone line, and packing materials to support the process. The lab donates their time in collecting blood samples (that accompany the milk for testing before the milk is used), processing and spinning it, and storing it in our own section of the fridge labeled 'milk bank'. The laser clinic donates the use of their dry ice (a commodity not that easy to come by or handle) as we couldn't find a source small enough to use for this process without a lot of waste. The Denver bank pays for all the rest of the process, including the shipping. With all these parts making up the whole, we had a quietly reflective group today of participants. Everyone I told about the donated milk today was somber, thoughtful, and perhaps reflective on the value of life and health. Except for one lab worker who thought we should have done more to celebrate the mom who was so brave to offer her milk to strangers. I agree, and we are working on a way to honor her without giving out her information.
It was curious to me that just as I was leaving there was mention of a notice from the NICU that they were getting low on preterm breastmilk and that Denver was running low as well. Just in time, I thought. The boxes should get there tomorrow, processing could happen in a few short days, and that milk could be going right back to Portland to to be used for our babies in the NICU at St V's. Seems fitting I think.