Having worked in the adoption field for several years now (13-ish), I can think of exactly zero times where I heard anyone around me (coworkers or clients) discuss the idea of a birth mother pumping breastmilk for their child they placed for adoption.
In 2019, as the Director of Absolute Love, I was working with a wonderful mom who was placing her child for adoption. Having breastfed her other child, she inquired about pumping and sending her breast milk to her child’s adoptive family once the baby was born.
As a former breastfeeding mother, my first instinct was YES!
And then I pumped my breaks.
(no pun intended, ha!)
I thought, wait a minute, is this even possible!?
I feel silly now for even thinking about this from the perspective of “IF” this is possible. Of course it is possible. The question was how?
My first step was asking her why. What was her motivation for wanting to do this? Her answer would help me assess how important this was for her so that I knew how I would be supporting her. When asked, she said:
YES! I was in.
Next on my to do list was approaching the family to inquire about their comfort level, and to provide some education about the process. We discussed the benefits of breastmilk including:
Antibodies to boost immune system,
Easy to digest,
Chages in composition over time for the intended child specifically, and more….
To learn more about the benefits of breastmilk, click here.
The family involved in this match were real gems of humans which I think is the main reason this outcome was possible. They really authentically valued the birth mother as a person and as an extension of their future family if she chose to place with them. So, they were curious, and open to her request, and wanted time to think about it. They were of more moderate means so their biggest concern was actually the funding to get the milk to them (they lived far enough away that shipping would be required.)
The adopting family connected with their pediatrician and research so they could ask any questions to ensure they were comfortable.
The expectant mother was able to use her insurance to get a pump for free. We used a public wishlist to get her a hands-free nursing bra and milk storage bags to ensure she had the supplies needed to be successful.
We figured out the best way to ship was to use the frozen (and dated) bags of milk and to pack inside of styrofoam coolers. We asked friends of the agency if they had any unused foam coolers or ice packs to share, and let me tell you, they did!
We packed the frozen milk bags with several long lasting ice packs in the foam cooler, taped up the seams, and then put inside of a cardboard shipping box. We made sure to drop it off just before the very last pickup of the day to ensure the least amount of time sitting in the can or in transport that day. Thanks to our local post office for this tip!
We shipped overnight and spent around a hundred dollars to do it. The first shipment was enough for a month’s supply of milk. Because we are a nonprofit and accept donations, we had funding left from our Erie Gives Day fundraising efforts that year. We were able to cover the costs of this shipment, which made us feel warm and fuzzy!
This birth mom was able to pump for several weeks before she felt ready to stop. For her it was therapeutic. Every time she pumped, she felt she was doing something active to care for her daughter, and it helped ease her grief and loss postpartum.
The fact that the family was open to receiving the milk was a massive effort in building trust and connection between the two families and the child. What a gift for the child to know her families collaborated in such a way.
Not all women placing children will want to pump breast milk, and not all families will be open to it. But being a part of a story where a strong mom wanted it, a beautiful adopting family received it and a community who wanted to support this mother’s dream rallied… that was magical.