From Volunteer to Staff to Milk Donor: Zarina’s Milk Bank Journey

Nurse and lactation consultant Zarina tells the story of her milk bank journey, from volunteer to lab staff to donor.

It was the hot summer of 2018. We had just moved to the states from Israel, where I worked as a registered nurse (RN) in the nursery for six years, and as an interim director of the lactation department at one of the hospitals in northern Israel.

Full of excitement and understanding that my way towards becoming a certified RN in the states might be a bit long, I started my journey in Boston.

First stop was to go to the annual conference of the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition that fall. I was there alone and didn’t know anyone, but it didn’t matter—I was living the dream.

Signing up to volunteer

During one of the breaks, I saw the Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast table, and there was Ann Marie, the Director of Community Relations. As someone who learned so much about the milk bank in Boston during my lactation counselor course back in Israel, my mind was blown. I carefully stepped towards the stand, shy and nervous, and asked Ann Marie if they might be in need of an eager volunteer. She looked at me and smiled, and gave me her personal card. She told me to give her a call. Long story short, I became a volunteer. I could not believe that I was part of that magnificent organization. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and soon enough, I felt like I was a part of the milk bank family.

Joining the staff

Only a few months later, an opportunity came up: I got a phone call from Naomi Bar-Yam, Executive Director at the time, who offered me work as one of the lab technicians.

“Me?” I asked her, surprised. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she gracefully laughed over the phone.

This was real; she really meant it. “OF COURSE!” I shouted at her.

Zarina's lab coatAnd there I was, processing milk, wearing my own robe with my name embroidered on it. An official staff member of the milk bank!

For me—as an IBCLC and a mom who had breastfed and pumped, knowing and understanding the difficulty and joy that comes with breast milk—working in the lab was above and beyond my wildest dreams. I felt amazed by the fact that I was taking this precious milk, carefully pouring it, measuring it, and making sure it stayed as clean as possible, knowing it would be feeding babies all around the country. Every day at the lab, I felt so fortunate to be granted such wonderful opportunity. This was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

Just a few short months after, I had passed my NCLEX exam. My process of becoming an RN in the states had come to an end, and I was ready to restart my nursing career again and become a labor and delivery nurse. It was then that I had to say goodbye to the lab. But I knew that my journey there had not yet ended.

Becoming a milk donor

On September 26th, 2020, I gave birth to my beautiful third child, Maya. She was seven pounds of joy and love, and a very good breast feeder on top of all. My maternity leave with her was soon ending, and as I was getting closer to going back to work, I started storing milk. One bag after another, things were being moved out of the freezer to make more room for my milk. Soon enough I found myself buying a big separate freezer just to store all that milk I had worked so hard to make.

The day before my first shift at work, I opened the freezer and stared at it, absolutely amazed by the enormous amount of milk I had there—1120 ounces staring back at me (and I was worried I wasn’t making enough milk, huh!).

I knew at that moment what my next step would be—calling my old friends from the milk bank, and asking to donate my own milk.

A brief process of screening and testing, and I was in.

Last stop in the milk bank journey

I took one big cooler and placed my precious milk in it. It was so heavy I could barely lift it off the floor, but the thought of my own milk going to feed other sweet babies gave me the push I needed.

I was so thrilled by the time I pulled over at the milk bank. I had the giant cooler on one hand, and Maya on the other. I rang the bell, and someone opened the door. I didn’t know her, but then again, it had been over a year since I last worked there. I asked if Jane Norris, the Director of Human Resources and Administration, was still working there (as she was one of my best friends), and she was!

She came over to the door, a bit confused by the funny request, wondering who the donor was who was looking for her specifically. But then she saw me, and Maya, and the giant cooler, and right behind her mask, I could see a big smile coming up. A big hug, a small chat, and everything came back to me.

It was that moment when I had come full circle, from volunteer to donor at Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast.

I will always have huge appreciation towards the milk bank, and I am so happy I can still support it, just in a different way this time.

Thank you for all the good you do.

Forever at your service,

Zarina Paltiel Gabay

Screening to become a breast milk donor is an easy four-step process. Once accepted for donation, milk can be shipped for free door-to-door or through one of our donor milk depots throughout the Northeast.