Donated By Who? Donor Milk & The Fight For Life

Donated by who - donor milk's role in the fight for life

Just 28 weeks and 2 lbs. . . .

Jodi was slowly coming out of the haze from the drugs she had required while doctors fought for her life and the life of her daughter Jenna. Jenna was born by emergency C-section at 28 weeks weighing just over 2 lbs. Three days later, Jodi still hadn’t seen her daughter, and they were briefing her on what to expect. Nothing they said could have prepared her for how tiny Jenna was. Jodi could barely see her daughter’s face; it was so obstructed by medical gear. Her skin was so light, it was almost translucent. Jodi was too afraid to hold her that first time. “I felt so fragile, so utterly broken, I didn’t trust myself.” 

The next day, Jodi told her obstetrician, “There is something wrong with me. I’m the worst mother. I finally met Jenna yesterday and I didn’t even hold her. I didn’t see her for days and I don’t even know if I asked about her. What is she eating? I had planned to nurse her . . .” 

“You are a great mom,” her OB told her. “You and I went to war together. And we came out the other side. We were both fighting for both of your lives. And you are both here today. You did your part. You did everything right. And Jenna came out kicking. That’s the feistiness we want to see in a preemie. That’s the spirit she needs.” 

Donated milk? Donated by who?

Her doctor went on to explain that Jenna was being fed donor milk.  

“Donated by who?!” Jodi exclaimed. Like so many parents, donor milk was a new concept to her.  

Her OB explained that donor milk is the best and safest food option for many preemies if they don’t yet have a maternal milk supply. He explained to her about the safety protocols, the importance of the nutrients in donated milk and how it would help protect Jenna from other complications. Jodi felt relief wash over her.  

If she could express her gratitude to the women who donated milk in support of babies like tiny, spunky Jenna, Jodi would tell them, “Thank you for giving of yourself. For providing what Jenna needed when I couldn’t. Thank you for being so selfless, for giving something so personal to someone you don’t even know. She had the best milk available, donated milk. And for that I’m so thankful.”

If I can only save one of them . . .

Jenna’s birth was nothing that Jodi ever expected. Her pregnancy had been smooth and easy. Then at 28 weeks, she experienced some symptoms that she didn’t initially recognize as signs that both she and Jenna were at severe risk. Jodi got a bloody nose that wouldn’t stop. Her stomach felt hard and uncomfortable, and she couldn’t eat. And yet, without eating much, she had sudden weight gain. Her urine turned orange. And then her vision went double and blurry. As those symptoms progressed, she realized she had to see her doctor. He realized her blood pressure was dangerously high. Not wanting it to spike from anxiety, he lied and told Jodi his sonogram machine was broken. She would need to go to the hospital instead.

In hindsight, it all seems so obvious. Jodi remembers the way people seemed to be waiting for her at the hospital. There was no check-in and a private elevator ride. Suddenly, her doctor is explaining that she will be having her baby prematurely. He is telling her, “You will be ok. She will be ok.” And that’s all Jodi remembers until three days later. Thankfully it isn’t until much after that she learned that the doctor asked her mother, “If I can only save one of them, who do you want me to choose?” 

Conditions and complications . . .

Unbeknownst to her, which is often the case, Jodi was experiencing preeclampsia. This pregnancy condition is marked by sudden high blood pressure and often high levels of protein in the urine, which can be indicative of kidney damage. She also experienced the less common HELLP syndrome. A rare liver and blood clotting disorder, this pregnancy complication can prove fatal. None of these things were Jodi’s fault. She didn’t cause them and could not have prevented them. But that didn’t stop her from feeling guilty. 

“I felt like I let her down. I wanted to have the pregnancy and birth that every mom wants and expects. The only one we generally ever see or imagine. I wanted everything to go right for both of us. But it didn’t. And it’s hard not to feel like a failure. It sometimes creeps in even now, five years later, when I read a report about how Jenna is doing. Even though she’s great! She still has challenges and I feel bad about that.” 

Congratulations – there are some things you should always celebrate . . .

Jenna is five years old now, with a zest for life. “She is smart, happy, friendly, and social. She loves to ride horses, swim, and do gymnastics. She’s sassy and lets us know her opinions. That’s the feistiness she has had since birth.” 

Jodi now works with other moms who are navigating the NICU, helping them find the resources and support they need. She begins by telling them, “Congratulations!” She explains, “I don’t think people say that enough to parents in the NICU. I wasn’t even sure it was what I wanted to hear at first. But my husband helped me see it differently. He told me, “We made a life together. She’s beautiful, she’s feisty, she’s letting everyone know she’s here. We should celebrate that . . .” 

If your baby received donated milk in the hospital, we would love to hear from you. We are on a mission to help parents be more prepared for the unexpected places birth can take you. Sharing your experiences is a gift that can help other parents understand their options and decide what is best for them and their baby. And can also help fight against those all-too-common feelings of guilt. Reach out to us here to share your story, send pictures, or offer a few words of encouragement and support. 

A baby girl sleeping soundly in her car set
A happy little girl enjoying her horse riding lesson

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