On risk, part one

9 Nov

After a month or so of breastfeeding and pumping, it became quite clear to me I was going to have a great abundance of milk. We had all of the reserve I needed for Unicorn in case of an emergency (and then some), enough for when I was at work, and still I was pumping to avoid great discomfort. My freezer began overflowing with glass bottles and little bags that would come flying at me any time I went for a popsicle (not cool). At this point in time, I decided to start donating milk.

There are a few ways you can donate. One is to donate to Prolacta Bioscience, a for-profit milk bank. I think Prolacta Bioscience is corrupt and evil, in that way that any for-profit company selling a human necessity and making millions is. The next is to donate to HMBANA, a bank that screens donors, pasteurizes milk, and then sends it to babies in the NICU. This milk isn’t free (it also doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars like the milk from Prolacta), but it does go to the tiniest, most vulnerable babes. The final option is an “informal” milk share, where you can post with a need/want for milk, or just respond to posts from others, start a discussion, and swap milk. I really liked this option, because it was free for the family needing milk, went with my belief in mutual aid, and allowed a lot of freedom for all parties, so I went to Human Milk for Human Babies  and started talking to people.

As soon as I started sharing this with friends, I was sent this article about how breast milk purchased online was full of salmonella and other bacteria with a note like “Thought you should know about this one…”

Essentially, scientists assert that people buying milk from the internet cannot be certain that the milk is a) human milk (or any kind of milk for that matter) or b) not a cesspool of microorganisms waiting to pounce on their child’s wee immune system. I freaked out for a minute. I thought about stopping donating milk, because I didn’t want to get any babies sick. I couldn’t imagine being in a place where you were trusting someone else to help feed your kid only to have them contract a horrid disease.

Then I remembered I am not trying to turn a profit on what I am giving away, and am certainly not selling anything on the internet. Then I realized that every ounce I pump I do so with my Unicorn in mind first and foremost. Once they are set for the time I am away for work (and I recount my frozen backup 50 ounces) I give milk to another family. You bet your ass I am washing my hands, boiling my equipment, chilling the milk, and doing my damnedest to ensure that my beloved Unicorn’s food is not tainted. The last shipment I sent away, I packed the milk up carefully with icepacks, cold bags, and a cooler. I would have trusted that milk with my own child. Why did I feel so guilty and anxious giving it to someone else?

This feeling–not the particular terror of giving someone else’s baby ebola, but the anxiety of doing things the wrong way–is not unfamiliar to me. We had a home birth. Any time I came in contact with a doctor or nurse, I was told about how I could die, my baby could die, my house could catch fire, or some other horror could transpire. Overall, I was confident in my choice. My midwife is probably one of the most wise and intelligent people I have spent significant time with. I met every ounce of criteria for being low risk. That said, every so often I would start to feel a creeping anxiety about making the wrong choice.

Is it possible I am a completely reckless person?

What will happen if [xyz] horrible thing happens?

I ended up having a healthy, magical home birth that made me want to have many more babies. I also came to a realization about how we are socialized to understand risk in this world, especially with regard to medical choices.

The Western Medical Industrial Complex has sold us a concept that all things done outside its realm are risky, dangerous, and overall not advisable. Things done within the doors of pharmacies, doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other sanctioned areas may have a slew of side effects, but they aren’t anything like the risks you encounter with any of those traditional medicines that have been healing people for thousands of years on a slice of the same budget.

And that is where I come to a simple, trite sounding truth that I want to scream from a tall building. Life is full of risks. The thing about living in a world with massive corporate control is that some risks will be emphasized over and over (and over and over and over and over and over). Typically those risks do not make people in big tall buildings wearing power suits lots of money.

Don’t believe me? Ask your nearest person that has given birth how many doctors, nurses, media sources, etc. informed them as to how their chance of receiving risky medications, unnecessary interventions, or surgery was increased dramatically by giving birth in a hospital without a midwife or a doula.

I have heard a lot about the perceived risks of breastfeeding. A baby may not thrive on a parent’s milk production alone. They may get an allergy. They may never take a bottle. They may grow up to be “strange”, “overly attached”, or my personal favorite: HOMOSEXUAL. I have also heard that I may spread horrible diseases to my baby if I pump milk and have it fed to them. I have not heard about the potential dangers of formula feeding.

This isn’t to say some babies don’t need formula, or that formula has no place in this world. However, there are big powerful people that make A LOT of money selling formula as an easy, risk-free fix all for infant feeding. But what about severe allergies, or factory mixups, tampering, or product recalls? Those things happen all of the time, and formula is not exempt.

I could go on, but the point isn’t to argue about what behavior takes more risks, it is that there are risks to all choices and we make the best ones we can based on our personal circumstances. For the families I share with, they have decided that donor milk from someone that drinks some (not much) alcohol/caffeine, abstains from dairy, does not smoke, takes vitamins, and eats a mostly plant based diet is a good source of nourishment for their kid. Someone else may choose different. The reason why corporately influenced medicine is so dangerous is because it will leverage influence over practitioners and slick advertising campaigns to make people believe any alternative is so full of risk and inefficacy that they are ridiculous for treading that way.

And with that, I continue to make the intimate personal choice to donate milk. I know that most families cannot afford to buy milk at the high costs of Prolacta, and also cannot access the supplies of HMBANA. I trust that they have weighed their options and make their choices with the same goal I have: healthy babies.

Post script: Perhaps the hardest part in the milk donation process was when I was ready to arrange a sustained donation (I would give everything I was able to a family on a regular basis) to a family, and they asked “Do you have a boy or a girl?” When I told them how I has raising the Unicorn, they told me they had concerns about my “lifestyle” and refused the donation. 

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