A story of lactation and breastfeeding as a ‘Tummy Mummy’

Apryl Yearout, a school psychologist in Washington state, uses her body in powerful ways. For one, Yearout, known as Ariel Pain on the roller derby track, competes as a full contact skater excelling as both a jammer and a blocker.

Used with permission.

Yearout was drawn to roller derby well over a decade ago because of the “incredible community” it offered her.

“I heard ‘I’m proud of you’ and ‘good job’ more than I ever had,” she reflects. “It’s physically demanding and makes you feel strong and capable.”

In another manifestation of her power, Yearout birthed and breastfed her two daughters. Yearout’s eager body produced so much milk that she was also able to donate about 1,000 ounces of milk to local families.

Beyond this, Yearout helped create a family as a gestational carrier, or “tummy mummy” as the intended parents refer to her.

The idea of surrogacy came to her as a few realities collided. She’d anticipated having many more children of her own, but she and her husband divorced when their youngest child was 18 months old. As her children grew and without a new partner, she didn’t feel she was in the position to “start over” again with a baby.

Yearout watched her sister struggle to carry a pregnancy to term for some time, but ultimately, she was able to birth her own baby, so Yearout pursued the services of an agency and matched with a couple in need.

In April 2023, Yearout gave birth to the couple’s son. The baby and her youngest daughter wound up sharing a birth date, fulfilling her daughter’s birthday wish.

As discussed during her pregnancy, Yearout breastfed her surrobaby on occasion, for a few days after the birth while spending time with the new family.

“Overall, it felt like the natural completion of the pregnancy,” she shares. She also predicts it’s why she recovered so well from pregnancy.

Though she and the indented parents had already discussed direct breastfeeding as their plan while possible, Yearout expressed colostrum in the event that the intended parents felt strongly about being the ones to feed their baby first.

Unlike some surrogates, Yearout didn’t struggle with the idea that breastfeeding would create an unhealthy bond with the surrobabe.

She shares: “I was already very connected to this baby. I approached the surrogacy with a mindset that I need to make sure I have the right couple, I need to fall in love with them becasue I know I’m going to fall in love with this baby… physically and emotionally…everything is tied up… he’s not mine, I never felt like he was my child but I still love him… For me, not nursing, not having any breastfeeding experiences would have felt a little incomplete. I think it also would have put a physical strain on my body that could have pulled on those emotions and made it harder. I didn’t like the idea of forcing my body to stop [producing milk].”

The intended parents were not interested in managing the shipment of her milk after they returned home, so Yearout sought out a local family to donate to.

“And I get to see that little one grow up,” she says.

Yearout completed pumping and donating her milk in the autumn of 2023.

“Pumping alone is really hard,” she reports. In contrast, Yearout after a workday pumping for her keepers, she would come home to breastfeed through the night, and her body responded to this interaction much differently.

“When I was just pumping, [production] tapered off a lot faster,” she shares.

Thinking back on her experience as a tummy mummy, Yearout articulates her discomfort with the perception that gestational carriers are compelled solely by financial compensation.

She says in a somewhat joking manner, “I feel like I could sell pictures of my feet for more money.” (Let us note that this is not to diminish the financial burden that surrogacy can cause for many couples looking to create a family.)

“The thing that always bothered me was that people assumed that I did this for the money,” she goes on. “I had other motivations. [The arrangement]  helped me take my kids on a trip we would have never gone on before, but it wasn’t my reason…Money wasn’t a primary motivator but it did come up so often [with others].”

Instead, Yearout sought and found connection.

She comments, “This is what my body is good at and I’m going to use it to benefit other people.”

Yearout and her mom recorded an interview with StoryCorps. Unrelated to surrogacy, it’s a conversation about Native American roots, racism, white privilege, and their relationships with their extended family, and it’s worth a listen. You can find it here.

Fostering connection through technology

Even before Covid-19 forced us to get creative with technology– doulas providing support over Facetime, virtual summits, virtual lactation care visits, and online certifications— so much birth, infant feeding and parenting information and support already existed online. 

Although screens don’t come without risk, they’re a tool to literally meet parents where they are.

In recent months, several noteworthy apps and online resources have emerged, growing and enhancing the information and support available to parents. 

Earlier this month, Global Health Media announced the launch of their smartphone app Birth & Beyond

“Knowing that in-person support of mothers had been curtailed due to coronavirus, we created the app to put our teaching videos right into the hands of mothers and families worldwide,” a Global Health Media newsletter reads. 

The app features 28 videos in 21 languages which can be streamed, downloaded to an offline library, or shared with friends and family. Topics covered include birth, breastfeeding, newborn care, small baby care, and complementary feeding. The app is currently available for Apple iOS phones and soon for Android phones.

In its first month, Birth & Beyond has been downloaded 1,500 times, with the largest number of users in the USA, Australia, UK, and Canada, Global Health Media director Deborah Van Dyke reports. 

The app will continue to be updated with new videos and more languages.

In Fall 2020, we can anticipate the release of Kimberly Seals Allers’ and her team’s app Irth (as in Birth without the ‘B’ for bias), a “Yelp-like” review and rating app for hospitals and physicians made by and for Black women and birthing people of color. 

Irth recognizes that implicit bias is a significant barrier to fair treatment for all; specifically contributing to high Black maternal mortality and Black infant mortality rates, a Tara Health Foundation press release points out. 

The app will allow users to access identity-based reviews which will empower them with peer-based information for health care decision-making.

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has connected parents virtually through videos released with their Global Day of Parents 2020 Statement.

The videos feature parents from Guatemala, Malaysia, Sweden and Zimbabwe sharing their perspectives on parenting and breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The pandemic poses challenges that affect infant feeding both through the lack of support for breastfeeding parents from the healthcare system, workplace and society at large coupled with the exploitation by the breastmilk substitute industry to market their products to vulnerable populations,” WABA’s Thinagaran Letchimanan explains. 

Parents’ stories demonstrate challenges and triumphs, commonalities and differences and highlight the overall need for support.

The WABA statement emphasizes that “parents should have access to support from all levels of society to enable a successful breastfeeding journey” and looks forward to World Breastfeeding Week 2020 as an “important opportunity for society to galvanise actions in support of breastfeeding for a healthier planet.”

“There is an ongoing need to advocate for breastfeeding as a public health intervention that saves lives and prevents infections and illness in the population at large especially in the context of COVID-19,”  Letchimanan emphasizes. “Essentially we need to create a warm chain of support for breastfeeding that considers the needs of all breastfeeding families. Join us in celebrating WBW2020!

Photo by Raul Angel on Unsplash

It’s easy to argue that technology has the potential to disconnect us– eyes cast over glowing screens, swiping, scrolling digits–  but the pandemic has offered a new outlook on how to connect meaningfully through technology. Tools like Birth & Beyond, Irth and WABA’s campaigns promote connection and a shared goal to achieve better health outcomes for families, communities and ultimately our planet. 

There are of course products to be leary about,  such as ‘smart’ diapers embedded with RFID chips that notify caregivers electronically when baby has a wet or dirty diaper. “Convenience” seems valued over connection.

In response to these inventions, Healthy Children Project’s Karin Cadwell PhD, RN, FAAN IBCLC, ANLC replies, snark on point, “This way you don’t have to interact so much. You have the remote to inform you of cries and the diaper to tell you [when] wet. Perfect! The babe can enjoy the $15,000 nursery room and you can watch TV uninterrupted.” 

As lactation care providers, we can help families achieve balance by directing them to reputable resources and channeling technology use for connection rather than distraction or detachment.