Gestational carrier provides milk for babies born via surrogacy

Erin Graham suffered six bouts of mastitis and a subsequent antibiotic allergy while breastfeeding her firstborn. Moreover, when her daughter was just five weeks old, Graham required emergency surgery for gallstones she’d developed. The care team reported that she would need to pump and dump her milk on account of the anesthesia, but Graham made a point to connect with a lactation care provider who dispelled this misinformation.

Photo courtesy of Erin Graham

Despite it all, Graham persevered and went on to breastfeed her daughter for a year.

When her son came along, breastfeeding proved much easier.

“Breastfeeding my son was a piece of cake,” she recalls.

Becoming a mother was the most transformative and defining experience of her life, Graham goes on to say. So, when she witnessed friends and family members struggling to create and grow their own families, she felt especially touched and inspired. That’s when she applied to become a gestational carrier (surrogate). Graham has given birth to three babies as a gestational carrier since then and has pumped milk after each pregnancy.

The decision to pump milk for her surrogate babies started with a simple conversation early on in the surrogacy process, during match meetings where prospective surrogates and intended parents connect. Graham says there was never any pressure from any parties.

“It was all just gratitude and positivity,” she remembers. The first intended mother she worked with would even make her snacks to help keep her energy up while pumping around the clock.

During her first two experiences, the families were local, so they would coordinate meet ups to drop off the milk. She and her family became quite close to both of the families, so she found herself sometimes pumping at their houses during get togethers.

After her final surrogacy, Graham and the family coordinated shipping through FedEx, and while Graham says she’s  heard horror stories of lost and thawed milk upon arrival, she never experienced any of these misfortunes.

When one of the families decided that they no longer needed Graham’s milk, she was connected to another family whose surrogate was unable to provide milk. Graham wasn’t ready to wean, so she provided milk for this infant instead. It’s one of her favorite infant feeding stories.

Graham shares how her experiences breastfeeding and pumping were so different. While breastfeeding, Graham says she never thought about how many ounces of milk she produced; instead, she focused on her babies’ cues. While pumping, she didn’t have the babies’ cues to prompt her, so she’d rely on an alarm and found that she became quite focused on her output. Pumping also required her to hone in on her organizational skills, making sure the freezer bags laid just right so that she could store and package them most efficiently.

Graham has remained deeply connected to the infertility and surrogacy space and has worked for a surrogacy agency and fertility marketplace where she helped both intended parents and surrogates find the agencies and clinics that fit their particular needs and desires.

In order to best serve her clients, Graham recently completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC).

Having had the vastly different experiences of directly breastfeeding her own babies and pumping milk for her surrogate babies, now coupled with the LCTC training, Graham offers a unique perspective to her clients.

Graham has been featured in a GoStork Q&A where she offers more of her experience as a surrogate and fertility care advisor. You can find that here.

The breastfeeding-friendly baby shower

My oldest daughter was perusing through her baby book the other night and discovered an exhaustive list of the gifts we’d received at my baby showers. Without dismissing how incredibly generous our guests were, looking back, I’d deem 90 percent of the items we received (many of which I’d registered for) useless.

Then I remembered a dear friend of mine who participated in and later facilitated a wonderful, meaningful baby sprinkle activity.

Photo by Townsend Walton

The invitation’s poem read:

Bring two matching beads 

We’ll put them on a string

For Super Mom _____ to the hospital to bring (tweak for other birthing spaces)

Armed with our bead string, she’ll have our thoughts near 

When she brings forth a child…. So dear! 

One of the beads was strung onto a necklace for the mother and the other beads were strung onto bracelets for the guests to wear until the baby was born as a way to send prayers or manifest positivity during pregnancy, birth and beyond.

How I wish I had an artifact such as this to cherish in exchange for the heaps of plastic I’d acquired at my shower!

Now, as a baby shower guest, as tempting as darling baby outfits and beautifully printed blankets are, I generally opt for gifting some of my favorite breastfeeding books like Gill Rapley’s Baby-Led series. Knowledge is an incredible gift and it will never make its way to a landfill.

Pondering more about meaningful gifts for expecting parents and their babies, I got to thinking about how the baby shower is a microcosm of parenting culture. The avalanche of baby bottles, pacifiers, swaddling blankets and other gadgets and technology instigate detachment from baby rather than bonding. So, this week, we’ve compiled suggestions on how to make a baby shower breastfeeding-friendly along with ways to use this celebration as a source of education for parents and their guests.

 

Affirmation activity 

Provide seed paper or other stationary for guests to record birth and breastfeeding affirmations to be gifted to parents.

Photo by Ermias Tarekegn

Breastfeeding in pop culture game 

Show clips of breastfeeding and parenting in pop culture and ask participants to name that show. Some examples:  General Hospital, Sesame Street, Modern Family, Blackish, The Office, Rugrats, Mr. Rogers (around 3 minutes into video)

Feeding cues game

This feeding cues game can be adapted for baby shower guests. Not only is it important for new parents to recognize feeding cues, other caregivers need to understand when it’s ideal to feed the baby as well. If those attending the shower understand feeding cues, they’ll know just when to hand back the baby to be fed!

Help for parents sign up 

Use the baby shower gathering to post a meal train, house chores, or childcare for older siblings sign up sheet. You could also use this opportunity to gather other helpful postpartum resources.

Decorating and desserts

Swap baby bottles and other gadgets for breasts.  Please note, it is advised to exercise care when dealing with breast models in childbirth and breastfeeding education as the symbolic dismembering of the female body can carry powerful negative messages, and the same care should be considered in this case. That said, these colorful, cloth breasts could be used to decorate or given out as party favors!

Try making breast cupcakes in all shapes and sizes or these fun cookies for a special treat.

Breastfeeding bingo and other lactation games

These breastfeeding bingo sheets adapted by the Missouri Dept. of Health & Senior Services could be easily tweaked for a baby shower game. Many of the activities presented in Linda J. Smith’s Coach’s Notebook: Games and Strategies for Lactation Education can also be adapted.

Try this kahoot game here or create your own breastfeeding-friendly questions. Participants can play from their smartphones.

Phone tree game

The Grandmothers’ Tea curriculum has several interactive learning activities. The phone tree activity in particular can be adapted for a baby shower game with points and prizes.

Feed me game 

Similar to popular taste testing games at baby showers, this game was inspired by Gill Rapley’s activity at an International Breastfeeding Conference to bring attention to babies’ autonomy.

Ask participants to partner up. Set out several pureed baby food jars in front of each pair. Each partner takes a turn spoon-feeding the mush to their partner. Open up  a discussion about what it was like to be the feeder and what it was like to be fed. For more information about baby-led weaning visit https://www.ourmilkyway.org/the-baby-led-way/.

Books

It is becoming increasingly popular for books to be requested in lieu of cards.

The invitation poem often goes:

In lieu of a card, please bring

Your favorite childhood classic.

Let’s build a library for _____

That will be fantastic!

So instead of a card,

to baby and mother,

please give a book,

with your thoughts in the cover.

Photo by Helena Lopes

Consider purchasing a book that depicts and normalizes breastfeeding. Some options include Katie Morag, Noey Loves Nursing, A Mother’s Milk, The Creator’s Gift and First Sacred Food developed by Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, Inc. (GLITC), or check out this list.

Breastfeeding-friendly cards

If you are interested in sending a card, check out Dr. Tangela L. Boyd’s greeting cards which include text that reads:

“Wishing you all the best and hoping that mom will nourish you with the milk from her breasts.”

“Breastfeeding is a precious gift. Hoping you will receive all the love and nourishment that only mom can give!”

“Now that you are here, enjoy breastfeeding for as long as you and mom desire!”

Find Dr. Boyd’s cards here.

Labor as a labyrinth 

Denise Reynolds, a doula and Birthing From Within Mentor, wrote Labor as a Labyrinth inspired by a Birthing From Within concept developed by Pam England. Pass out or have participants design a labyrinth to follow along with mother’s journey.

Please tell us what other ideas you have for making a baby shower educational and meaningful. You can email us at info@ourmilkyway.org or write in the comments section below.