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.

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.