Trina Hooker- Wife, Mom, Entrepreneur, Breast Cancer Survivor

Guest blog form Trina Hooker, Author of Healthy Otherwise

Hello Share The Drop!

I am honored that you have asked me to write a little bit about my story. My name is Trina. I am a Breast Cancer survivor (diagnosed at 29, the day after my first baby was born in 2019) and a mom of two beautiful girls, among other things. Anyone who knows my story, knows the story cannot be told without talking about my donor milk experience.

In the weeks after receiving my diagnosis while we were preparing to start my chemotherapy regimen (which would permit me from breastfeeding), a few people reached out to me offering to donate breast milk. Wow, what an incredible offer…but can we do that? In all my research prior to having a baby I found many resources for breastfeeding tips and tricks as well as support for mothers who chose to formula feed, but no one seemed to be talking about donor milk. Our first daughter arrived three and a half weeks early, just barely a preemie, qualifying her for a donor milk prescription. We also used donor milk at the hospital. These are such wonderful resources, but the cost of the donor milk from the milk bank is quite expensive ($4/oz in 2019) and the milk is pasteurized. A baby averages 25-35 ounces of milk per day in their first year. Some quick math on that puts the cost of milk bank donor milk anywhere from $36,500 to $51,100 just for the first year. Whew. Not to mention the pasteurization process really strips the breast milk of a good amount of the incredible nutrients that breast milk provides. Due to the cost of the donor milk and the reduced nutritional benefits of the milk we became very interested in donor milk. Turns out there is an incredible (and quite large) community of women out there trying to help other parents feed their babies with breast milk.

Two of my cousins who had newborns at the time shipped me breast milk, one of which ended up donating over 10,000oz to us – pumping, freezing, packing, shipping – an act of kindness I will never be able to get over. She is now my daughter’s Godmother :-). I also connected with the Texas chapter of Human Milk 4 Human Babies (HM4HB). When I was looking for breast milk in the HM4HB group I learned about Third Strand Foundation. Third Strand is an incredible organization that screens (at a very high level) and provides two months (approx. 10 gallons or almost 1300 oz) of unpasteurized breast milk to newborns for any mother that is unable to breastfeed due to death or illness. Recently, they have expanded into providing milk for adopted infants as well. By the time I learned about their mission my first daughter was too old for their donor program but they helped feed my second daughter! I have lost count of the number of women who have donated to our girls and I am forever grateful to every single one of them grateful to every single one of them.

In the donor milk community, the milk is never sold. People can offer to help replace freezer bags, breast pump parts or any supplies needed for a mother to pump and store the milk but the milk itself is always donated. For anyone that has ever pumped, you know what a labor of love the process is. This makes for such a generous, kind hearted and graceful community of people who are truly just coming together to help each other out.

I am sure many of you are thinking, why breastmilk? Why not just switch to a formula? Well to be honest, when we first learned I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed I assumed we would just switch to formula. But I was blessed to have people who wanted to donate to us and then I found this incredible community of women that wanted to help. This community of donors and people helping other people was exactly what we needed through my treatment. I loved the connections I made with other moms and the support and encouragement I would get any time I posted in search of milk. The more I learned and the more I connected with others, the more I knew I wanted to keep feeding my babies with donor milk. Since breast milk was our original preference, it felt so good to be able to still give our baby breastmilk even if it wasn’t coming from me. It provided me with an added sense of control over an uncontrollable situation. In fact, we had such a good experience with my first daughter that my second daughter was also fed 100% by breast milk donors.

However you choose to feed your baby is wonderful. Fed truly is best. But we all deserve to know and understand all of our available options when it comes to caring for our babies. If you want to give your baby breastmilk but cannot produce/produce enough for any reason, there are safe options for you! It shouldn’t take a cancer diagnosis for us to learn about this incredible community. Milk sharing is not just for moms with cancer or an illness that “qualifies” you for donor milk. All families are eligible, whatever your circumstances.

I know it can feel scary and overwhelming screening donors and accepting milk from someone you meet on the internet. That’s why education is key to sourcing milk. Share The Drop has put together great resources for recipients and donors. I also love how their app prompts you to create a profile and through a series of questions helps you define your donation preferences. If your baby has an allergy or you prefer milk from mommas who do not drink alcohol (for example), you can select that preference right away. I felt so overwhelmed by the kindness of any mother who wanted to share their milk with me that at times it felt kind of awkward to then pester them with questions about their diet. Share the Drop has created a user friendly way to list your preferences up front creating transparency between donors and recipients.

Share the Drop also uses a geolocation feature to connect you with moms in your area. HM4HB was an incredible resource for me but there is a chapter for each state which can sometimes make it difficult to find donors within driving range. This location feature would also be super helpful while traveling. I am not sure if you have ever tried to bring frozen breast milk on a road trip or on an airplane but it is not ideal! I actually have driven from Texas to North Carolina more than once with a styrofoam cooler full of breast milk making a stop every so often to pick up dry ice and top off the cooler. But that is a story for a different blog post…

Share the Drop is an incredible addition to the milk sharing resources out there. By creating a profile in the app and using the geolocation feature they help “match” you to donors in your area that meet the requirements you are looking for! From there you can connect to the donor directly, message back and forth and create a relationship to confirm y’all are a good fit for one another.

This wonderful app was created after both my girls made it through their first year, but we are hopeful for more children in the future. Whenever that time comes I will certainly join the Share the Drop community officially and look forward to using their app features to make more wonderful connections with donors. My gratitude for the milk sharing community is truly immeasurable and I am a huge fan and supporter of anyone who has made it their mission to further normalize the sharing of breast milk.

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