Trish Clifford, Co-founder of It’s My Leche on Donating Milk, NICU

When my first son entered the world, with my impending fear still lingering, I was on a mission to pump and  build a milk stash. Thankfully, I was able to exclusively nourish himwith breastmilk and even share some with those who, like me, once harbored fears. Venturing into the underground world of the breastmilk market, I discovered a multitude of babies in desperate need of this precious resource. Driven by a newfound purpose, I invited mothers battling illnesses to my home to load up on bags, providing them with the liquid gold their  babies needed. Foster parents, the unspoken heroes of our society, also received my surplus milk, offering an extra benefit to infants starting life on a challenging note. This journey not only unveiled the need for change in how we approach this process but also revealed the incredible strength and generosity of mothers.

Six months later, a surprise “oopsie” brought another miracle into my life, and I found myself pregnant with my second baby. This time, however, anxiety gripped me tighter. It was March 2020, and the world was on the brink of an unprecedented pandemic and world shutdown. As I tried to navigate my way through motherhood  with a still small seven-month-old and the anticipation of the arrival of a new baby in the midst of this  pandemic, my fears and uncertainty were as profound as ever.

And then, on October 4th, 2020, my second son arrived 3.5 weeks early and was immediately taken away to the NICU while he struggled to breathe independently. Few discuss the profound pain mothers endure, having the most significant joy of their lives kept from them, especially in a time when they anticipated holding their baby after nine long months. Once again, I was alone and scared while trying to grasp onto any feeling of hope I could grab onto. To all the mothers who have felt the uncertainty, fear, and loneliness of such moments,  know that you are not alone. I truly couldn’t have made it through this time without your “I know how you  feel” deep hugs and tears. You are absolute superheroes, resilient in the face of unimaginable challenges, and the world is beyond fortunate to have you.

In those agonizing moments when I couldn’t be with my newborn, my maternal instinct propelled me to  action. A pump became a constant companion in my hospital room, as every two hours, I extracted every ounce of nourishment for my little one that I possibly could. This 10-day pumping marathon became a testament to unwavering dedication to completing the one thing that only I could do for my little one: physically make his food, or as we called it in the NICU, “nature’s best medicine.” 

The surplus of breast milk, a product of those intense pumping sessions, became both a solace and a  complication. A strong letdown posed challenges for my little one latching and successfully breastfeeding, forcing me to adapt and adjust my plans once again. The initial days at home were filled with many moments of balancing my desire to hold and feed him with the reality of my overflowing milk supply. Once again, I was filled  with frustration, sadness, and disappointment in myself for not being able to fully take care of my little one’s needs.

The journey, along with my NICU experience, opened my eyes to a world I hadn’t truly understood. The need  for breastmilk extended beyond my own baby and propelled me to use my unplanned journey to help other  moms and babies who were experiencing the same thing I was. Determined to make a difference, I channeled  my breast milk surplus to mothers and babies sharing the same pain, fear, and uncertainty. The pumping  journey continued, turning my initial breastfeeding experience into an unexpected opportunity to ease the burden for other mothers.

Both of my two very different breastfeeding journeys strengthened my desire to disrupt the current system we  have and ultimately support mothers and babies in any way possible that I can. Not only can I help with providing milk to those in need, but it was time to start being a vocal advocate for breastfeeding mothers, supporting the path each mother chooses that is the best for her child and herself. 

As mothers, we must support each other and stand up for one another when society tells them to do  otherwise. To those who generously share milk, your selfless act indirectly supports and comforts mothers on their unique feeding journeys. You are heroes who are not praised enough for relieving from other mothers a bit of the fear and uncertainty. 

Both journeys didn’t unfold as planned, but I wouldn’t change a single thing. The simple acts—a few ounces of  breast milk, a comforting hug—may seem small, but they mean the world to moms. It’s this unity that makes  us a force to reckon with, a community that understands and is truly the backbone of society. We couldn’t do it without you, and we appreciate you in a way words will never be fully able to express. 

-Trish Clifford  

Co-founder of It’s My Leche



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