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A Dad Shares His Family's Experience With Donor Milk

Birdie just turned 18 months old. She only gets milk at night time now, before bed while we snuggle on the couch in her room and talk about her day. She loves her milk and as soon as we start to pick out pajamas and books, she starts to ask (again and again and again) for her "milk-milk."


To commemorate her turning 18 months (I am overly sentimental), instead of giving her the combo of goat's milk and almond milk that she had been getting for the last few weeks, I thawed the very last bag of breast milk from the freezer for her night time bottle. While neither myself or my partner can lactate, we were able to feed Birdie donated breast milk for her first year and a half of life.

While Josh and I knew the health benefits of feeding breast milk to infants, we did not set out to feed Birdie human milk. As two dads who are unable to produce milk ourselves, we assumed our only real option was to give her formula. (For the record, I have absolutely nothing against anyone who has to or chooses to feed their baby formula for any reason.) But shortly after Birdie was born we learned that she was none too pleased about formula. She didn't drink much of it, she spit up half of what she did drink, and it made her gassy and irritable.

We had a small, frozen stash of breast milk donated to us by a friend of a friend that we had planned on giving her sporadically in addition to formula. But after Birdie's first bottle of breast milk, she was hooked. We saw the difference in how easily her body digested the human milk; she wasn't gassy or spitting up and she was eating and sleeping well. So we committed to trying to find more donor milk for her first few months of life, at least until her digestive system caught up and we could give formula a try again.

We were successful and for Birdie's first three months we were able to feed her donated breast milk exclusively. In the months that followed, she grew bigger and her appetite did too. We didn't have enough breast milk to keep up with her demands for more milk so we reintroduced formula and she ate a combination of formula and donor milk.

As Birdie reached the year mark we had stopped actively seeking out donors, as we were able to feed her other kinds of milk and a variety of healthy foods to meet her nutritional needs. We also felt like there were smaller, newer babies in the world who needed donor milk more than our strong and healthy toddler. But one of our repeat donors offered to continue donating to us as long as she was pumping milk for her own son (and additionally she was also donating milk to babies in the NICU). With the generosity of strangers and friends, what started as a hope that we could kick start our baby's first couple of months with the powerful nutrients and antibodies through donor milk lasted a year and a half.

Before Birdie, I didn't know much about milk sharing. I knew that hospitals had milk banks for preemies, I knew that throughout history and in other cultures nursing someone else's baby was not uncommon, and I had friends who had fed their adopted sons donor milk, but my knowledge pretty much ended there.

I didn't know that through milk sharing we would add to our already abundant community of people who want to support and help care for our family. We reached out to our friends who were new moms and they reached out to their lactation and breastfeeding support circles on our behalf. We connected with a group on Facebook called "Human Milk 4 Human Babies," shared our family story, and connected with nursing moms who had more milk than they needed and were willing to share. I don't know how many individuals donated milk to us, but I know we are grateful for every ounce of milk we received. Most donations were a one time deal, someone had pumped more milk than they would ever use, or a baby developed an allergy to dairy and couldn't drink their mother's already pumped and frozen milk. Some of milk came from repeat donors, moms who pumped milk specifically for us, those donors we got to know, met for coffee, Birdie got to have playdates with their babies. Every bag of milk was a donation, no money exchanged hands. These moms - some of whom we had never met before - did this for us out of sheer kindness.

As part of my medical transition, long before I ever knew carrying Birdie would even be a possibility, I had top surgery. For me, that meant an elective double mastectomy and chest reconstruction which resulted in a flat, masculine chest. I do not have any regrets about the decision to have top surgery because of how it not only improved my quality of life immensely, but also because I cannot imagine having been pregnant as a transgender man and also have a chest swollen with milk. (Others have done it, and I commend them for it.)

Just after Birdie was born, when the post-partum hormones really began to kick in, I started dreaming about nursing Birdie. Though the milk had nowhere to go, a small amount came in after she was born and when she would cry or lay skin to skin on my chest it would ache and swell and she would root for it. It absolutely broke my heart. My body wanted to feed her and it couldn't, she wanted human milk and I couldn't give it to her. After caring for her and nourishing her with my body for nine months, I felt terrible for not being able to give her what she needed.

But the truth is there is no way to know if I hadn't had surgery that we would have been able to have a successful nursing relationship. Plenty of cisgender women in my life had children they were not able to feed because their milk supply didn't come in, or it dried up and never came back, or it was too hard, or their baby had allergies.

I know that good parents feed their babies formula, good parents nurse their babies, good parents do a combo of both, good parents use donor milk; we all do what we can do to make sure our children are nourished.

No matter how much I wished I could have, I couldn't nurse Birdie. But I still could give her what she needed by connecting with milk donors, by driving sometimes more than an hour away to pick up milk, by rearranging our freezer countless time to make room for more milk, by counting ounces and thawing the right amount for her daily bottles so none would go to waste, by getting up bleary-eyed in the middle of the night to measure and warm milk in a bottle to give to our daughter. I held my new baby in my arms, snuggled her close and whispered to her as we stared into each others eyes and her belly filled up with the precious gift of donor milk.

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Editor's Note: Below is an essay by Jay Bostick who eloquently lays out many of the reasons why he and many other readers were upset by a post we ran yesterday by Kevin Saunders titled, "Why This Adopted Gay Man Will Never Have Children." This post clearly touched a nerve! (Check out the ongoing discussion on our Facebook page.) While some of our readers appreciated Saunders' viewpoint, many others felt slighted by his reasoning for not having children, calling him everything from "self-involved," "selfish," and an "insufferable narcissist." Many other readers rightly questioned why Gays With Kids would even run an essay from a man who does not want children on (of all place) a parenting website.

The former point is a matter of opinion, but I'll offer some clarification on the latter. We agreed to run this post for two reasons. First, Saunders' perspective is unique among many adopted gay men. We have run countless essays on this site featuring adopted gay men who, inspired by their own upbringing, decided to give back by opening up their homes to children who need them. Saunders' experience, however, led him to conscience decision not to have children, a perspective worthy of discussion particularly by anyone who has been touched by adoption in some way. Secondly, as a 52-year-old gay man, Saunders is starting to find himself alienated from many in his LGBTQ peer group for his decision not to have kids. Again, we are so much more familiar with the opposite perspective on our page: when they become parents, many gay men find themselves ostracized from the broader, childless LGBTQ community. That the inverse is also starting to become true is a testament to the increase in LGBTQ parents in the United States, and an interesting dichotomy we believed warranted further exploration.

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I'm not a monster. Yes, I saw the wagons carrying lovely toddler children waiving their flags and eating their graham crackers. The children were plentiful wearing their Pride family shirts, bejeweled in rainbow. The weather was perfect and the crowds were as prideful as ever. But my husband and I had a day where we didn't have to worry about someone else, not on the constant lookout for the next available bathroom or calming emotions because we could buy one unicorn costume and not every unicorn costume. We had a day without kids.

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Believe me, I get sharing the day with your children. With your family. But in my house, we live Pride every day. Two white dads caring for two black kids makes us walking billboards for equality, love, and acceptance. I don't need a day to celebrate my family with my children. We do it in the grocery store. We do it at preschool. We recognize our uniqueness and celebrate it. My children don't need a meltdown and a long walk to tell them about their history and their fathers' connection to the past.

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I know that being gay and having kids can be overwhelming at times. We ask ourselves if we're representing our community adequately (or have we become too heteronormative?). If we have children of a different race, are we giving them the experiences they need to know who they are, as well as navigate that world with gay parents? Are we so embraced at school functions because of our contributions to community or are we a token family? And yes, I'll ask it, are we good enough for acceptance by all gay families, who as if we're single again, judge each other on wealth, looks, and status? No family is better than any other, and gay parents certainly have opportunities to be better towards one another.

Our Pride ended in a small fight while walking to the car, like all good Pride's should. But it wasn't about kids bickering, or kids getting upset they didn't get the right treat. It was about us centering ourselves in a community that isn't exactly welcoming in certain spaces to gay families other times of the year. It was about us catching up with our past while also seeing our collective future.

And the kids didn't seem to mind. They had fun with a babysitter and lived their Pride out loud when they shopped for daddy and papa gifts for Father's Day. That's our Pride. Maybe when the kids are older, and really get the meaning of Pride, we'll start marching together in solidarity. But for right now, daddies needed a little time alone to reconnect with their LGBT family. And while there may be too many beer ads and not enough voter registration tables, we celebrate visibility and love. And my husband and I had time together, reminding us of who we are, who our original family was, and how we will connect who we are now, and our children, with that family as it grows.

At the end of the day, we're all in it together. And my children will be enriched by the experience. Just not this year. This year, we fertilized our roots so that our branches can grow.

Antwon and Nate became dads through the foster care system. Nine months after becoming licensed, they received a call on a Tuesday, and two days later, their daughter moved in. "It was very quick," said Nate. "Honestly, it was more just shock and nervousness for me."

As new parents, Nate took unpaid leave for two weeks, before going back to work part-time. Antwon didn't receive any leave.

"It's definitely important to have time off to bond, but it's also important to be financially stable when you do it," said Antwon. "I don't think you should have to choose between staying financially afloat or showing your kid love... and I don't think anyone should have to make that choice."

Only 15% of dads in the U.S. have access to paid paternity leave. We want to change this.

Watch Nate and Antwon's video to find out how:

Sign the pledge: www.dovemencare.com/pledge

Like Antwon and Nate, we're helping Dove Men+Care advocate for paid paternity leave for *ALL* dads! Over the next three months, we will be sharing stories of gay dad families and their paternity leave experience. Our goal is to get 100,000 folks to sign the Paternity Leave Pledge.

Dove Men+Care has collected over 30,000 signatures on the Pledge for Paternity Leave in three short months, in a mission to champion and support new legislation for federally mandated paid leave laws in the U.S. With the conversation growing on Capitol Hill, Dove Men+Care will target key legislators to drive urgency behind paid paternity leave policy and provide a social proof in the form of real dad testimonials, expert research and signature support from families across the country.

Our goal is to help Dove Men+Care bring 100,000 signatures to key policymakers in Washington, D.C. for their Day of Action on the Hill, and drive urgency behind this issue.

If you believe *ALL* dads should receive paid paternity leave, sign the Paternity Leave Pledge.

Fatherhood, the gay way

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