Milk Banking: An Interview with Women’s Care Patient, Courtney Robinson

Courtney Robinson was new to the milk donor world when she delivered her first child, Paxton, six years ago. Paxton lived his first week of life in the NICU, and that is when Robinson discovered the world of milk donations. Today, Robinson no longer needs to receive milk for her children. In fact, she now has quite an abundant supply that supports countless families through Northwest Mothers Milk Bank. Here is her story.

Siena Dorman in conversation with Courtney Robinson

January 11th, 2022 – 12:30pm

Dorman: You have three children? Tell me about them.

Robinson: My first is Paxton, he just turned 6. My second is Paislee and she is 4, and the third is Kohen, he is 6 months old.

Dorman: Could you walk me through what a typical day looks like with your family?

Robinson: Paxton is in kindergarten and Paislee is in preschool so we get up, start the day and get off to school. Tuesdays and Thursdays we have karate. Paislee goes half days and Paxton goes full days and inbetween I’m at home with Kohen.

There’s always laundry or dishes or something to do. We’re always on the go. Our neighbors probably think we never stay home.

Dorman: What are some things your family enjoys doing together?

Robinson: We love going to our local coast. We have four wheelers and dirt bikes that we have a lot of fun with. Paislee is learning how to ride the four wheeler right now. We have really good friends that have a huge ranch so we’re always out there. Bonfires and s’mores–just hanging out. We love to let the kids get dirty.

Dorman: For your first two kids you relied on donor milk while in the NICU, what was that like?

Robinson: For my first pregnancy it was really rough at the end. I had preeclampsia so they induced me. I did about 36 hours of labor and had to have an emergency c-section with Paxton. He had a pneumothorax and our local hospital is not equipped for NICU babies at all so he was transferred to Sacred Heart and then I had to stay here, at our hospital in Roseburg. That was a weird one.

Dorman: So the day Paxton was born you ended up in different hospitals?

Robinson: Yes. I did not get to actually see him besides him being transferred away in the incubator. That was the first time I got to see him, and I didn’t really get to see him. I could just touch his little hand. That was it. And then my husband, who went with him, sent me pictures once they got into the NICU. I was like, ‘Don’t even send me pictures, I don’t even want to see him.’ It was just too emotional. Then my mom and dad took me up to the hospital the next day once I was finally released, because I had so many antibiotics through an IV so they did not let me go.

Dorman: That must have been difficult! What happened from there?

Robinson: I signed a waiver saying I do not want him on formula, I want him on donor milk. I wanted to do everything all natural then I had to have a c-section and I was so defeated. This was not my birth plan, this was not what I wanted. So the one thing that I could get was donor milk. I wanted to do it in the most natural way that I could. I had an awesome nurse, she actually put in a request saying that no one was to hold my baby except for my husband until I got there. Actually she was my same nurse with my second daughter. That was amazing, she remembered us. Then, the whole situation happened over again.

Dorman: That’s great to hear you had someone who respected what you wanted for your baby.

Robinson: Yes. Once I got to the NICU they were so awesome. Paxton was on a CPAP and a feeding tube so I couldn’t even try to breastfeed. They brought in a lactation specialist and hooked me up with the pump. With your first baby you’re like, ‘I don’t know what to do. This is all new.’

Dorman: It sounds so overwhelming.

Robinson: Yeah, with the whole situation too you’re just overwhelmed. You could cry on a dime. We had this one nurse, she would text us on her day off asking, ‘How are you, I’m here to talk.’ She checked on us every day. We were at the hospital for seven days with Paxton and for nine days with Paislee.

Dorman: Wow, you have spent your due time in the hospital.

Robinson: Well that is nothing compared to other people. I can’t imagine doing months in the NICU. The people in the NICU are amazing but once you do a NICU time stay, it’s a whole other perspective.

Dorman: I could imagine it’s incredibly draining.

Robinson: I started pumping and once I finally had milk, they mixed what I had with the donor milk until I had a full supply of what Paxton was eating. By the time we went home I was feeding him by myself, no problem. He would never latch on from being on the feeding tube. He wanted it right then and there, he didn’t want to suck for it I guess. I didn’t know any different so I just pumped, I pumped a whole year for him.

Dorman: Wow.

Robinson: My daughter Paislee, same thing. She was born without the surfactant hormone so she came out not breathing either. She was taken to Sacred Heart from Roseburg. I didn’t get to hold her until she was up there for two or three days. It was actually Thanksgiving that I got to hold her.

Dorman: It must be so hard to not be able to hold your babies.

Robinson: Yes. You see them hooked up to all of these tubes and monitors beeping. I give it to the moms that are there for months because it is kind of traumatizing.

Dorman: It totally would be. You now donate your milk to Northwest Mothers Milk Bank, is that correct?

Robinson: Yes.

Dorman: Why was donating milk to other families so important to you?

Robinson: When I had Paislee she was three months old and I already had a half of a stand up freezer full of milk. I had such an oversupply I wondered, ‘What am I going to do with this?’ I was talking to my mom one day and I was like, I wonder if there is any way I can donate milk, like how my kids received donor milk. How do you do that? So I called Sacred Heart and they’re the ones that connected me with the Mothers Milk Bank. I went from there and started the process. I donated 24 gallons with Paislee and I fed her for 16 months. And, I actually fed my cousin’s baby for five months.

Dorman: Five months?

Robinson: Yep. He and my daughter are a year apart. She had milk but there was no fat in her milk and he just kept dropping weight. If he didn’t gain a pound in the next week they would have had to put him back in the hospital and hook him up to a feeding tube. So, my cousin contacted me and asked, ‘Can I just try your milk?’ I said, ‘Yes, you can. I have so much of it. Please come get some!’ He actually gained a pound and a half within that week. I fed him for five months until I didn’t have any more milk to give her.

With Kohen right now I have such a huge supply. I’m actually sending out some more milk tomorrow. And with that, it will be about 18 gallons that I have donated, so far. I am actually in the process of feeding my best friend’s baby too.

Dorman: No way! As we speak?

Robinson: Yes, she is a month old on the 13th and she just never got any milk. And this is her first baby; it was going to be her only baby. She was having a lot of trouble with the formula, really gassy and throwing up a lot. And I’m like, ‘Well here you go, have some breast milk!’

Dorman: You’re plentiful these days. It’s awesome that you’ve been able to turn the tables.

Robinson: I was really defeated in the beginning, you know. I really wanted that experience of breastfeeding my child and giving them everything I could.

Sorry, I’m probably going to cry.

You feel defeated that you can’t do that for your child but I told myself that I’m pumping so I’m giving him everything I can. My friend asks me, ‘How did you do that? I don’t understand.’ And I tell her, to not let it get to you. I know it’s the hardest thing ever.

Dorman: Because you just want to be a mom.

Robinson: You just want to be a mom. You want the best thing for your child. I’m sorry for crying.

Dorman: Don’t apologize.

Robinson: I’ve never told anybody these things. You want to give them the best to succeed. If I can do that for somebody else and help them like they helped my kids, then I will be right there. It makes me feel good as a person. This is my way of giving back to those that helped my kids.

Dorman: You knew what it was like.

Robinson: Yeah. I do.

Dorman: Throughout your journey of being a mother–and I say journey intentionally–it sounds like you’ve just been through so many highs and lows. What do you feel the most proud of?

Robinson: *laughing through tears* Being a mom. That’s been one of the biggest blessings. They’ve taught me so much. And I hope I can teach them that, in the long run. And feeling good about myself. Now I can give back to our community and help others in need.

Dorman: You don’t even know how far your reach extends.

Robinson: I mean that meant a lot to me – my kids getting the best straight out of the gate. This is my way of giving it back.

Dorman: Did you know any other mothers donating to milk banks?

Robinson: No, I didn’t know anybody. Me and my mom are really close and I was like, I have so much milk, what am I going to do with all of this? She’s not eating it fast enough, it’s going to go bad. So I just put that out there and did some research. I don’t know how to get started but I’m just going to call the hospital and ask.

Dorman: So you just began, now look at you. So many gallons later.

Robinson: Yes, so many gallons later.

Dorman: How much time do you spend pumping your milk?

Robinson: I pump every five hours, and I pump for 30 minutes every time.

Dorman: You clock in your time.

Robinson: I have a car plug in pump and I have a hands-free one. So if we’re out doing something I just put it in my bra and go about my business.

Dorman: And life goes on. You’ve got a busy schedule.

Robinson: Yep. I don’t let it hold me back, that’s just what I know.

Dorman: Mom of the year over here!

Robinson: I just go for it. My kids are great about it, I tell them, I have to go pump. And they say, ‘Okay! Bye mom.’

Dorman: It’s beautiful to hear you have a healthy family. I’m so happy for you – that this worked out for you and you’re able to make an impact outside of your family. That’s really inspiring.

Robinson: The last ones that I’ve donated I took photos of the boxes of milk being sent off with me. With my daughter I actually have a photo with me and her standing in front of the freezers with them full of milk.

We were incredibly touched by Courtney’s story and would like to thank her for the time she took to have this conversation with us. If you are in the pacific northwest and looking for milk banking resources, you can find more information on https://www.donatemilk.org/

You may be surprised to learn how long milk banking has been around. Despite centuries of wet nursing and milk donations throughout history, 1909 Vienna1 saw the introduction of the world’s first established milk bank, introduced by Theodor Escherich2.

In 1980, seven decades later, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published their support for the use of human donor milk as the primary alternative for a mother who could not breastfeed. Today, there are approximately 500 human milk banks operating in over 37 countries worldwide. (History of Milk Banking: From Origin to Present Time, Moro, Guido E.3)

Citations

1 Austria. EMBA. (n.d.). Retrieved February 7, 2022, from https://europeanmilkbanking.com/country/austria/

2 Shulman, S. T., Friedmann, H. C., & Sims, R. H. (2007, October 15). Theodor Escherich: The First Pediatric Infectious Diseases Physician? OUP Academic. Retrieved February 7, 2022, from https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/45/8/1025/344528

3 Moro, G. E. (2018). History of milk banking: From origin to present time. Breastfeeding Medicine, 13(S1). https://doi.org/10.1089/bfm.2018.29077.gem