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Episode 52: Mom Journey - Breastmilk Donor to Breastmilk Recipient

, , , , July 21, 2021

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Jacqueline Kincer  0:38

Welcome to the podcast Keira. I have a wonderful guest today, Keira Chojnacki. And she is a mom who is coming on the show today to share a bit about her own breastfeeding story and journey with us. And I’m absolutely honored to have her here because all stories are unique. And I happen to think that hers is very inspiring and insightful. And specifically, really how she ended up on the podcast today is because somehow in the Instagram comments, somewhere, she had mentioned that she’s had some experience with milk donation, and I asked if she’d be willing to come on and talk about it. And she agreed. So welcome, Kara.


Keira Chojnacki  1:24

Thank you. I’m so excited to do this with you. Um, yeah. So here we are. Yes,


Jacqueline Kincer  1:32

we’re here. And just so the listeners kind of get a feel for you. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, anything that you think is relevant that they’d love to hear about


Keira Chojnacki  1:43

you. So I am a mom of four now. And I started my little family when I was 20. I got married right out of high school, to my high school sweetheart. And he started having kids right away. I have a six year old Silas a four year old Xavier, a two year old Annabelle and a five week old Tobias. And they are just fantastic. I love it. Oh, that’s amazing.


Jacqueline Kincer  2:23

And thank you so much for taking the time out of your day with a five week old in the house. So I appreciate that. One question that I always want to know when I’m talking to someone about anything having to do with her breastfeeding journey is like when you before you became a mom, like so you can become mom really young. So did you know that you wanted to breastfeed or that that was a goal of yours when you were pregnant? Or did you not have an idea? I’d love to hear about that. Because I think that’s so interesting, where everyone kind of kind of comes from before they have kids.


Keira Chojnacki  2:59

Yeah, I I never really thought about it before having kids. And when I was pregnant, I just kind of thought, Oh, well, that’s that’s what I’m what I’m supposed to do. It’s expected of me to breastfeed. I mean, I have breasts, that’s what they’re meant for. I guess I that’s just what I have to do. Um, and so the my whole pregnancy, I was just like, oh, yeah, I’m gonna breastfeed, and this is all I’m gonna do. And that’ll be great. And I, I was exposed to it, um, when I was younger, but I don’t really remember ever seeing my mom breastfeed, which is super weird, because I was so much older than my siblings. I was seven and nine years older than they were. So I saw it, but I don’t remember it ever making a big impact on my life. Like, oh, this is what I’m going to do when I have my own kids. So it was it was just something that was expected of me. Um, now when I had my oldest, I was like, the minute he came out, I was like, oh, yeah, okay, just put them to breast. This is what we do now. And I’m excited to breastfeed and it was magical. Like this great little, no, this fantastic moment. Um, I yeah, it just, it was natural. It was easy. Um, which I think is what gave me a really weird expectation with my other kids about breastfeeding and I can get into that a little bit, but yeah, it was. It was the easiest thing I’ve experienced with kids. up we had some issue with latching at the beginning he had a pretty shallow latch, but I went in saw a lactation specialist and she was like, Oh, this is how you get into action. After one time for showing me it was a piece of cake, and we didn’t have any issues. Um, and so I started breastfeeding immediately. I had some issues with engagement right off the bat. And so I started pumping. And I was an over producer, it was the craziest thing. I was like, Is this normal? Am I supposed to be able to nurse my baby on both sides for 20 minutes apiece, and then pump 10 to 20 ounces extra every time? Wow. Like, that’s not normal. I was like, Okay, well, I don’t know what to do with all of this. Um, I just pumped every time because if I didn’t, I was in a lot of pain. I have had a lot of back and neck issues if I didn’t. So I just pumped and pumped and pumped. And on Facebook one day, I got connected with a mom in our area that needed breast milk for her baby, he had a goal of getting her daughter to one year exclusively on breast milk. And that whole time, she had been using donor milk. And she was two weeks shy of reaching her one year goal. And she was like, I only have two days left. And I just want to get these two weeks, I’m in the bag. And I was like, Oh, well, I have milk you can have and I think I donated like 400 ounces to her. Oh, that’s and that was I think my son was like maybe three or four months old at the time. So not very old. And I had that much extra just hanging out in my freezer. And I was like, I don’t know what I’m gonna do with it. So your habit. Um, so I had a really awesome privilege of being able to do that for somebody else. And I talked about I say this all the time, breastfeeding and pumping was has been the one thing that I have been most successful at ever in my entire life. And it was such an amazing thing for me, it brings me like so much joy and pride whenever I get to talk about it with people. Um, so I got to do that. And I breastfed my son for a year. And then I had all this extra milk in my freezer, so he got extra until it ran out. Um, when he was one, I decided I was going to get a breast reduction. Um, just because when I had all that change, after having him and my milk coming in, I didn’t really like my body anymore. Especially my breasts. And so I got a breast reduction.


Keira Chojnacki  8:02

And then, about two years later, I had my second son. And I was like, oh, yeah, I’m gonna breastfeed him too, because I did it with my first and it was so great. That’s just what I’m gonna do. And it’ll be fantastic. He ended up having a lot of medical issues and was in the NICU. So he didn’t get to go straight to breast like we thought he would be. So I exclusively pumped while he was in the NICU. And I he got released out a month old and I was like, well, I’ll just continue exclusively pumping. And,


Jacqueline Kincer  8:42

and were you making enough milk to sustain them on breast milk when you were exclusively pumping


Keira Chojnacki  8:48

at the time I was in the NICU I was. And I think that’s just because I had all the time in the world to just sit around and pump and hang out with the baby and no distractions and there wasn’t like all this extra life happening. I just got to be with the baby. Um, so when he came home out a month old, I was like, Oh, I’ll continue doing this because it was so easy and it’s going great. Well then life happens you know, you have other kids and all these events that you want to go to or grocery shopping or whatever. And I just fell off the deep end. I was like I I can’t keep up with him anymore with what he needs. And I can never have the time to pump and this is just not going hi I thought it would and I stopped probably about when he turned three months. I made it to three months old and then I was like I can’t do this anymore. I’m just I never have time to do anything else. And even when I do think I’m don’t have time for anything else. I don’t think I have enough time for pumping. So it’s just not working for me. And we decided to formula feed him. So that’s half of my children is any question, sir? Yeah,


Jacqueline Kincer  10:10

I’m curious because you had such a crazy over supply with your first and then you said you did have enough for your second until you decided to stop pumping? Did you have kind of like just enough for him? Or did you also have an oversupply? Even after he had the breast reduction? I’m curious.


Keira Chojnacki  10:27

I was barely making enough for him. He was my stream, child. He was eating. At three months old, he was taking a six ounce bottle every hour and a half. He was so hungry all the time. And I was making maybe four ounces total. And I was pumping every three hours. And I just I cannot keep up with his demand. You was


Jacqueline Kincer  11:00

Wow. Well, you were still making a great amount of milk. So that’s amazing. Yeah.


Keira Chojnacki  11:05

And what’s weird about that is, like I said earlier, it was my first it gave me a weird set of expectations with my others. Um, because I just with the experience I had with Silas, I just thought, Oh, this is how it’s supposed to be with every kid. I’m supposed to easy latch of this crazy amount of breast milk all the time. And it’s just supposed to be easy and wonderful. And with IG Xavier it was at first. And then it kind of wasn’t once I got out of the NICU, the little bubble and then went home. I mean, living life, it just wasn’t. Um, and I think that was part of the reason why I quit at three months old, I probably could have kept going, if I just didn’t have this crazy expectations set for myself. Hmm, yeah,


Jacqueline Kincer  12:10

that’s interesting to just hear you reflect on it now. Because you’re not in it anymore. And yeah, you know, everyone’s got their reasons, right. And I think, even though it sounds like you had sort of all the time in the world during that, Nick, you stayed to palm. It was that little bubble? Like you said, right? And then you weren’t you, then you go back to real life with two kids. And that’s a lot. It’s a huge change. So I could definitely understand, you know, where you were in the moment, just the way you described it. So tell us about, because this is half of your children that you’ve told us about. So tell us about the other half? I’d love to hear.


Keira Chojnacki  12:54

So Annabelle, my sweet, little child. I was like, oh, yeah, I’m going to try again, try this whole breastfeeding thing again with her. Because this is something I really want to do. I, I really didn’t like bottle feeding my second. I just didn’t feel this, like tight connection with him like I did with my oldest. And also it’s just like, plus, it’s for expensive for formula. And breast milk is so magical and so much better for you. I just want to do breast milk really bad. So I had her. And in the hospital, I was like, This is how it’s going to be we’re just going to breastfeed and I was really gung ho about it. And we got her home. And she just was right all the time. And I was like, What is wrong with her? She shouldn’t be crying. I just made bed her and I just don’t know what’s wrong. And so, after hours of her crying, it’s like maybe she’s just really hungry. So I gave her this little two ounce bottle and she sucked it down like she had never eaten in her entire life. And I was like, Oh my gosh, I’ve been starving my babies. I’m crying because I thought I was doing what was best for her. And she’s really just starving and hating life. Um, so I was like, Okay, I’ll just pump. And then maybe once my supply comes in, out, I can get her back to breasts. It’ll be it’ll be wonderful. And so I was pumping around the clock. I even was like, I’ll do every two hours. That way my body will think it needs to make more. And I’ll just tell my body, this is what it needs to do every two hours. And I’m pumping and pumping and pumping and I would get maybe a half an ounce maybe Oh, oh, every time and I, I was just this is terrible. I hate this. And at one point, I just was not doing well, I, my husband came home from work one day and found me like, in the corner of her bedroom sobbing as I’m folding laundry and pumping at the same time. And he’s like, what’s wrong, and I was just, I just want to feed the baby. Um, and it just, I could not get it. It just don’t know what was going on. But my body was like, I’m not making any milk. And I thought that was the end of the world. And I just was like, You know what? Maybe, maybe I can do donor milk. So I was just looking around on line and I was like, donor milk solutions, like, is there anything for this? Um, and of course, there’s the milk banks. And, but that’s more for like NICU babies or babies who have medical needs that need it, which I totally understand from having a child in the NICU. I was just like, oh, yeah, I keep those NICU babies, all the bras small first, for sure. So I actually got connected with some Facebook groups. It’s on feets and human milk for her babies, specific to Oregon, where I live. Um, and I got connected to two awesome moms who decided to take us on and be our donor moms. So from about two weeks old to 13 months, she got exclusively fed by donor mom. And that was a lot of hard work, it was, I would say almost was harder than actually pumping or breastfeeding in itself. I’m trying to find these moms at first, and then making these connections and these relationships with them. And all the driving it took to get the milk and getting back in. Wearing it. It was it was a lot of work. But it was so worth it to me to know that she got breast milk and didn’t get the formula.


Jacqueline Kincer  17:30

Yeah, and you got it such a long time. That’s huge. Yeah, like you I love how you told us about your first child and helping someone make it that final stretch to get to a year. And here you are getting your baby to a year with donor milk. Oh, it’s just it’s like, you know, what goes around comes around? Yeah, yeah, it was


Keira Chojnacki  17:55

so great. And I, I wouldn’t change her breastfeeding story for the world, whatever you want to call it. Because that’s what I wanted to do with her. Now, fast forward another two years. And we’re having our last baby. And I was just like, You know what, I’m going to do everything in my power to be able to enjoy this baby. I want to enjoy the last thing, the last one, I want to enjoy every last thing that I get to do with this baby. Um, and I was like, if that means I get to breastfeed, or even just exclusively pump with him. That’s going to be okay. And if I don’t at all, that’s going to be okay, too. But I’m going to enjoy it. And I just kind of wiped away all those expectations that I had, because I still had, I think I was still holding on to those first time, breastfeeding expectations. And thinking, well, that’s what I meant to do. That’s what my breasts are here for just to feed these babies and they’re going to do it. I think just letting go of that has changed this breastfeeding journey. I in the hospital. After I had Tobias my last one. I again I wasn’t pumping anything like I was pumping around the clock and nothing was happening. And I was even putting him to breaths and he was having some blood sugar issues. So he was getting donor milk in the hospital as well. And because like there’s nothing, nothing is happening, but I’m okay with that. I’ll just let it be. And we got released from the hospital. I picked them some formula on the way home psychologist. We’ll just get them started on the farm. Uh, I guess that’s what I’m gonna have to do. And honestly, it was like, four days after I had him is he sorry, um, I woke up. And I was super engorged and I was like, Oh my gosh, I need a pump immediately. Somebody give me something. So I went out and I bought this itty bitty cheapo annual pump, cuz I wasn’t at home, I, I say this, I accidentally had my last one out of state while I was on vacation. I was like, Oh, I don’t have anything. So I’m just gonna run to Walmart, buy the cheapest breast pump, there is manual breast pump and wait till I get home to get an electric one. So I started pumping. And I was getting like two ounces every time from combined. And I was like, Oh my gosh, it’s happening. I couldn’t do it. And I pumped all the way from Iowa back to Oregon, with this manual pump in the cars just like non stop. And we got home I got my electric breast pump. And it just happened. I O unable to beat him this whole time. I only use donor milk, or I mean, sorry, formula, the ride home from Iowa to Oregon. So for like a couple of days, while I was pumping and building this supply for him. And since then, it’s been exclusively my milk and I actually have been able to start storing some in the freezer. So that’s super exciting for me. Um, yeah, it’s just, it’s just crazy how each one is different. And I think because I just let go of those two high expectations. I’m not under all this stress, and my body is just able to do what it’s meant to do. No, that’s yeah, that’s my dream. Oh,


Jacqueline Kincer  22:24

I love it. And it’s not over yet, although maybe the children are but no. But that’s yeah. Amazing that things are going well for you this time. Because you’ve had, you kind of started out with such a high and then you know, going down to, you know, a shortened journey that was just totally different from the first and then kind of going to a low again for those first couple of weeks with your daughter. And now coming back to like this nice equilibrium. So I love that for you for your last child. It’s just so varied. And I’m I’m glad to even talk about that part of it. Because there are so many moms out there who are just, you know, really taken aback by how different each baby is. And it could be the flip side. Like if they had a lot of difficulties with their first baby. They expect that the second time. And it’s going well, but they almost kind of don’t trust it because they’re like hyper vigilant and have this anxiety over well, there will be a problem because I had problems with my first and then sometimes there aren’t. Yeah, so it’s just so amazing. That you’ve just gone through so so much. And I love that you’re getting a stash again. I bet that makes you feel really good, right?


Keira Chojnacki  23:43

Oh my goodness, I think plus my husband’s heart. I am so obsessed with it. I’m like, look at it. It’s so beautiful. I like had the Metro formula, the formula pictures. So like fill one up every day. And I’m like, look at it. It’s so full. I’ll send him pictures in the morning. Like while he’s at working like another full one. Just like, okay.


Jacqueline Kincer  24:12

Oh, that’s so funny. It’s hard for them to relate. But you know, I’m excited for that kind of stuff. I love when my clients send me things like that. I definitely wanted to ask you a question because you were on the giving and receiving end of donor milk. Is there like if you could say there’s something that maybe most people seem to misunderstand about either giving or receiving donor milk? What would that be?


Keira Chojnacki  24:37

Yeah, I think there’s such a I don’t know what the word for it is. But people are really weirded out by milk sharing. And I think because it the bodily fluids, but it’s like, almost taboo to do it. Um and I have Even like health care providers be like, Well, you shouldn’t do that it’s not safe, your baby’s not getting what they need. Like, you don’t know if they’re getting the right type of nutrition and all this stuff. And I was like, but it’s breast milk. And if this was, I don’t know, let’s say 1865 some random number. If I couldn’t feed my baby, there was probably another mom 20 miles away that could, you know, um, and would be directly from her breast. So it’s, it’s so natural. It’s like what we’re meant to do. And I just wish that it was more normalized. To milk. Sure. Because it’s, I don’t know, it’s just what it’s meant to be. It’s what our bodies are meant to do and what our babies are supposed to have. Um, I just, yeah, it’s, there’s such a weirdness about it. But it’s really not that weird. If that makes sense. Yes. Um, I mean, obviously, ask the right questions. If you’re a milk, if you’re going to be a recipient of donor milk. Ask the right questions. Are you taking anything orally? Are you taking drugs? Are you? What do you eat? What do you drink? That sort of things are? Do you have any weird medical conditions? And hopefully, the donor is honest, I personally had the mindset of, well, well, if they’re on this group page, wanting to share their milk, they’re not going to arm their own baby. So why would they are mine. So if they’re, if they’re gonna share it, it must be safe. Um, so I mean, ask the right questions, post the right stuff, if you want to be a donor mom posts the right stuff to I mean, be very transparent. It’s also an interesting relationship with the donor mom, one mom I got really close with, and I am still in contact with her, she’s about to have another baby of her own. So it’s, it becomes a really close relationship. And that was one thing I wasn’t expecting. I think just because I donated the one time to somebody, and it was like, Uh, oh, here’s my address, come and pick it up. Good luck. Yeah, whereas with every speaker recipient, it was, oh, my gosh, how are you doing? And, oh, here’s a picture of our babies. And let’s hang out. And how are you doing? And how’s your baby doing? And? Um, yeah, it was, it became a really close friendship, which I was not expecting. Like I said, I’m really thankful for it. Wow, that is


Jacqueline Kincer  28:15

so neat. I mean, there’s obviously a bit of a biological relationship between whoever sharing the milk with you and your baby. Not with you directly. But then to develop that kind of a friendship and have that trust. I think that’s so special, and of course, facilitates a feeling of safety for everyone to, like you said, moms who are looking to freely share their milk, probably have the best intentions in mind. So I love that you were able to cultivate those relationships and do that. Because, gosh, I’m still friends with someone that I donated milk to. That’s actually how we became friends was meeting up for me to give her my milk. And we’re still friends, you know, eight years later. So isn’t that neat? That we can do


Keira Chojnacki  29:08

that. I love that. That’s amazing.


Jacqueline Kincer  29:12

Yeah, so fun. And actually, she was one of my first official clients, patients, I guess, when I started taking insurance in my practice, and I wasn’t gonna like really charge her anyway, since we had become friends. But she had an insurance plan that I was in network with. And I was like, Hey, let me make you my guinea pig for billing insurance. So we’ve had like a lot of fun developmental things throughout breastfeeding stuff and I just it’s so unique, but I think it can be really special like you said, and I love that you cleared up some misconceptions people have definitely there is this, you know, weirded out factor that people seem to experience and I think it’s just because they don’t know what it’s all about. So the more they can hear a story like yours, the more it removes that sort of mystery aspect of it and normalizes it. Yeah,


Keira Chojnacki  30:09

I’m such an advocate out I, I have a lot of friends who’ve had babies since I’ve had a bell. And I am like, well, you know, I highly recommend doing whatever you can first to breastfeed. But also keep your mental health in check. I don’t want you to be like, well, this. This is what my friend pressured me into doing. But if it becomes something that you don’t want to do or can’t do, and you want to still do breast milk, definitely check out these Facebook groups. And yeah, I’ll link


Jacqueline Kincer  30:48

those in the show notes to those networks so that people can find either eats on feets or like you said human milk for human babies. They have a local sort of groups chapters all over. So yeah, on their national site or page, and then you can find the local ones


Keira Chojnacki  31:03

too. Yeah, yeah, they are fantastic. And even if I like I’m still part of the groups, and I love just seeing every once in a while somebody be like I graduated to here, and it’s so exciting to see that. Um, I remember the day that I got to post our little graduation post on there. And it was like, such a relief, almost. It’s like, oh, we finally made it. And it was, it’s fantastic. I I think that everybody should have an experience like that, because it just changes the outlook on breast milk in breastfeeding. Huh? Yeah,


Jacqueline Kincer  31:52

it does. It does for sure. And that makes me kind of want to ask you, what’s your favorite thing about breastfeeding? And, Baby, what’s your favorite thing about milk sharing?


Keira Chojnacki  32:06

thing, my favorite thing about breastfeeding is just the connection that you make with your baby. It’s, it’s too hard to describe with words, because it’s such a, it’s a feeling almost like my oldest and I we have a totally different relationship than my other ones do not to say that. I don’t have any sort of connection with my others, but it it’s definitely different. Um, and I love that, I love that I got to have that with them. And it’s almost like they are still inside of you. I don’t know, cuz being pregnant, that’s so like intimate and close. And then you’re breastfeeding. And it’s also very intimate and bonding. So it’s like, they’re just still there. And I love that. That’s my favorite thing, I guess. Um, and then my favorite thing about milk sharing is you just you get to provide, it’s almost sacred, I guess this Sacred Gold liquid gold to somebody else. And feed another baby like, that is a really rewarding thing. I think just knowing that you’re helping somebody else out for whatever reasons. And when I donated I didn’t, not to say that I’m better than anybody else who does or doesn’t do this. But I didn’t ask for anything. I was just like, just take the milk, I don’t need anything in return. Because I got more milk to give. I mean, my baby’s not going to go without so just take it. Um, and when I was a donor recipient, I just provided if the moms needed pumping supplies, I could pick those up or the storage bags, I was more than happy to provide that because they were giving me like this crazy gift for free or nothing. And that’s that’s just the one thing that I thought was really special. Just providing something for somebody else. Oh, yeah, good.


Jacqueline Kincer  34:35

Absolutely. And I would say just for anyone who’s listening it is really good etiquette to supply your donors if you’re receiving their milk with those storage bags or pumping parts if it’s a longer term relationship you have because yeah, that that cost money too. So they’re already you know, using their time and energy right to pump the milk and and do all of that. So it is so nice to if you can replenish some supplies for them like that. And I love that you did that. And your story I just think is so powerful Well, stories, really. So I just am honored that you’ve shared it with us. And I hope that it’s something that’s inspiring to anyone who’s listening. And I know there are a lot of pregnant mommies out there listening to who they have no idea what breastfeeding is going to be like. But I think maybe you’ve opened people’s eyes to another option. If things are going exceedingly well, and they have extra milk or if they don’t have enough, and they’re looking for something other than formulas. So thank you, Kara. It’s really special to hear this from you.


Keira Chojnacki  35:44

Of course.


Jacqueline Kincer  35:48

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On this episode, we invited Keira Chojnacki to share her breastfeeding journey with her four kiddos. She has been a breastmilk donor, and also a milk donation recipient. Her journey is very unique and diverse.

Keira became a mom at 20 years old. Right after her first baby was born, the first latch was magical. She had a fairly easy breastfeeding journey with her son and was able to donate 400oz of milk when he son was just 3-4 months old.

When her son was 1 year old, she decided to get a breast reduction and continued to give her son the stored breastmilk she had saved up after that. Two years later, Keira gave birth to her second son who ended up in the NICU for an entire month. She started out exclusively pumping and was able to make enough milk for him. She ultimately weaned at 3 months though because it was too difficult to maintain pumping with her two children and everything she had going on in her life.

With her daughter, Keira really wanted to try breastfeeding again. This time around her baby wasn’t getting enough milk and Keira could only pump about 1/2 ounce at a time. It was then that Keira decided to seek out donor milk and she was able to provide her daughter with donor breastmilk from the time she was 2 weeks old to 13 months!

Keira is now a mom of 4, with her current son being 5 weeks old. Her priority is to enjoy her baby since she knows this is her last. She’s learned to reset her expectations and is fine with breastfeeding, exclusive pumping, or donor milk.