When then-18-year-old Kaleen Pysher found out she was pregnant, she made the decision to give her baby up for adoption. At the time that the teenager from Alaska found out she was pregnant she was living with her father and stepmother, just like many high school seniors do.
Forced to make a very adult decision at such a young age, Pysher realised that raising the baby on her own (or with the help of her family) was out of the question. She had plans to attend the University of Alaska Anchorage on a scholarship. Becoming a teen mum put college, and the rest of her life, into question.
Not only did Pysher give the gift of a child to a family who couldn’t have one of their own, but she went a step further. After learning about the benefits of breastmilk, the teen volunteered to pump and ship the milk to the adoptive parents. Wanting the best for her baby – not just in terms of a home, but also when it comes to health and happiness – Pysher offered to keep her milk supply going for as long as possible. Despite the pain (both physical and emotional), she pumped almost constantly. Making sure that her baby had an adequate supply of breastmilk was the top priority after the baby left the state with her adoptive parents.
Instead of heading back to resume a typical teen lifestyle, Pysher had to stick close to her breast pump (which the adoptive parents supplied, along with covering the costs of shipping the milk). She shipped the milk from her Alaska home to the adoptive family interstate marked as “Fresh Seafood—Keep Refrigerated.” The hefty supply of breast milk coming in meant that the adoptive family had to buy a chest freezer, just for storage.
As it turns out, Pysher’s quest to fully supply her baby with all the milk she could resulted in an over-supply. What happens to all of the extra milk that the adoptive family doesn’t need? Instead of pumping and dumping, the now 19-year-old birth mother decided to donate it to a milk bank in Colorado. At present there are no formal milk banks in Alaska, making it impossible for her to donate locally. To make use of the milk, Pysher had to seek out other options.
If you’re wondering what happens to the milk once it arrives at the milk bank (and what exactly a milk bank is anyway), it may not be what you’re thinking. Mums (especially in the U.S.) have heard horror stories of disastrous breastmilk sales gone horribly wrong online. These completely unregulated transactions don’t have anything to do with the type of milk bank that Pysher donated to. Even though milk donation isn’t government regulated, organisations and professional medical associations exist to create guidelines, recommendations and safety standards. For example, Mother’s Milk Bank (this is not the specific organization Pysher uses) screens their donations, pasteurizes the milk and makes sure that it goes to babies who are truly in need.
Who gets the donated milk? Most reputable banks won’t just hand out or sell breast milk to mums who don’t feel like nursing. The milk typically goes to premature infants, babies suffering from serious medical issues and families who cannot breastfeed at all. Some international banks provide much-needed breastmilk to impoverished areas of the world, feeding orphaned infants or babies with mothers who are too sick to nurse them.
Pysher and her desire to donate certainly gives the picture of the typical teen a new meaning. Her selflessness, sweetness and desire to care for her child at all costs gives motherhood a new meaning. That’s not to say that the 19-year-old only has positive feelings about her experience. Like any birth mum, she has her moments of sadness and doubt. Pysher tells the Alaska Dispatch News, “I know in my heart and my mind this is the best thing” and she sees a therapist regularly for help dealing with her feelings. Even though Pysher lives hours (that’s flight time) away from her child, she still is able to care for her the baby in ways that many birth mums don’t have the chance to. As part of the adoption, she is also allowed visits for birthdays, video chats and will receive pictures.