Strangers Create 'Sisterhood' To Donate Breast Milk to New Mom Going Through Chemo

Lauren Miller smiles while sitting with a friend and holding her baby.
KOLD via Facebook

Arizona mom Lauren Miller was overjoyed last year when she learned she was pregnant for the second time. But just a month later, she started noticing symptoms that couldn't be pinned on normal pregnancy aches and pains. Eventually, doctors gave her a terrifying diagnosis: She had a rare form of leukemia known as Philadelphia Positive Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and it would mean that motherhood the second time around would look very different from how she imagined it.

  • Miller, who already had a 9-year-old child at home, was overcome with fear and emotion about what this would mean for the future.

    “I had no idea, anything about cancer," she told KOLD.

    But she learned quickly. The mom of soon-to-be two was put on steroids during her pregnancy, which doctors hoped would boost her platelet levels so she could carry her daughter to term. It worked, and in December, Miller was able to give birth to a healthy daughter named Scarlett.

    As part of her treatment, though, Miller would have to stop taking the steroids once her daughter was born, and when she did, her body "hit rock bottom." So much so, in fact, that it sent her back to the hospital -- where she was unable to hold her daughter for days.

    “It was just hard," Miller described. "Because I missed her so much because she was so new. And it’s still hard every time I have to go to the hospital. It’s really hard because I’m not able to be there.”

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  • One of the most heartbreaking parts of all was that Miller couldn't breastfeed her daughter, as she had planned to, because of the chemotherapy.

    That is, until the power of one Facebook post proved to her that anything is possible when you have a village. (Even if that village is made up of strangers you've never met.)

    As it turns out, a Facebook post by Miller's sister, Brooke Hasselman, reached a local Arizona mom named Kayla Randall, who was touched by the mother's story. 

    In her post, Hasselman was asking for breast milk donations for her sister, who had wanted more than anything to breastfeed. Randall was touched and wanted to help, and luckily, she had a way.

    "It was easy for me to just pump a little bit extra and it was well worth it,” Randall told KOLD. And so pump she did.

  • But Randall went one step further while she was at it, and reached out to other Arizona moms who might be able to help too.

    “They were like, ‘Oh you need some? I have some extra, here it is,’” Randall shared.

    Before she knew it, breast milk donations were coming in left and right. In fact, Randall has received so much breast milk for Miller that she's had to buy a separate freezer just to store it all before delivering it to the new mama.

    What's resulted has been called a "sisterhood" by some, who are amazed at the incredible outpouring of support by women all over the state.

  • According to Brooke, the generosity has left her sister with a profound sense of hope and support.

    "I think it's 100 percent helped her stay more positive with making sure that's one less worry for her," Brooke told This Is Tucson. "I think everyone's biggest fear was postpartum depression after finding out she couldn't breastfeed. But with all the donations so far I definitely think it's kept her worry at bay."

    Although it may be a fairly new practice in the US, many cultures have historically practiced informal breast milk sharing, according to La Leche League -- especially in times of illness, emergency, or maternal stress. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that if a mother's breast milk is not available, the next best thing is breast milk from another woman. Although experts warn against the risks of informal milk-sharing online between strangers, mothers do have the option of going through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, which can locate the nearest milk bank donation center.

  • Lauren's family is grateful they didn't have to look far for generous donations (and have so much milk that little Scarlett's set for months!).

    Most of all, it allows the new mom to focus her efforts on getting through her treatment and fighting leukemia with everything she's got, in the name of her kids.

    "It’s made such a huge difference," Miller told KOLD. "I mean, every ounce counts."

    A crowdfunding page has been set up to help cover unexpected medical costs that have hit Lauren and her family hard. If you would like to donate or support the family in any way, check out her page at GoFundMe to learn more about her story.