Banking on Balance: Abby’s Story

Balance, intuition, persistence, patience, thoughtfulness, presence. These are my “working mama mantras” as I like to call them.  I’m Abby, I am a mama to two sweet tiny humans, I am an IBCLC, and I work at Mothers’ Milk Bank in Arvada, CO.

Choosing a career in the birth world began before I myself was a mama.  What an amazing perspective this gave me, to see women transform –  in the greatest sense – to bare witness to all of the complexities, excitement, nervousness, and all of the emotions that surround this unique time in a new family’s life.

I met many people in my doula training, each who came to this work from various experiences.  Some women had been around birth from a very young age, and always knew this was the profession for them. Some came from having their own birth experiences and recognizing the importance of support that comes from a having a doula.

Looking back, there were two pivotal moments that helped me find this work. One was a book club I was in while I was in college. Most of the women in the club were interested in birth, and this was where I first learned what a doula was. The second moment came years later when I had already made a career change out of social work, and started to cultivate the seed that had been planted years prior.  I entered a giveaway on Facebook, which I normally never do. I am not one who normally wins things like this, but sure enough, I won! A book, a DVD, and an amazing T-shirt from Improving Birth, and wow, looking back on that I think that was the sign I needed from the universe that I was headed in the right direction.

The last seven years have been an absolute whirlwind: I began working as a doula, sitting on the board of the Portland Doula Association, attending the UC San Diego extension program to become a Lactation Educator, teaching community breastfeeding classes, applying to go back to school to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, getting pregnant, taking my health science prerequisites, getting accepted into the program I applied to, having my first baby, and then starting the Lactation Consultant program at Birthingway College of Midwifery.

Starting school with a two month old gave me the first taste of what it meant to be a mama with a passion, learning to strike the balance of being there for my son, my husband, and also, myself. I look back on this time, and feel a deep sense of pride for what I accomplished, and how far I have come. I chose the particular school I went to, because of their “infant at school” policy: it felt right to have my baby with me, while I was starting my career – a career grounded in wanting to help new parents become the most confident parents they can be. I was able to have my baby boy snuggled up in a Moby wrap while I was building my village, building my skill set as a birth and breastfeeding professional, and building the foundation for what I wanted for myself as a working mama.

After my coursework was complete, I started my 300 clinical hours that I needed in order to be eligible to sit for the Board exam. This is where I needed to begin the transition to having someone else care for my son.  While this wasn’t always easy, I tried to meet this challenge as gracefully and thoughtfully as possible.  I always try to make decisions, and look at it from every angle, so looking back I can think, “I made the best decision I could, using the information and resources I had at the time.”  This helps me limit those feelings of guilt that can so often haunt us as parents.
In the fall of 2016, I got a job that felt like a dream job. So much of a dream job, that  when I found out I was pregnant, I immediately started to think about how I could tend to both my baby and my work.  I reflected back on my experience at Birthingway College of Midwifery, and bringing my first son, Cohen to class with me. I did research on other baby-friendly work places. I met with my employer, and an “infant at work policy” was born! For the second time, with my new baby snuggled up close in the Moby wrap, I went back to work – this time at Mothers’ Milk Bank.
In this role, I work with mothers from all across the country, who have a surplus of milk and want to donate it to medically fragile babies who are able to thrive because of this selfless donation from these amazing women all across the country.  This to me really exemplifies the idea of “it takes a village.”  I have seen first hand how important it was as a new mom to build my village, to meet other new mamas ” in the trenches” of new mama-hood, someone to text at midnight to say, “hey, are you up breastfeeding too right now?” and feel that deep sense of belonging to something bigger, a bigger community of mothers all across the globe, who have been doing this since the beginning of mankind.  That sense of connection, is something that really drives me.

When I talk to these women from all across the US, I feel a sense of this village, from a bigger picture standpoint.  Here are women from all across the country, pumping their milk, and going through the rigorous screening process to ensure their milk is safe for the most medically fragile population. When the milk comes to us at Mothers’ Milk Bank, we pasteurize, test, and ship out this milk to help babies get home to their families faster, and to their mothers, who may then go on to breastfeed. As a lactation consultant, I have seen the challenges of breastfeeding firsthand, and even as a lactation consultant, I was not immune to the challenges that so many new mothers face. The fact that there are so many women across the country (and world) who donate their milk so every baby can have the best start, is something that inspires me on a daily basis. I recently heard this quote at the Human Milk Banking Association International Congress, “every mother has the right to breastfeed, and every baby has the right to be breastfed.”  Some mothers aren’t able to make milk for their babies when they are born so prematurely, and this is where donor milk through a not-for-profit milk bank can help provide some hope for those babies, and those families.
When you are feeding your babe in those late hours of the night, know you are not alone, think of all of the women, all across the world who are also up at that same moment feeding their babies, experiencing the highs, and the lows of motherhood, and just think…we are all connected.

Breastfeeding is a sense of connection in its essence. It’s an act of connectedness with your baby, locking eyes while providing them nourishment. Breastfeeding is a shared experience, with women all across the world, and has been for thousands and thousands of years.  When you are at work, pumping, know you are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of women are right there with you, working hard to provide milk for their baby, and donors are pumping for babies all across the United States.

I know I am fortunate to have this unique experience integrating my passions for my work and my family, but I am also inspired to help other mamas navigate the back-to-work experience, so that they can feel that they made an informed decision and had the ability to advocate for themselves and create a positive transition back to work. In a few weeks, Mckenzie will start at daycare, and I will soon be joining the ‘up-all night-because-my-baby-is nursing-at-all-hours’ working mama’s club! I know it’s all worth it when I’m snuggling my little guys at bedtime, and feel an incredible sense of knowing I’m exactly where I need to be.

Abby Malman Case is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) living in Denver with her husband, two sweet, smiley boys, and two dogs. Abby is excited to be able to bring this vision of “building the village” to life at Mothers’ Milk Bank Baby Café, where they are offering free breastfeeding support every Friday from 11am-1pm in a cozy setting. To learn more, visit https://rmchildren.org/baby-cafe/.

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