When Ayla Sherrin found out her wife Bre was pregnant, she was thrilled. A rare genetic condition made it difficult and dangerous for Ayla to become pregnant, so the couple decided that Bre would carry their baby.
Even though I wouldn’t grow this baby in my belly, I knew that he would live in my heart.— Ayla Sherrin
“I knew before Bre was even pregnant that I wanted to do this. Even though I wouldn’t grow this baby in my belly, I knew that he would live in my heart,” Ayla said. And so began Ayla’s amazing journey, one that Breastfeed Chicago has been lucky to be a part of!
Inducing lactation is a process a non-pregnant parent can attempt when they want to produce breastmilk to feed their child. Also called adoptive breastfeeding, the process takes considerable dedication and preparation, and it can take weeks or months to see results.
“Ayla’s story is most inspiring in that through sharing her story, she has let others know what is possible,” said Patricia Berg-Drazin, IBCLC and Breastfeed Chicago Board Vice-Chair. “Most people–men, women and physicians–do not know that one can breastfeed without ever having been pregnant or having a baby,” Berg-Drazin said.
Some women work with their healthcare provider to develop a pumping and medication regimen to bring in a milk supply, often based on a set of guidelines called the Newman-Goldfarb Induced Lactation Protocol that aims to mimic the hormonal changes that occur after pregnancy and delivery that trigger the production of breastmilk. Results vary for each person, and the amount of breastmilk they are able to provide is often secondary to their goal of bonding through breastfeeding.
Most people–men, women and physicians–do not know that one can breastfeed without ever having been pregnant or having a baby.— Patricia Berg-Drazin, IBCLC
Ayla’s journey to breastfeeding began five months before her son Beckham was born. Her genetic condition made it unsafe to use many of the commonly prescribed medications recommended by the Protocol. “I decided that, even if I couldn’t find medication to help me, I was going to do this anyway,” she recalled. “I knew that I needed to be able to nurse for my own sanity, as well as the added benefits to my unborn baby. I told my wife that I needed a breast pump. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I mean that in the very best way possible!”
She began pumping and first posted about her journey on Breastfeed Chicago’s parent support Facebook page in September 2015. She was overwhelmed with hundreds of responses from other nursing parents.
“You can’t put a price on parent-to-parent support,” explains Breastfeed Chicago founder and board chair Katrina Pavlik. “Who knows better the deep frustrations and euphoric highs of new parenthood than other parents? Whose ‘you can do this’ cheers have more value? No one.”
We celebrated with Ayla in December 2015 when she shared her first drops of breast milk while pumping! By then, she had found a compatible medication to aid in the production of milk. When Ayla and Bre’s son was born eight weeks later, Ayla had pumped and frozen 500 ounces of breastmilk!
“Pumping every two to three hours, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, taking medication four times a day, herbs when I remembered, and tea when I could stomach it—it paid off,” Ayla said.
The best part? Ayla is proudly nursing Beckham two years later! The road has not always been an easy one. Ayla experienced mastitis and clogged milk ducts multiple times. She dealt with bleeding and cracked nipples. Maintaining her supply while at work was a struggle when she wasn’t provided adequate time to pump.
“Breastfeed Chicago is the whole reason I never gave up,” said Ayla. “The support from everyone gave me the strength I didn’t know I had.”
These are the highs and lows that many other breastfeeding parents face, and people like Ayla are the reason Breastfeed Chicago exists. “Every person has a different breastfeeding experience,” said Pavlik, “but many challenges and triumphs that breastfeeding parents experience are similar, and that’s what makes our support group so valuable to our members.”
Our Facebook breastfeeding support group is there when breastfeeding challenges arise, moderated by 24 dedicated volunteers who give their time and expertise. And the parent-to-parent support that is shared within the group is invaluable.
“I’ve had so many moms message me saying, ‘I wanted to quit, but now I know how strong I can be,’ or ‘If you can do it, then I can.’ It’s true.” Ayla wants other parents to know that “whether you are in a relationship like me, a single mom, an intended parent to a baby carried by a surrogate, or an adoptive parent, you can do anything you set your mind to,” she said.
“There are many options” for inducing lactation, said Berg-Drazin, who also volunteers as a moderator on the parent-to-parent Facebook support group. She said it is important for people interested in the process to “learn about them all and choose which is best for them. I think it is important to learn that there is no one way to do this,” she said.
“I’m so proud to say that I’ve inspired other people to try and do something that they didn’t think was possible,” Ayla said. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Breastfeed Chicago envisions a Chicago where all parents know the benefits of breastfeeding and get the support they need to successfully breastfeed their children for as long as they wish. We do this by connecting people with the information and resources they need, by advocating for breastfeeding-friendly practices by businesses, employers, hospitals and health care providers, and by using our influence as breastfeeding parents to normalize breastfeeding in our communities.
With the continued support of individuals, partners, and businesses throughout Chicago, Breastfeed Chicago will move forward supporting even more breastfeeding parents and building a truly breastfeeding-friendly Chicago.
Donate here to help us achieve this goal!