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Crying Over Spilled (Breast) Milk

By Brad Snyder

It took exactly eight days of fatherhood for my first parental failure.

It arrived in the form of a box weighing 16 pounds packed with Ziploc freezer bags of breast milk pumped by Samantha, our surrogate, which she had shipped from California to our home in New York City. Despite my incessant refreshing of FedEx’s webpage to track the box’s every move, it somehow ended up sitting in my building’s package room for hours. When I opened the door to the room, the sticky smell of milk, familiar but heavier, wafted through the air.

My husband, Chris, and I did not expect Samantha to pump for us. But in the hospital on the day she gave birth to our daughter, Emma, she told us she wanted to give Emma a “head start.” The offer felt like another miraculous gift. Samantha pumped the first milk, known as colostrum, or, as the parenting books called it for its many health benefits, “liquid gold.”

So, like any new father with plans to overachieve, I treated the logistics of shipping breast milk as my first major test of parenthood. I researched the quantity of dry ice needed to keep the breast milk frozen (no one seemed sure), found a store close to Samantha that sold 10-pound blocks for $1.29 per pound, and opened a FedEx account so she could easily ship from any location. I also shared with Samantha the results of my Google research — that it was best not to fill the bags to capacity since the milk would expand as it froze. In a short time, I became a breast milk shipping and preservation specialist.

Despite the careful planning, everything went wrong. As I picked up the soggy box, its bottom ripped, and bags of breast milk landed on the floor. Smoke from the melting dry ice danced around me, a cosmic force laughing at my ineptitude. I made two frantic trips up the stairs, each time carrying armfuls of bags with leaking breast milk pressed against my chest like some kind of breast milk Santa Claus.

In our apartment, I placed the bags into bowls filled with ice. Then, naturally, I Googled whether it was safe to re-freeze defrosted breast milk. The search produced horror stories of freezer doors not being closed all the way and warnings about bacteria from re-freezing milk. I called our pediatrician’s office knowing what the doctor’s advice would be. I turned on the faucet in my kitchen sink, opened up the bags of breast milk, and emptied one bag after another into the drain. It felt like an act of parental vandalism.

This was not supposed to happen. We had done our homework. For months prior to Emma’s birth, Chris carried a paperback copy of Dr. Spock’s The First Two Years with him everywhere he went. I had consulted the parenting blogs and downloaded all the apps that would place the secrets of the parenting universe into the palm of my hand. But none of the usual sources of parental wisdom or preparation prepare you to inevitably, and spectacularly, fail.

Looking back, it was good to get the first of many failures out of the way so soon in such a memorable fashion. Whenever I feel the wave of parental doubt begin to wash over me, I think about how Samantha, a California native and mother of a daughter herself, reacted to the news of the spilled milk.

Don’t sweat it, she texted. I’ve got plenty more.

— Brad Snyder

Brad Snyder is an essayist and humor writer when he’s not at work at his day job as a nonprofit grant writer and fundraiser. Recent or forthcoming publications featuring his humor work include Points in Case, WryTimes and Frazzled. He also expects to be pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing (provided a program will have him).

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