Justine Hémond, Caroline Fréchette and their little baby form a tight-knit family unit. They’re united, among other things, by ties of… milk!
Caroline carried the baby in her belly. But, unusually, both mothers are breastfeeding the little one. Thanks to “induced breastfeeding” – a treatment that triggers the production of milk without pregnancy – Justine can breastfeed, an experience she describes as marvelous.
By Marie-Claude Simard
For Caroline to become pregnant, the couple resorted to a sort of a home-made insemination. In other words, they found a sperm donor, and Justine injected that sperm into her partner.
Both women wanted to breastfeed. Justine didn’t go through a pregnancy, which activates prolactin, the hormone that promotes breast milk production (lactation). But it was vital to her that she be able to participate in the breastfeeding of her own child.
Breastfeeding is a profound emotional experience that many mothers want to share with their child, even if those mothers didn’t carry their baby. Medical supervision is required when triggering lactation without a pregnancy. Usually, lesbian mothers and adopting mothers ask for this rare and little known treatment.
“I feel a strong desire to biologically participate in this process,” Justine explains. “I told myself that even if I didn’t carry our child, and I have no DNA link with him, my body would still allow me to give him something, to fulfill his needs, to feed him.”
Hormones and a Breast Pump
During the two and a half months preceding little Chad’s birth, Justine prepared her body. On medical advice she took female hormones (contraception pills) and domperidone, a medication that increases prolactin production as a side-effect. A week before the predicted date when her partner would deliver, Justine began working with a breast pump to foster lactation.
She explains: “When Caroline was giving birth, I was pulling between half an ounce and one ounce of milk out of my breasts at the end of a complete pumping session. I was very proud of that.”
It takes a considerable amount of determination and courage to go through this medical protocol. Extracting milk from one’s breasts can be an uncomfortable, painful process, especially at the beginning, and even more when there’s no baby to feed.
“Before the birth of the baby,” says Justine, “when I started stimulating my breasts with the breast pump, I did it 8 to 12 times a day for almost 20 minutes at a time, even at night! And there was no baby to feed yet. I had to just plug in my breast pump and wait. To help me, I kept my goal in mind. It made things easier for me when I reminded myself that there was a baby on the way, and I was going to feed him.”
After Chad came into the world on November 20th, 2020, Justine had to wait a week before she could start breastfeeding him. Caroline, who had just given birth, breastfed the baby over that first week in order to secure her own lactation. The nursing team guided both Caroline and Justine, given that Justine would eventually have to follow the same instructions.
Tears of Joy
Justine recalls: “At first I watched Caroline breastfeeding and I continued to pump my own milk. Finally, the big day arrived! That first time, I was sitting in bed, I held the baby to my breast, I looked at my wife and I cried. My tears flowed, but not because I was sad! I was happy. The moment I’d waited for had finally arrived. All the efforts I’d undertaken had borne fruit. I’d won. It was magical.”
The two mothers quickly formed an efficient feeding team. “We learned together, and we supported each other in what we were going through. I never felt alone. Sometimes we switched feedings to accommodate the other. When the baby awoke at night, we both woke up.”
They came up with a feeding schedule that would take Justine’s eventual return to work into account: “Early in the morning, in the evening, before going to sleep and overnight, I did the feedings. My spouse did the feedings during the day, and I pumped my milk out during that time. On the other hand, when I was doing the feedings, Caroline used the breast pump.”
Chad is six months old now. He never lacks for milk. The mothers use the breast pump to collect milk, and Chad feeds out of his baby bottle. “We put our milk in the fridge to nurse the baby,” Justine says. “We’ve got almost 10 litres of milk in the freezer!”