Abby Frame is standing in her kitchen, her countertops lined with yellow-lidded glass milk bottles and small rectangular plastic bags. A spiral bound notebook on the counter is filled with notes and measurements, every ounce of precious breastmilk accounted for.
As Frame pours milk from bottles to bags, her husband, Chris, stands over by the stove, packing the smaller plastic bags into larger ones. This careful storing of Frame’s breast milk isn’t for the benefit of their own children, 2-year-old Deacon and 5-month old Lydia, but for other babies, some they know and many more they will never meet.
“I truly feel that everyone has a way to make a difference in this world. And I think this is my thing,” Frame tells Motherly.
Our glimpse into her kitchen and her life came days after Frame, a photographer by trade, posted a self-portrait that quickly spread through Facebook breastfeeding groups.
In the photo, Frame sits on the floor breastfeeding Lydia, surrounded by an impressive circle of frozen, packaged breastmilk. When she uploaded the image she captioned it with a letter to the babies who will benefit from the milk she donates to Tiny Treasures Milk Bank.
There the milk is used by a company called Prolacta Bioscience to make standardized donor milk and human milk nutritional products for babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs). The American Academy of Pediatrics supports using human milk from donors for preterm babies only when it is screened, pasteurized and distributed through established donor milk banks like Tiny Treasures.
“Dear NICU babe,
I don't know your story. I don't know who you are. And perhaps I never will. But maybe, just maybe, you'll do great things in your life. All you need is a fighting chance, right? So you fight little one. You give it all you've got. Whatever you're going through, fight.
And to your Mama, lord. I can't imagine what she's going through either. But her baby is having a hard time and y'all both need a little help. And if my milk can help in any way then it is my greatest pleasure. The 700 hours I have spent pumping and cleaning and packaging this up for you is all worth it.
So take it. Fight. And grow up to be amazing! I believe in you.
Donor Number: 0000060340
So grateful that God has called me to do this. I am so so blessed. We’re going on 8,000 ounces to be donated! I’m so proud of each ounce. It is SO much work. All of it is worth it.”
Frame tells Motherly the application process to become a donor was very vigorous and even felt tedious at times. “You have to get your doctor’s clearance and your pediatrician’s clearance. You have to send them your DNA and you have to have blood work done. Since it’s going to such delicate babies there are strict requirements and restrictions on what you can eat and drink and what medications you can take,” she says.
The company pays to ship coolers full of Frame’s breastmilk to the milk bank, and she receives one dollar per ounce for her “pump, pump parts, bags, milk and time.”
Flipping through her spiral notebook, Frame shows Motherly how she differentiates between the milk she pumps for the bank and the milk she gives straight to three other families in nearby Milledgeville, Georgia.
“So the gallons that I have written down, that I’ve donated, those are just what I’ve donated to families,” she says as she flips a page and runs her finger over line after line of dates and measurements. “The ounces, that’s what I’ve given to Tiny Treasures.”
Frame doesn’t accept compensation for the gallons of breast milk she’s given directly to other families, but says the grateful parents often offer to replace her Lansinoh bags and have also given her a priceless gift. “I have formed quite a relationship with them, too,” she says. “I love watching their babies grow and flourish.”
Since her self-portrait has spread through social media, Frame has heard from many more families who are looking for donor milk. While she regrets that she won’t be able to help them all, she hopes her post might encourage other breastfeeding moms to donate their extra supply to babies in need.
Standing in her kitchen labeling Lansinoh bags, Frame tells Motherly she distinctly remembers the day she decided to donate her milk. “I had so much milk and I didn’t know what to do with it,” she recalls, explaining how she went to bed that night and had a nightmare in which Lydia was “born really sick” and Frame wasn’t able to produce milk for her.
“And [in the dream] I was searching for milk for her to survive. I couldn’t find anyone willing to donate. When I woke up I realized that that nightmare was some people’s reality. And if I could give them that milk, it could give them a little bit of relief. It could be one less thing for them to worry about.”
When we think of NICU heroes, the mind conjures images of medical professionals in lab coats and scrubs but Frame’s story paints a different picture: A t-shirt clad mom standing in her kitchen, looking at her own babies and hoping the milk she’s painstakingly preparing helps other babies get home, too.