I was invited and attended the Carmen’s Tree Ceremony at the Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas in May. This ceremony honors the very first milk bank donor to donate breast milk after her baby passed away. Each leaf on Carmen’s Tree represents a donor mom’s baby including the baby’s first name and birthdate. Of course, I have my leaf for Evan!
I was very impressed with the knowledge of the staff and the actual process of pasteurizing the milk. Ms. Simone Summerlin, the Director of Programs gave us a tour of the facility, while some families chose to have refreshments or just stood around talking and taking pictures of the Carmen’s Tree wall memorial and their special leaf.
The process of donating breast milk starts with collection—it can be delivered, picked up from certain collection sites, or shipped in approved coolers. The milk is bagged and tagged with a unique bar code for each mom and stored in freezers that have to be kept at certain temperatures. Each freezer has a thermometer and an alarm that will sound off if it gets below a certain temperature (the staff will get notified, no matter the hour, that the freezer is too warm). The milk goes into the lab and is safely thawed and sometimes mixed with other donor milk to get the best antibodies and nutrients. The milk is bottled and re-labeled with the nutritional information and put in the shaken hot water bath for pasteurization to kill potentially harmful viruses and bacteria. The gentle shaking ensures that the milk does not get too hot in places. They also have thermometers and alarms because the water has to be just right. This special method of pasteurization does not compromise the majority of the milk’s immunological properties. In the end, the bottles of milk (there are two sizes) are put in the freezer with labels for premature babies in hospitals or babies that are at home. The Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas can produce milk with more fat or skim milk (whatever the baby needs). The best part is that the milk is made to meet the needs of each baby!
After the tour, the program consisted of a prayer by the chaplain and the honoring of every single baby whose name was on the tree (there were a lot of names…actually 244 names). On this particular Saturday morning, it was raining and the balloon release almost did not happen. Finally, right before the Carmen’s Tree Ceremony was over, the rain stopped. The families were given a pink or blue balloon and we were able to go outside to release them.
Just so that you will know…one ounce of milk will feed 3 premature infants! A little definitely goes a long way! 🙂
*Please forgive me if I left out a few details in the donation and pasteurization process. There was so much information that was given out at the Carmen’s Tree Ceremony and I was so involved with being in the moment, taking pictures, and learning.