#57 Milk Wanted

March 9, 2016

There are parents in the US desperate for breast milk and others who have too much milk and end up pouring it down the sink. Reply All Producer Phia Bennin wades into the world of breast milk markets, and discovers a breast milk paradise, shady breastmilk scammers, and the surprising history of breast milk in the United States.

The Facts

Our theme music is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder.

Our ad music is by Build Buildings.

Further Reading

Anna’s Website, Liquid Gold Concept

Ambrosia Milk

Kara Swanson’s book Banking on the Body

 

Sponsors

Sabra

Stamps.com

Audible.com

Show transcript

ALEX GOLDMAN: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m Alex Goldman.

PJ VOGT: And I’m PJ Vogt.

ALEX: This week we have a story that is not by me and PJ but by fantastic Reply All producer Phia Benin who is in the studio sitting right next to me. Phia.

PHIA: Ok. I’m telling you about my friend, right?

ALEX: Right.

PHIA: So I was hanging out with this friend of mine and she told me that I really had no idea how difficult it is to get breast milk if you want it and how expensive it can be. She had recently had a baby, and she needed some breast milk. And she ended up–she lives in Brooklyn–she ended up going to Harlem, driving up to Harlem to get breast milk. And when she got there, this stranger handed her some breast milk and she handed the woman a bottle of champagne. And it seemed absolutely nuts, that that’s the —

PJ: That’s the exchange rate? Like, something that comes out of your body for free and like the most expensive stereotypical liquor?

PHIA: Yeah, it also seemed like, “How could that be the store? The store is going to a stranger’s house for breast milk?”

PJ: Right.

PHIA: But yeah, she said that’s how difficult it is. And I was telling my mom about this, I was telling my mom how hard it is to get breast milk, and she said to me that is crazy because she had enough breast milk that there were times she ended up having to pour it down the sink and if she had known that there were other moms who just needed her milk. . .

PJ: She would have gotten so much champagne.

PHIA: She would have gotten so much champagne, and she would have like wanted to given it to them. She would’ve. . .

PJ: Right.

PHIA. If, if there was an easy way for her to do that, she would have done it. So you have a person who has too much of something and a person who wants that something–there should be a market that’s connecting those two people. So all I wanted to know is why doesn’t that exist, why don’t we have that?

PJ: Is it like a one sentence answer and we can just get out of here?

PHIA: No, it’s so hard to figure out. I’ve been talking to so many people about breast milk and and the first person I want to introduce you to is this woman named Diane Weigley. She lives in Dalmatia Pennsylvania. It’s this tiny little town in the middle of the state.

PHIA in Pennsylvania: Oh look at you two. Hi, Diane, it’s so good to meet you.

DIANE WEIGLEY: Good to meet you.

PHIA: Hi, James. Good morning.

PHIA: So Diane has a 1 year old baby. . .

PJ and ALEX: Uh huh.

PHIA: . . .named James and he’s very cute and he has big blue eyes.

PHIA in Pennsylvania: . . .so good. You’re just taking it all in.

DIANE: Yeah.

PHIA: You’re quiet.

DIANE: He is right now.  

PHIA: James was born January 2015. He was 11 weeks premature, so at first they put him in the intensive care unit, and Diane immediately went to work trying to breastfeed him. But she wasn’t producing enough milk and at first that didn’t seem like a huge deal.

DIANE: When I didn’t get to do that I thought, “Well, he can, he can grow up on formula. He’ll be ok. I grew up on formula. But never thought that that kind of source of food would betray me in the end I guess?

PHIA: Diane and her husband would feed James and he would just wail cry. He developed rashes and he was wheezing after they fed him and he would projectile vomit after they fed him.

ALEX: Oh.

PHIA: Even at night they were having to stay up with him and keep him in his carseat so that he would be like slightly vertical so he wouldn’t choke on his own vomit.

PJ: Oh.

PHIA: And each formula she tried, like, it would either be the same or worse.

DIANE: It was just making things like a living nightmare. Nothing, nothing seemed to be working out. And we loved our son and you know, he’s ours and we’ll always take care of him but we thought that we were kind of. . . that we were insufficient for him.

PHIA: And after 3 or 4 months of this, a friend of hers who was breastfeeding her own baby says, “Why don’t you try giving James some of my milk?” Diane gives it to James, and just like that, he’s calm.It was like a miracle drug.

So now Diane knows what she needs to keep her baby healthy. Breast milk. But the problem is her friend has to cut her off–she needs that milk for her own baby.  And so Diane calls a milk bank. She can buy milk there, but it will be $4 an ounce, which is way too much money. It would amount to, like, $600 a week.

So the next thing Dianne tries, she goes into work, goes up to co-workers and says, “I know you recently had a baby. This is what’s going on in my own family. Do you have any extra milk you could give me.”

PJ: Which is really uncomfortable.

PHIA: Which is super uncomfortable.

ALEX: Yeah, that’s a tough conversation to have.

PHIA: And then they all said, “Sorry I’m not pumping anymore. I don’t have any extra.“ No luck.

PJ: God.

PHIA: Then, she does the thing that I think either of you would do which is she starts to look online.

PJ: Oh. Right, right.

ALEX: That is the thing either of us would do.

PJ: Cuz. Yeah, basically I would just go to craigslist.

PHIA: She doesn’t do that actually because craigslist prohibits the sale or even the donation of breast milk. But there are Facebook groups where women exchange breast milk. They have names like Eats on Feets and Human Milk for human babies–and moms are posting, like, “I have extra milk, do you want it?” And other moms are posting saying “I need milk, can I have it?”

PJ: And it’s just like an exchange? Like do they charge each other?

PHIA: You’re not supposed to pay. It’s just giving it to each other. So Diane starts writing these women–these total strangers. She’s asking if they have extra milk

PHIA in Pennsylvania: You’re gonna turn left here.

PHIA: But to get that milk means driving all over Pennsylvania. Which is what Diane has been doing for the last 9 months.

PHIA in Pennsylvania: We’re 6 minutes.

PHIA: She’s been to Harrisburg, Elizabethtown, York, Wilmington. The day I was there, she was headed up to State College about two hours away. . .

DIANE: Is it this stoplight?

PHIA: . . .to meet a woman at a Taco Bell.

PHIA in Pennsylvania: . . .still going.

PHIA: James was sleeping in the backseat.

PHIA: So we get to Taco Bell. We’re super late,

WOMAN: Nice to meet you.

DIANE: Thank you so much for your patience.

WOMAN: You’re welcome.

PHIA: The woman Diane’s meeting is in her late-20s, looks business  professional.

PHIA in Pennsylvania: I’m Phia.

PHIA: She’s wearing a green wool coat.

PHIA in Pennsylvania: Nice to meet you.

WOMAN: Do you have a cooler?

DIANE: I do in my car.

WOMAN: That’s good. How’s your son doing?

PHIA: The woman hands Diane 3 or 4 bags of milk. The whole thing is nice and pleasant and polite and a little bit like a first date.

DIANE: Is there a later date that I could maybe meet with you again?

WOMAN: Sure. So, Jake’s 4 months now. Still, I’m still figuring out all… my supply seems good and all is well at daycare.

PHIA: Even if this Mom decides to meet up with Diane, again, decides to give her more of her milk. Diane has a bigger issue. Which is, Is this milk safe?

Every mom she meets, she has to decide, based on her gut, does she trust this milk?

DIANE: Am I always worry that there’s a chance that my son is getting cross-contaminate with, you know, like blood borne pathogens? Yes. I am. But it’s that or he doesn’t eat. It’s very tough and I will be forever heartbroken if I know that I’ve given my son something that he can’t come back from.  Not that I believe any of the mom’s that have give milk have AIDS or hepatitis. That’s a real, a real struggle. But I have no choice.

PHIA: Diane’s meeting up with these women from the Facebook group thing for a while, and then one random week last summer there’s just no more milk available. And Diane’s supply has gotten really low. She’s down to, like, one grocery store brown paper bag of milk.

DIANE: I probably had a day and a half’s worth of milk leftover.

PHIA: Which means, in a day and half, Diane can’t feed her baby.

DIANE: I searched in Missouri because I had family in Missouri. I searched in Tennessee because I had family in Tennessee and perhaps they could pick that milk up for me. And it just seemed like every post that happened, within 20 minutes somebody had already claimed the milk.

PJ: Wow! It’s like. . . there’s something very modern about the fact that she’s using the internet, but like, it’s so weird that there’s. . .anything else it would be like Amazon. Like, like it’s so weird that she has to, like, enlist her family and look in these specific states. Like it feels. . .there’s something olden-times about it.

PHIA: Yeah.

PJ: You know what I mean?

PHIA: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, like, you can get Amazon to ship anything within, like, today.

PJ: Yeah, and you’re not like, “Do you know anybody in your hometown that has, like, cloth for diapers and like, if so, like on Sunday, like, grab it and come in a caravan,” like it’s just very. . . it’s so far away from modern or convenient. It’s so nuts.

PHIA: Yeah. Yeah.

PJ: So what did she do?

PHIA: She goes to a site that’s more like the Wild West of breast milk. It’s called Only the Breast. It’s a lot more like eBay or craigslist. It’s a place where you pay for the milk.

PJ: And what does it look like? Like, does it look like– an you actually, can we see it?

PHIA: Yeah. I in fact have username and password. Here’s Only the Breast.  

ALEX: Pretty nice.

PHIA: Like, there’s an area for selling, there’s an area for buying. You can list how old your baby is. There’s a section for like if you want milk from a vegan mom.

ALEX: Oh wow.

P: If you want. . .

PJ: “Willing to sell to men” is its own category?

P: Yeah. So this is the other thing about this site. There are lots of families that don’t the the person in the family who produces breast milk, like, there’s families with two gay dads or a single dad. There’s families with surrogates or people who have adopted.

ALEX: Right.

PHIA: And then there are also people looking for milk not for babies.

PJ: Like?

PHIA: There’s a few different categories. There’s some people who are bodybuilders who. . .

PJ: No. No.

PHIA: . . .want it.

PJ: No.

ALEX: For what purpose, do they think that it grows muscle in a way that. . .

PJ: Haven’t you ever noticed that babies are the most muscular form of human?

PHIA: So, so yeah so they think it’s gonna to increase their muscle mass. There are people with certain medical illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome and cancer. Or I talked to one guy in Wisconsin who has this disorder that has been, so far, totally incurable and he says breast milk is the one that’s been able to resolve it. It’s like his muscles contract and shake all the time and he says it totally calms his muscles. And then there are also just people with fetishes.

PJ: Like in a sex way?

PHIA: Yes, exactly. So anyway, Diane goes to the site. She asks for help. and she she there was like nothing for a day and then one woman wrote back and the woman said, “I’ll give it to you for free, but you need to pay for shipping. And she was based in, I think, North Carolina.

PJ: Uh huh.

PHIA: And, you know, Diane lives in Pennsylvania.

ALEX: So does she. . .

PJ: You have to like, it’s like overnight and frozen and. . .

PHIA: Right. Exactly. And then the milk didn’t come. And then the woman wrote again and said, “Oh, it was held ’cause you didn’t fill out some form right. You need to send $300 more dollars. . .”

PJ: Oh no.

PHIA: “. . .to get the milk released and then that money will be returned.” And in her desperation. . .

PJ: No.

PHIA: Diane and her husband decided to send that again.

ALEX: And it never came?

PHIA: And it never came.

PJ: God, what a low life.

PHIA: And so then you still don’t have milk for James?

DIANE: No. We did not have milk.

PHIA: Here’s what makes me so nuts about what’s going on for Diane. It objectively doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to be that way for Diane or for other moms. When I was looking into this, I found out about a place where it seems like they figured all of this out.

ALEX: After the break a breast milk utopia.

 

BREAK

 

ALEX: Welcome back to the show. Before the break, Phia was saying that she’d found a place where they have figured out everything that we can’t seem to get right about breast milk.

PHIA: Yes. So let me introduce you to a woman named Anna.

ANNA SADOVNIKA: My name is Anna Sadovnika. I’m an MD, PhD student at UC Davis.

PHIA: So in 2014, Anna went to Brazil.  

ANNA: I spent 3 weeks in Rio and a week in Brasilia and I was completely immersed in the breastfeeding culture.

PHIA: Brazil is a breastmilk paradise.

ANNA: First week I got there I was. . .first day I got there, they told me, “Ok. You know, here’s a tour of the facility and the facility is in the hospital, right?

PHIA: Mmhhm.

ANNA: Here is a mom who just delivered. She is in a lot of pain. Her breasts are engorged. She can’t get a lot of milk out of them. Here’s the message technique. Can you spend an hour with her and do this with her?

P: You did that your first day?

ANNA: Yeah, I’m like, “I’m sorry, what!?” I’m looking at this mom and she has tears in her eyes. Like, it is painful for her. And I remember after about, you know, 5-10 minutes of me. . .I mean, this is the first time I’ve ever touched breasts that were not my own. I was like, “This is, this is new for me.” And, and I remember after about 10 minutes of this very simple kind of rhythmic massage, suddenly there wasn’t pain in her eyes, you know. I looked up and she was just, she felt, she felt. . . she looked calm. And I think that moment I realized that there’s something different that’s happening in Brazil.”

PHIA: So Anna says that in Brazil there’s this pro-breast milk campaign that is just a national thing. Like, everyone’s on board.

BRAZILIAN ADS: . . .

PHIA: There are TV ads, but that’s just the start.

ANNA: So in Brazil you’ll see really famous celebrities, famous soccer players all support breastfeeding. They’ll have a huge billboard with a mom breastfeeding her baby right there on that billboard. And say, “Donate milk. It saves lives.” One really great poster I saw was two pictures. One is a baby with a soccer ball and the other is a baby with a breast. And the caption is: The two biggest passions in my life.

PHIA: Wow.

ANNA: Yeah.

PHIA: Wow. Okay.

ANNA: Another really cool program they have–and I actually got to experience this first hand–in Brasilia, they have firefighters who are trained to pick up breast milk from the community.

PHIA: There’s even a national holiday for breast milk. It’s “National Day of Human Milk Donation.” Basically Brazil has made breastmilk mainstream.

ANNA:  To the point where I walked into the hospital one day and I see the security guard is talking to the mom, he says, “You really shouldn’t use a bottle. That’ll cause nipple confusion.” I’m like what. . .

PHIA: The security guard is giving. . .

ANNA: . . .is happening? The security guard, yeah

PHIA: And here is the other thing.  In Brazil, the infrastructure amazing. In the U.S., there’s 22 milk banks. In Brazil there’s 218 and  162 drop off locations.

PJ: Where do you drop it off?

PHIA: Community centers and hospitals. Every public hospital has a milk bank in it.

PJ: And do you get paid or do you just do it to be nice?

PHIA: No, it’s just to be nice. So, Anna saw all of these magical things that were going on Brazil. She came back to the U.S. and thought, “We should be doing what Brazilian moms are doing, here. Like, breast massage techniques. She had identified 20 of them, and she thought if American women could learn those techniques, literally millions of women who are having trouble feeding their babies would be making enough milk.

Alex: Wow. Wow. This is crazy to me because breastfeeding was like. . .The first part of Harvey’s life was like sort of the most difficult and confusing frontier of parenthood.

PJ; Why was it, why was it?

ALEX: Why, why was it? Because. . .

PJ: Because I’m realizing, like, I don’t know anything about this.

ALEX: It’s painful. You have no idea how much food your kid’s actually getting. It’s like there’s a lot of sort of mystery and trial and error. And they tell you a couple things when you go to like a birthing class but then once you get home you’re just on your own.

PJ: Ok, so why can’t. . .  So I get that Anna wants there to be more education for mom’s here, but why can’t, like, our whole system be more like Brazil.

PHIA: The biggest reason we don’t have a Brazil system here is because it’s funded by the government.

ALEX: Ooohhhh. . .

PHIA. And it’s hard to imagine the U.S. government ever coming together and saying, “Let’s pour tons of money into a program that’s going to be about health care and women’s bodies.”

ALEX: Right.

PHIA: And nobody is even suggesting something like that.

ALEX: Yeah.

PHIA: But the thing that really surprised me is that you could argue ` we actually had a great system here in the US. It was 100 years ago and then it broke.

PJ: Okay so I would, I would like to hear about that ancient breast milk system that worked.

PHIA: So it’s 1908. And up until this point, if you needed breast milk and you weren’t a woman producing your own breast milk you had to hire a wet nurse. And wet nursing has this horrible history in the US. During slavery, black women were forced to be wet nurses for white families. They had to give up their own babies. And then even after slavery, wet nurses still had to give up their own babies in order to work as wet nurses.

And then this one guy shows up. His name is Fritz Talbot.

KARA SWANSON: He was a young graduate of Harvard medical school in about 1908 and very early in his practice he was faced with a baby who was not thriving who was ill and did not have a maternal source of breast milk.

PHIA: This is Kara Swanson. She wrote a book about this; it’s called Banking on the Body. And she says Fritz Talbot didn’t like the wet nursing system. He didn’t think that moms should have to give up their babies in order to get work.

KARA: So that gives him the idea of a second service. Instead of hiring the wet nurse, you could just buy her milk.

PHIA: This is Talbot’s big innovation. Just buy the breast milk. He hires a nurse to go around collecting milk from women–on like a reverse milk route–and then he publishes about it. And the medical community is like, “Great idea!”

So then other doctors tweak Talbot’s idea and start opening centers to collect milk all over the country. They call them milk stations.

KARA: So in 1943, the American Pediatric Association issued formal guidelines about how to set up and run what they called “mother’s milk stations” or “mother’s milk bureaus.” And those guidelines were very interesting because not only do they talk about how to make sure that the milk you’re collecting is safe. But they also specifically say in those guidelines, “And you should pay the suppliers enough to ensure a good quality of life for them.”

PHIA: So you are paying women for their milk. And then the women buying the milk they can get it on a sliding scale.

So When Kara told me about this I was like “Oh my God. This is a great system. It’s a total win win. This would be great for Diane.”

ALEX: So why isn’t that the system we have now?

PHIA: Well, a few reasons. Doctor run milk stations went away because formula got a lot better. And doctors liked prescribing formula. Which was a great option for lots of moms. I mean, formula has saved lots of lives.There were these donation only milk banks that started popping up, but in the 80’s HIV comes in and everybody becomes terrified and fear of HIV all but wipes out the donation system.

ALEX: Right.

PJ: But really the big thing is formula. It gets better and better and at the same time the marketing gets better. Like, I have this friend. Can I tell you about this friend of mine?

PJ: Ok.

PHIA: So my friend was pregnant and through like Amazon orders or like baby shower registry or something the formula companies figured out that she was pregnant and shipped her a box of formula that she had. . .

PJ: Without her asking!?

PHIA: . . .that she hadn’t ordered.

PJ: Creepy.

PHIA: She was like, “This is dumb. I’m planning on breastfeeding my baby. I don’t need this.” And then she had her baby and she came home and she was having trouble breastfeeding her baby. Eventually when she was having trouble breastfeeding she started using formula.

ALEX: Oh my God, it’s like drug dealers.

PJ: Yes.

ALEX: “First one’s free.”

PJ: I know! They’re, they’re just like, “Well you know, just in case you change your mind.”

PHIA: Right.

PJ: But also, like, the other thing about this story is that somebody was pushing this because there’s money in formula. So, I’m not saying that’s bad I’m just saying why isn’t there also somebody trying to make money off of breast milk? Like, there’s scarcity. There’s people who want it a lot. So why not just make a new system where people get paid?

PHIA: Because Americans feel really really conflicted about that idea. Last year in Detroit, a company tried to come in and do that exact thing, and when they did that, it just turned into this huge controversy. This mother’s group got really concerned that the company was targeting low-income black women, and that they were exploiting those women. That the women weren’t getting paid enough for their breast milk. And that this was milk that really should have been going to their own babies. Like, the whole topic just brought up everything terrible about our history.

PJ: Right.

PHIA: And so the company pulled out. The company left Detroit and it’s just like this blemish on the breast feeding history that nobody wants to talk about anymore. Like, when I asked experts if we should be paying women they declined to talk about it or they said they were concerned that if they talked about it it would damage their career. Like, it’s truly like a non-starter.

PJ: If you told me a week ago that the big question you were going to call people about that they wouldn’t talk to you about was. . .

PHIA: I know.

PJ: “Do you think you can pay women for breast milk?” I would not have believed that.

PHIA: I know. I was asking it and I thought I was suggesting this thing that it was like “I’ve heard about this great idea, and do you think that this is a great idea too, and where are we going be starting it?” And instead people were like “I decline to comment on that.”

And all of that made it so shocking when I then got in touch with this guy:

BRONZSON WOOD: I started thinking about this when I was in California. I was at my sister-in-law’s house and she had had twins and couldn’t, and couldn’t feed them breast milk. And, you know, she was stressed out. And that got me thinking about breast milk and where can you get breast milk. Does, you know, breast milk for sale exist?

PHIA: This is Bronzson Wood. He’s Mormon and he served his LDS mission in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. While he was there, he noticed that the breastfeeding culture was really different — he saw women breastfeeding everywhere there. He remembers one woman who was breastfeeding her baby on the back of motorbike while it was going through traffic. A couple years later, when he was back in the US, he was mulling over this idea of selling breast milk and Cambodia just seemed perfect, really for two reasons.

BRONZSON:  First off, it’s, it’s got one of the highest breastfeeding rates in the world. And second off, it’s developed enough that we can find high-quality services to do blood testing. To, you know, have stable electricity for our freezers. But, it’s not developed enough that we can’t make it worth their time to come donate their milk.

PHIA: So, that’s what Bronzson decided to do. He hired a staff, found a space, hired women to sell their breast milk to him for him to turnaround and sell it in the US. And he named the company Ambrosia Milk.

PJ: It’s weird. . .

ALEX: Yeah.

PJ: Cause part of me wants this to exist, but then it just doesn’t feel good. Like, it feels like The Matrix. Why doesn’t it feel good?

PHIA: Yeah, tell me more about it not feeling good.

PJ: You know, it’s it’s. . .what’s it called? Free trade and, like, somebody in another country and you never even meet them but like, you’re gonna take their breast milk. And you’re gonna pay them much less than you’re gonna sell if for and it’s like, a relatively good deal for them but it’s like, if they were here they’d make way more. . .I dunno. Is it gross? Like, is it gross?

PHIA: I mean, something about it does sit weird. It definitely does. So I hired a Phnom Penh-based radio producer to go to Ambrosia’s offices to meet the women.

PJ: Oh!

PHIA: Her name is Sotheavy At.

PHIA to Sotheavy: Could you tell me about the day you went to visit the, the place?

SOTHEAVY AT: Ok, I, I went early in the morning around 8 a.m.

PHIA: The office is in a really nice neighborhood

SOTHEAVY: The, the sign in front, it say the name is, in Khmer: [Khmer word]. The word [Khmer word] mean “mom” and [Khmer word] it mean like “gratitude.”  

PHIA: So it’s like, “grateful mom.”

SOTHEAVY: Yeah, yeah, grateful mom. Yeah.

PHIA: Upstairs, there’s a pumping room, it’s small, tiled floors.  

SOTHEAVY: When I first entered the, the room, what I heard is the sound of a drama.

PHIA: So they’re watching soap operas?

SOTHEAVY: Yeah.

PHIA: Sotheavy interviewed a lot of the women there. I’d sent her with a list of questions and one of the moms

KORN SOKUN: Korn Sokun.

PHIA: Korn Sokun, she used to be a rubbish collector.

KORN: [speaking Khmer]

PHIA: She says doing that work she made about two dollars a day. She much prefers doing this. Another mom named Peh used to work in a garment factory and her husband’s a mechanic.

PEH: [speaking Khmer]

PHIA: Both of them say this is really easy work.

SOTHEAVY: They only spend, like, half an hour in the morning and half hour in the afternoon. Yeah, and then they, they make a good money. And it, it’s not, it’s not a hard job at all.

PHIA: Sotheavy asked one of the moms if she was having trouble selling her breastmilk and also feeding her own baby.

SOTHEAVY: It hurt her breast when she have a lot of milk. . .

PHIA: Uh-huh.

SOTHEAVY: . .and she had to, like, squeeze it out?

PHIA: Yeah?

SOTHEAVY; Yeah, So, so when she learn that someone want to buy the breast milk, it make her happy because she can sell it for some money instead of like, throw it away.

PHIA: She told me the moms are making 65 cents per ounce, which amounts to about 9 or 10 dollars a day. And I wanted to know is that a good income?

SOTHEAVY: It difficult to say. But, like, most, like if you talking about the Cambodian poverty, like, people live less, a lot of people live less than $1 per day income.

PHIA: Uh huh.

SOTHEAVY: The income.

PHIA: What’s a dollar mean in your life? Is a dollar much money to you?

SOTHEAVY: To me?

PHIA: Yeah.

SOTHEAVY: I can spend a dollar for breakfast.

PHIA: Uh huh.

SOTHEAVY: Yeah.

PHIA: Is it a good breakfast?

SOTHEAVY: Average.

PHIA: Average breakfast, a dollar?

SOTHEAVY: Yeah. Rice and porks with some salad.

PHIA: That sounds pretty good.

SOTHEAVY: Yeah, and it’s very popular for Cambodian.

PHIA: She said that now Peh is making a lot more money than her husband, the mechanic. And they’re eating really well. Whereas before they were mostly eating eggs, now they’re getting pork. They’re getting chicken. It’s really changed the opportunities for what they can eat. ,

PHIA: So, Bronzson started his company back in July and he’s taking the milk that these women are producing, freezing it, shipping to the U.S., pasteurizing it, testing it, and then selling it to anybody who wants it.  

PHIA to Bronzson: Are you, are you worried that people are going to freak out about selling breast milk? Like, is there, are, do you have concerns about it?

BRONZSON: Oh absolutely, you know. The world is a powder keg. And, and we know that what we’re doing is a little, is unorthodox. There’s something, you know, fundamentally different about going and paying women for their milk in Cambodia and shipping it over here. We don’t want to hurt them, we don’t want to hurt their children. We want to create an opportunity for them to, you know, create something of value. And, and get paid for it. And also, also we feel that people just because someone is, you know, less wealthy than an American doesn’t mean they can’t make good choices for their families.

PHIA: So from what I can tell, they are taking steps to protect the babies and the moms in Cambodia. Moms can’t sell their breast milk until their babies are at least six months old, and when you first come in you and the baby get a free check up.

PJ: And have they started selling it?

PHIA: Yeah, you can buy it online. It’s $3 an ounce. He’ll ship it anywhere in the country. $3 an ounce would still be way too much for someone like Diane. Like, that’s still a ton of money.

PJ: It seems like a ton of money for everybody.

PHIA; Yeah.

ALEX: Yeah.

PHIA: It would be a ton of money for everybody. It is cheaper than milk banks. It would be cheaper than milk banks. It’s still really expensive. But I wrote, I, I checked in with Bronzson the other day and I said, like, you know, “You have 10 women pumping right now in your facility. . .

PJ: What if you had 10,000.

PHIA: What’s going, yeah, what happens when this scales up. Like, could this milk get cheaper. So he said, “I hesitate to speculate, but I don’t think that $1.50 an ounce is outside the realm of possibility.

DIANE: I’m going to go put him in the crib. He’s just getting a little tired. Ok, I’ll be right back.

PHIA: A $1.50 an  oz isn’t going to happen soon enough for Diane and James. He still needs milk for 6 more months. And Diane says that ever since that time she got scammed on the website, everything–her whole approach–has been different.

DIANE: We were never gonna let that happen again.

PHIA: And that’s what’s maybe turned you into a little bit of a hoarder.

DIANE: Absolutely. So that’s what created the monster.

PHIA: Diane’s gotten really good at convincing strangers that they should give her their extra milk, and she is not waiting for her stash to get low before she asks for more. Basically, Diane has become the milk bank. She showed me the freezer in her kitchen which is just full of breast milk. There’s nothing else in it. It is only breast milk.

DIANE: This is actually a smaller supply of what we have over at my in-laws.

PHIA: Oh my goodness!

DIANE: So they have a big ole chest freezer that’s just full of breastmilk.

PHIA: How, how, how much milk is this? This looks, I mean, that is a ton of milk.

DIANE: That looks about maybe 1,500 ounces. And you can actually see on the breast milk bags. They tell you how many ounces in there, and they tell you when the date is.

P: How do you feel looking at it?

D: Safe. Safe and, and happy that my son is having enough food that I know he’ll be able to drink for a long time yet.

ALEX: Phia Bennin is a producer for Reply All. Special thanks this week to Chaya Chom of Mekong NYC, Dr. Lisa Hammer,  Alexandra Hartman, and Naomi Bar Yawm of the Mothers Milk Bank Northeast,

PJ: Reply All is me, PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. We were produced this week by Tim Howard, Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and Phia Benin. We had additional help from Kalila Holt and Elizabeth Kulas. Production assistance from Mervyn Degaños. Our editor is Peter Clowney and our show was mixed by Rick Kwan. Matt Lieber is the first day of the year where everyone walks around carrying the coats that they just realized they don’t need to wear. If you’re interested in learning more about breast massage techniques you can Google Anna’s company which teaches them online. It’s called Liquid Gold Concept. Our theme music is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our ad music is by Build Buildings. You can find more episodes of the show on our website replyall.limo. And, as of this week Reply is on Spotify. Spotify. We’ll be back with a new episode next Wednesday. In the meantime, make sure to check out the latest episode from friends over at Surprisingly Awesome. John Hodgman is a guest host this week with Adam Davidson. It’s very good. Okay, see you next week.

 

 

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