Love and Bottles. Glasgow.
The boy and I went to see one of the places Tanya researches at. She left the house at 5.00am to catch her plane to Glasgow, whereas we waited till the boy’s last day of school was concluded and followed her there at a leisurely pace. We met up and spent the night at an airport hotel (where we watched Portugal just about beat Poland and I managed to remove a beer bottle cap using a hotel coat hanger) and the following morning we proceeded together to the biggest hospital campus in Europe (Europe? Yes – still Europe) .
The Glasgow milk bank serves all of Scotland. Donations of expressed human milk come in from as far away as the Orkneys (light aircraft delivers the mail, flies back with breastmilk etc. etc.). Volunteers help drive the milk to far flung locations. These volunteers are often retired people, I learn, who want to feel gainfully employed and who decide that driving five hours from Glasgow to Inverness and then five hours back, to ensure that a vulnerable neonate gets the kind of milk that will help them fight necrotising enterocolitis and other fatal infections – is how they want to spend their time.
We’re shown inside the bank itself – a tiny unit within an immense hospital complex – and meet some of the staff, who are as friendly and dedicated and inspiring as the very nature of the joy they do might suggest. The fridges are arranged in sequence with notices taped to them to ensure that only the pasteurised fridge is ever used for distribution. Milk arrives in the left hand fridge and departs from the right hand fridge, following testing and pasteurisation. Simple. The system works.
We’re told that just a few donors account for a remarkable percentage of the milk. Sometimes, as it were, the bank manages to hit the “motherlode” – when it comes to securing a healthy supply, although comparing something useless like gold to breastmilk is borderline insulting.
And the boy is of course made a fuss of and embarrassed. A poster child for milk banking – his healthy and vigour – the very mass of him – becomes a walking vindication.
And so we’re on our way, and spend the rest of the day doing fascinating Glasgwegian things, notably visiting the very wonderful Science Centre, where the boy got to help dissect a sheep’s lung. He proclaimed Glasgow’s Science Museum the best Science Museum in the world ever, and given that his experience of Science Museums includes London, Boston, Belfast and Barcelona – this is no faint praise.
But the Milk Bank itself stands as a quiet celebration of inter-connectivity. Humanity at its finest. There are tiny lives being saved and strengthened every day because of donor milk banking. Some of the motorcyclists and private cars who we share streets with are carrying it. As donor milk fed babies grow faster and avoid infections, they get out of neonatal intensive care units faster – living happier lives earlier (and, incidentally, saving a deal of money).
At a time when politicians fail us, and nation states crumble, the smaller, more intimate, more sacrificial and more critical bonds that sustain and save us become all the more precious.
It’s been a horrible horrible week and I needed to visit a milk bank, needed to see one of the places that Tanya works to publicise and explain. Let the milk flow.
Oh, but visit the following…