The roar of a motorcycle disrupts the quiet of a hospital parking lot the same way an ambulance would. The engine cuts off and a woman wearing a leather jacket hops off her bike. She takes her helmet off to reveal a bandana and neck tattoo. She grabs a cooler from the back of her motorcycle and saunters into the hospital.
For the last two years, Jen Baquial and the Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club of NYC have been delivering breast milk to babies in hospitals and residences. These badass women, dubbed the ‘Milk Riders’, may have a tough and loud exterior, but they have hearts of gold and a story that will make you want to buy a bike.
The New York Milk Bank is the first comprehensive nonprofit milk bank in the state of New York. The bank screens willing breast milk donors, pasteurizes the milk, and then delivers it to babies in need. Because of the nature of the product and the urgency to get food to babies dependent on the milk, Executive Director Julie Bouchet-Horwitz knew she needed a delivery service that could quickly navigate busy city streets and traffic jams. That’s when her idea of asking the Sirens was born.
Jen Baquial was president of the club in 2016 when Bouchet-Horwitz reached out to her and asked if the Sirens would be interested in delivering donor breast milk. Jen was excited to take the idea to the club once she understood the mission: “At the next club meeting, I explained the potential volunteer service partnership and the club also got excited. It was totally unanimous that this was something we wanted to be a part of to help babies and mamas since our club community service focus is always around women’s health issues.”
To keep things organized, Baquial created a WhatsApp group. It allows the bank to put out a request for a rider to make a delivery and lets the closest available volunteers pick up and drop off milk in the timeliest fashion. The all-women motorcycle club has delivered pasteurized milk to babies in need and has also picked up unpasteurized milk from donor depots.
Scary Mommy asked Baquial about a particularly memorable milk delivery. She had this to say:
“There is a woman in the Bronx who I have delivered to multiple times over the course of a few months. The first delivery I made, the baby was awake and the mother let me meet and hold her. She was so fragile and tiny and needed the breast milk to survive due to a GI complication. Her mother calls her a miracle baby. The last time I delivered to them, a couple of months after the first delivery, I got to hold her again. She was beautiful and strong and was holding herself up. It sort of hit me that, wow, this baby thrived through so much and this human milk is what keeps her thriving. I was in awe.”
The Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club of NYC was started in 1986 by Cheryl Stewart as a way to give women riders a place to not only ride but to feel respected and included. There were plenty of men’s riding groups, but for women to be a part of them they had to be Property Of. They had to “belong” to one of the men in the group. Fuck that noise.
Many of the women in the group were and still identify as lesbian, bisexual or queer, but Baquial states that is not a requirement: “Though, if a woman cannot support the LGBT community in the way that we do, the Sirens would not likely be a good fit for them. We have several straight women in the club even now.”
The club is a tight-knit group of women who have found their home in the saddle of their bikes and in formations on their rides together. The Sirens are family. It is an honor and privilege for a new pledge to earn her patch.
Jen Baquial explains: “To become a patched member of the Sirens, a pledge has to complete several commitments within a 12 month period. These things include attending a certain number of club rides, group events, and Pride events. Ultimately, there is a vetting process in which we have time to learn more about a woman, how she rides, and her commitment level to the club before giving her the patch. Our patch (aka colors) is sacred to us, and not just anyone can wear it.”
And not just anyone can deliver breast milk to babies in the same dope way the Sirens do. They are a fierce group of women dedicated to this life changing and saving service.
“This whole relationship with NYMB (New York Milk Bank) has become a bit of a cross cultural experience. It’s been very rewarding,” says Baquial.
To learn more about donating or receiving breast milk from the New York Milk Bank, check out their website or call 212.956.MILK (6455). And you are interested in joining the Siren’s Women’s Motorcycle Club go to their website or Facebook page for more information.