In today’s Lactation Matters, we’ll hear from Monique, who opted to donate milk after the loss of her daughter, Freya. Monique shared her story in honor of both daughters (Aviana and Freya) who passed away. For her, it is comforting to have their names out there and for their lives to be recognized in some way.
Clinical Lactation, the journal of the United States Lactation Consultant Association, has published an article entitled Lactation After Loss that you may find useful as you support bereaved families.
When I found out that I was pregnant in 2011, my husband, Justin, and I were both excited and scared because we had already been through a first trimester miscarriage and a loss at 23 weeks gestation when my cervix dilated and I went into early labor (Aviana only lived an hour and a half). Due to previous complications during pregnancy, we decided to work with a high-risk specialist to prevent preterm contractions and cervical dilation. During my pregnancy, I was on bed rest for over three months and was monitored very closely. In preparing for the possibility of preterm labor, I was working with a lactation specialist to learn how to pump milk for a preterm baby. At 33 weeks gestation, there was a cord accident and our second daughter Freya died in-utero. I never had the opportunity to breastfeed or pump milk for Freya.
Even though I had no baby to feed, I produced milk and decided that I wanted to pump. The lactation specialist that I worked with during my pregnancy was bewildered that I wanted to keep pumping my milk after Freya died. She seemed confused as to why a bereaved mother would want to keep pumping her milk . . .
My main support to keep pumping came from my husband and a dear friend, who is a naturopath and a midwife. Both of them encouraged me to pump my milk as long as I wanted to.
The pain of losing a baby is indescribable and for me, pumping milk helped create a structure for the days after my loss that were filled with grief. I pumped my milk multiple times a day for six weeks. I stored every drop of milk that I pumped in a freezer. I couldn’t imagine throwing away “Freya’s Gold” because there was so much love in that milk.
In my experience, there is a general discomfort with grief and loss in our culture. There is pressure to close the loop on suffering which is not realistic for bereaved mothers. Pumping milk is one way that bereaved mothers can manage the intense and ongoing grief of losing a baby.
I have always felt very lucky in love (I love you Justin), and even in the darkest days of my grief, I could feel this light and this love from Freya. I knew I wanted to do something meaningful in memory of our daughter. So I called the Mothers’ Milk Bank about donating my milk. For me, donating milk was a way to help other babies benefit from our daughter’s milk and it was a way to honor my body and my experience.
When I lost Aviana at 23 weeks, I suppressed lactation and never pumped my milk. When Freya died, I chose to continue expressing my milk and then donated it to the milk bank. I made these decisions based on what was best for me at the time. I feel strongly that it is important for lactation consultants to address lactation with bereaved mothers and give them the option to pump their milk so they can make an informed decision.
Special thanks to the Mother’s Milk Bank (a San Jose, California based non-profit milk bank serving 13 states in the U.S.) for working with Monique and sharing her story with Lactation Matters. To stay in touch with the Mother’s Milk Bank, please click here.
Photo credit: Indiana Mothers’ Milk Bank