When my milk came in after our stillborn son passed away, I remember how proud I felt. I had confirmation of my motherhood. I know that milk production after a loss can feel like a slap in the face. Some women try to find ways to make it disappear just as quickly as it came. For me it was the opposite, I wanted to hang on to the feeling of being a “normal” lactating mom.
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During pregnancy, I researched breastfeeding and dreamed of nursing my baby. Even today it seems almost mystical how women’s bodies can produce the sustenance to help a baby double and triple in size in mere months, creating all the nutrition a little life needs to thrive.
It seemed that in 2010 less support was available for donating milk, and very little was written about pumping from a loss standpoint. With lack of information and encouragement, I decided not to pursue pumping.
Eleven months later our daughter Josie was born prematurely at 24 weeks. With a preemie in the NICU, my care team advised me to start pumping in preparation for feeding her when she grew. Josie died at four days old, and I continued pumping. The decision was based less on milk donation and more due to my procrastination. I did not want to lose that link to my deceased daughter.
Pumping was affirming not only to my sense of motherhood but also to my ego. After seeking fertility treatments to get pregnant and then having lost two preemies in a year’s time, my self-worth had plummeted. Seeing my body produce milk gave me the strength to call myself a mother each day. The time and dedication I put into pumping every few hours gave me something physical to connect with my grief and my babies. It helped me bide my time as I sat on the couch, eating puffy Cheetos and staring at a blank TV I kept forgetting to turn on.
When it came time for my first milk donation to our local milk bank, it was bittersweet. I cried ugly tears. My milk was going to another baby that was still alive, unlike my own. Yet, it was also a gift from my daughter. It was physical proof that she had been here on earth and was making an impact on the world.
I went back to work after eight weeks and continued pumping — tangible evidence that I had indeed had a baby, even if she had died. I was proud to walk into the lactation room three times a day to pump milk like a “normal” mom. It also gave me time during the workday to think about my daughter, to cry, and to have some alone time away from my coworkers.
The decision to wean off of pumping after three months was hard. It felt like I was losing my baby all over again as I watched the milk slowly lessen to nothing. There was a hormone crash, which led to more tears for a while. Then, slowly, my body began to even out its cycles again.
Today I continue to look back with gratitude as I see the legacy James and Josie have left for their little sisters. Thanks to them I was able to relactate and nurse both of their adopted little sisters. My body had finally done something maternal. Some of the wounds of infertility were healed. I felt like the broken pieces of me didn’t matter quite so much after the gift my children and my body had given to other lives.
Photo by: Emily Grorud
Emily is a very proud mom to two babies in heaven and one adopted miracle on earth. She is endlessly curious about feelings, emotions, and the ways of the world-much to her husband’s chagrin. In her free time Emily enjoys traveling, baking, and spending time with those she loves.