01 Dec Abbie – A Bereaved Donor Story
“How much are you producing when you pump these days?” I asked my friend who sat perched on the chair next to me with the breast pump securely fastened to one of her breasts. Three of the four women in the room were engaged in the same activity, pumping milk for their children.
Across from me sat my sister-in-law who was pumping for her five-month-old daughter. Beside me was my lifelong friend who was pumping for her almost one year old. My best friend who flew in from Denver talked about her experience breastfeeding her youngest. We compared what style pump we were using and what settings we had them placed on…otherwise normal conversation except that it was 15 minutes before we were scheduled to leave to attend the funeral for my daughter, Eve, who had been born ten days earlier.
Some may look at this trio of women and see a group of women pumping milk. For me it was an act of normalcy and sisterhood and an image that will forever be burned into my memory. The idea of Eve giving life giving milk to others even after her death motivated me to pump for six weeks after her death and donate my breast milk to the Mid-Atlantic Mothers’ Milk Bank.
I had my pump set up in a corner of my house in a private room where I would go to escape. I would escape the funeral planning. I would escape the heartache and the grief of not having an infant to hold in my arms. I would escape from the looks of pity and the texts of questions and kind words from loved ones. I would allow myself to think of Eve and think of how short but sweet her life was. She wasn’t supposed to make it. She was supposed to die in utero. But she didn’t. Even in the three days that I was in the hospital while she struggled and fought for life I met with lactation consultants and told them of my plan to donate my milk. They supported my desire to give Eve some milk and I was able to swab her mouth with it shortly before she died.
One of the first times I was pumping at home, my three-year-old at the time asked me in horror what I was doing to my nipples and although we laugh about it I was also very proud to let her know that her sister allowed me to donate my milk to give to babies who needed it. Although she was only three, my daughter understood the significance of this final act and gesture from her brave strong little sister.
Speaking with Hope from the milk bank and going to visit the place where my breastmilk went before it was distributed to the babies at various hospitals that needed it was healing in the sense that it allowed me to follow the path of Eve’s life-giving milk and in a way be closer to Eve. Seeing her leaf with her name on it on the tree in the hallway of the milk bank made her more real. Someone else acknowledged that she had lived besides me. Seeing her name written down by somebody else was such a significant milestone of healing as I continued on my grief journey.
When I think back to the day of my second daughter’s funeral I will always remember my circle of friends, all mothers, all in various stages of feeding, all with babies at different developmental stages but one common bond – the desire to give our babies our own milk. It felt like the only “normal” thing that happened that day. I was just another mother pumping milk with other mothers. Chatting about pumping. It had nothing to do with death, loss, or grief. It was an act of normalcy. And for that I will always be grateful. October 2, 2020 is Eve’s first birthday. It took me just shy of a year to write about my experience of donating my milk. Even this was an important part of my grief journey.
– Abbie, Milk Donor and Mother of Eve