In a piece called Breasts in Mourning, Penny Lane writes about how pumping and donating her milk became her lifeline when her third baby died soon after birth. She has since given birth to two more living children.
Five years ago this Saturday, I gave birth to my son Lyric, who eleven days later would leave this earth. During his short life, I pumped milk for him knowing he would have limited use for it; however, lactating was what I needed to do. I needed to smell sweet milk, feel the fullness of motherhood, have my mind distracted by the responsibility pumping requires, and I needed to care for something, even if only my electric breastpump. After his death, I seemed too focused on my loss to focus on weaning or changing my routine. Lactating was a constant for me, a reminder that this nightmare was reality. I was not loosing my mind. Yes, I was a new mother with empty arms.Month after month, she kept pumping. She donated her milk to mothers whose milk supply had dwindled, to women dying of cancer, to a paraplegic law student wanting to help his immune system, to mothers receiving radiation therapy.
Ten months I pumped and donated. I wrote prayers on the bags of milk that were shipped throughout the Midwest, east coast, and southern states. I felt as if I were given opportunity to nurture and Lyric was given a legacy. In no way did I feel a hero. I needed to lactate. My body longed for it. I believe today that this allowed my body to grieve on a different time table than my heart and my mind. I don't know that had I weaned immediately and lost the comfort provided by my mothering hormones, that I would have survived this tragedy. As my pump died out at ten months, I was ready to set it down and move on into the next phase of my life.Penny is not just any woman, no stranger whose online writing caught my interest. She was the midwife who witnessed my son's birth four months ago. I wonder what kind of strength it must take to be a midwife after losing your own newborn. Or to become a mother again, knowing that you can never take life for granted.
Other links on milk donation & lactation after loss: