Story: Pumping and Donating Milk After Loss

Pumping and Donating Milk after a loss
(*Trigger Warning* - description and experience of misscarriage, loss and milk coming in after loss).

“It’s too late, Ms. Gauvin... we can only wait now.”

These words will be burned in my memory forever. I was laying down on the surgical bed, they had just finished removing the cervical stitch. To my left, my heart monitor, beeping rapidly. I was anxious. To my right, the ultrasound machine... no beeping there. A few days shy of being considered a stillbirth. “A late miscarriage,” they called it. I’ll always remember the word... miscarriage. (Mis: a prefix applied to various parts of speech, meaning “ill,” “mistaken,” “wrong,” “wrongly,” “incorrectly,” or simply negating. Like I did something wrong with her).

“You did everything you can,” said the nurse. “Go home and rest, she’ll come out when she’s ready.” Fast-forward a few days... Charlie came out, we started to grieve, and her remains have been cremated. I feel pain in my chest. It’s not heartbreak. It’s milk. Milk is coming. I am devastated. I have to make a choice... what will I do? What would Charlie want me to do?

I was looking forward to breastfeeding. To this bonding experience. We’re in a global pandemic, I’m working from home (only allowed 10 days off since I lost her before 20 weeks), and I could have the luxury of donating whatever milk may come. I get the necessary material. A donated breast pump, and what I need to start. I start pumping. Milk flows. I cry. Tears of joy. I can help other babies. Babies who are struggling. Parents who are struggling. I recall my friend telling me about porch poaching of formula. I think of how hard it is to feed babies currently. Diapers are scarce... what about food?

I call my milk bank. They are astonished. They weren’t expecting new donors right now and they are more then happy to take my donation... when the government authorizes milk collections again. Could take months! I’m happy. With the support of my doctor, I continue with the exclusive pumping process, in Charlie’s memory.

Pumping wasn’t easy. I struggled finding non-medical support. I needed to find some help from someone who’s been there, who REALLY understands. That’s when I looked for a local La Leche League meeting. Found one nearby, and virtual too! I made some connections, and found the support I wanted, and deserved. Weeks pass, I get blisters, mastitis, thrush, and a Primary Raynaud’s Syndrome diagnosis. I keep pumping 8-9 times a day, fill my freezer, fill my heart.

While my doctor had diagnosed me with postpartum depression and complex grief, she acknowledges that donating my milk is what has helped me the most. The support I got from La Leche League leaders and group members has been tremendous, and while I never thought this would happen... here I am, sharing my story.

We will be waiting for our rainbow baby, but until then, I hope I get to feed as many babies as I can, and while my supply is now established, and a routine finally set. I’ll wean myself when I am ready. When it feels right, to me.

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Written by: Leah, LLLC Group Mom