Giving The Gift Of Life After Infant Loss

If a picture speaks a thousand words, this one softly whispers every syllable straight to my heart.

Baby Simon was adopted by parents Ben and Kari in July this year and in this picture, he is being fed donor milk by a mother who I cannot stop thinking about.

Ben and Kari wrote:

"When we started the adoption process, we knew that Simon would be welcomed into our community with open arms.  What we didn't know was that people we had never met would touch our hearts so profoundly with their care for him. 
One of Simon's breast milk donors, Melodye, came for a visit yesterday.  Her twins came way too early and unfortunately never made it out of the NICU.  She courageously chose to turn a disaster into a blessing by choosing to give Simon their pumped milk."

Here is a mother who is supporting and nurturing new life, after a loss that words simply cannot define.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, as well as the month that Melodye's sweet babies were due.  It is a month to bring awareness, connection and support to families experiencing the pain of such tragic loss.

When I look at this picture, I ask myself - would I be so selfless in the same situation? Would I be so fiercely brave and simultaneously vulnerable? Do I have that level of strength within me?

As a culture, we have a very long way to go in acknowledging and supporting bereaved families after a baby's death.  Most mothers still routinely keep our pregnancies secret for the first trimester, just in case...But just in case of what, exactly? Just in case we are one of the 25% of mothers who experience pregnancy loss? Just in case the world cannot handle our pain if we dare to voice it and to show it?

These silent losses are in no way silent for the bereaved.  When every rounded bump, every pudgy baby foot and every sticky toddler face encountered is a vivid reminder of what could have been.

Because we don't 'just' lose a pregnancy after miscarriage or still birth. We lose children and every wish we ever had for them.  From the minute we see those two lines appear, a future has been carved into our hearts.  Hopes, dreams, plans...we are not grieving swollen ankles and heartburn, we are grieving life.

And yet loss knows no limits. It does not care about hopes or dreams, about plans or expectations. It rages through us and leaves very real reminders of its presence.

One undeniably real aspect of loss that many people avoid discussing, or perhaps don't even realise, is lactation after loss.  Ardo USA IBCLC, Jennifer Pitkin, explains:

"After the second trimester of pregnancy, a mother’s body prepares to make milk, and that process makes milk regardless of whether or not your baby comes home."

While Melodye decided to donate her milk, some moms choose to have a milk charm made in remembrance, while others opt to end milk production as quickly-yet-gently as possible.  Whatever choice a mother makes, one thing is certain: she will need a breast pump.

For moms in the US, breast pumps are routinely covered by health insurance, with one caveat: there is a 'live birth clause'.  I honestly cannot believe I am writing this.  Yet again, the health of women is entirely overseen, pushed aside and dismissed.  The idea that we are simply vessels and not eligible to receive support and medical coverage in our own right is apparently pervasive.

Ardo USA IBCLC Jennifer notes:

"I work with moms who decide to pump and/or reduce supply without a baby of their own to feed.  They paid out of pocket for my services, and they shouldn’t have to.  These mothers post on social media looking for used breast pumps because their insurance won’t cover one so they can pump to donate to infants in need."

Moms, if you are currently experiencing pregnancy or infant loss, I urge you to make use of Ardo's bereavement program.  Ardo are industry leaders in the breast pump market, but they're also real people who understand and want to remedy this gaping hole in insurance policies.  Their bereavement program offers a free breast pump to any bereaved mom who has been declined a pump via her insurance.  The program was created after three moms suffering the death of their infants found themselves ineligible to receive a breast pump via their insurance policies, due to the 'live birth requirement'.  These mothers courageously let Ardo know what was going on and so the team decided to step in where legislation had failed.  This scheme is now available to any bereaved mom in the US, with a goal of supporting the individual healing process for each and every woman utilising the service.  You can find out more about this genuine and free program here.

I have heard from moms who have sat where Melodye sits: moms who have donated the milk that their bodies created for their own precious babies, to infants in need.  What strikes me about each and every story is the idea of healing through nurture.   Because these mothers are quite literally giving the gift of life, and they are doing so entirely selflessly and amid a world of utter heartbreak.

These moms are warriors of the gentlest kind and while I long for a world where no parent must experience such pain, I am thankful for the humanity, the courage and the love that is offered in spite of it.

Thank you to Melodye, Ben and Kari for allowing me to feature your beautiful story and picture in this piece.  Welcome to the world, baby Simon, and of course, special thoughts go to Melodye's sweet twins; may you rest peacefully, little ones.

Have you read...
Breastfeeding: Do We Really Need To See It?

If you'd like to receive new posts from Mama Bean Parenting straight to your inbox, just click here