Ashley, one of the members of Sophie’s Angels has very kindly offered to let me tell the story of her precious angel, her much loved and very sweet baby boy Austin. She was 41 weeks and 2 days pregnant when she found out that Austin has passed away and she says ‘The 24th of August 2017, was the day my world changed forever. At 41+2 we heard the words no parents ever want to hear. Our little boy had gone. Two days later Austin was born. Heartbroken doesn’t quite cover it, in fact, it doesn’t come close’.
Something that not many people consider, and it took me by surprise when it happened after Sophie passed, is that you still produce milk… because to your body… you have had a baby and therefore the milk begins to flow! I personally found this to be one of the hardest things, but Ashley has turned this into something positive ‘Throughout this horrific situation one overriding feeling was present, a lack of control. However, there was one thing I could control, what would happen to his milk. Like so many angel parents before me, I had the overwhelming urge to do-something, anything, to help others. So I refused the pill and began to pump’. Ashley is a nurse and breastfeeding supporter so she felt very strongly that she should be able to help other babies in need. She says ‘Leaders of my local breastfeeding support group were able to put me in touch with my nearest milk bank to begin the process. I learned that early milk is particularly important to the most vulnerable babies, those in special care, which meant that Austin’s milk could be lifesaving’.
Knowing that her milk was helping others gave her a great deal of comfort, and since Austin passed away she has started to help to support other people and she then explored the possibility of milk donation among angel parents. She says ‘I was lucky that owing to my past experience and being a member of a national breastfeeding support group I had excellent support. I was however, sad to learn that this is not true for everyone going through this unique situation. That really hit a nerve’.
Milk donation and the comfort it can give to Angel parents
As Ashley started to talk to grieving parents and bereavement professionals she noticed several things, these included:
- Not being aware of milk donation.
- Being given medication to prohibit lactation without any explanation and even in some cases consent, and this reinforcing their feelings of loss of control.
- Professionals said it was difficult to have these conversations at such an emotional time
The option not being discussed in a positive light, by family and professionals.
- Professionals and friends/family not aware of how it can be a positive way of making and maintaining connection with baby, mothers report that ‘creating a legacy’ can be very helpful during the process of grieving.
- Not knowing how to access information regarding milk donation/banking and accessing/loaning pumps.
- Mothers have talked about not knowing how to, or, not wanting to access usual breastfeeding support owing to unique nature of their situation and discuss a feeling of ‘not fitting in’.
- Pumping mothers describe lack of support relating specifically to exclusive pumping, feeling isolated during this time and discuss desperately wanting to seeking out others who have experienced similar for both practical and emotional support.
- Mothers who were already pumping for babies in NICU/SCBU settings report support stopping when baby died and them not knowing how to manage either stopping pumping, or continuing to donate.
- Mothers who do not wish to donate not having any information on how to manage milk coming in.
A Very Special Gift
A Very Special Gift was created in response to the research conducted by Ashley; she wants to increase awareness of donating ‘legacy milk’ & provide these special people the support they deserve.
If you could share this to spread the word about A Very Special Gift then that would be amazing, this is such a worthwhile and important cause for both angel parents and also parents with babies in NICU, for who donor mile is potentially lifesaving.
Feel free to contact them for more information; you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, see their Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter @legacymilkgift. If you have experience of milk donation after loss then they also have a closed Facebook group.
They are also currently fundraising so that they can produce a website and create more awareness, please don’t feel obliged to, but if you would like to donate then please click here.