Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Julia Vázquez-Dodero Fontes, Murcia, Spain
Translated from the Spanish by Laura Brown Laubach, Pamplona, Spain
Lactation after loss.
I was 27 weeks pregnant when I lost my baby. She stopped moving inside of me. I drank a big glass of hot chocolate with lots of sugar, hoping she would react, but when nothing happened I went to the emergency room. There the doctors confirmed that there was no heartbeat and that I would have to give birth to my lifeless baby.
And, though it doesn’t seem like it, this is also a story of lactation.
I was induced and spent 24 hours in the hospital. I was offered a pill to stop milk production. I had already decided not to take it, and in the end the midwife forgot to write it down on my hospital record, so the nurse didn’t even bring it to me. I felt that it was almost the only thing I could control, letting my body react as it needed to. I suspected that I wouldn’t have any milk, after all I hadn’t gotten to the end of my pregnancy, and I, naïvely, thought that my body wouldn’t “realize” that I had given birth.
I went home and the day after stillbirth my breasts began to feel full and hot. This was it. I had to empty my breasts but under no circumstances was I going to throw away this milk, especially the colostrum. So I began my little odyssey searching for a way and a place to donate. I contacted a friend who is a nurse with a breastfeeding clinic in Murcia, Spain. She put me in contact with various people, including La Leche League and another breastfeeding support group, Lactando, to get help with storing my milk for later donation. It wasn’t clear what kind of container was best. Some people said home-sterilized glass jars, others recommended plastic bags for breast milk from a pharmacy, and others said baby bottles. Nobody was sure. I bought sterile containers at the pharmacy and started pumping (not a good idea, but finally the milk bank even accepted the colostrum, which I had stored).
At first I wanted to donate directly to another mother who wasn’t able to breastfeed, I was attracted to doing it the “old-fashioned way” like a wet nurse. Though I wasn’t thinking of directly nursing another baby, but giving another mother my frozen milk. There was an adoptive mother who was interested in giving human milk to her baby, but in the end this option didn’t work out. Meanwhile I had contacted a hospital in Cartagena, which served as a collection point for a milk bank in Granada. (I was surprised and indignant to discover that there were no milk banks in the whole region of Murcia.) The Cartagena hospital supplied me with containers for freezing my milk, and I pumped for two weeks. Then, as suddenly as it had started, my body stopped producing milk, as if it realized the trick. I had calculated on pumping for a couple of months or so. When the milk stopped I was saddened at first, then I came to understand that this was the way it should be.
It was a precious experience. It helped me greatly to be able to do it. I always say it was like delivering a valuable gift that Lola had left in my body; that was how I lived it. It accompanied me in that difficult stage of grief; it honored her visit and gave it meaning. I got goosebumps thinking of the babies who would receive her milk. On the two trips I made to the hospital with my cooler full of frozen jars, I heard the cries of the tiny, premature babies who were going to receive my milk and my eyes welled up. My experience, being able to donate my milk only had positive effects. Seven liters in all! A lot of joy inside so much sadness.