When Amy Anderson delivered her stillborn son Bryson at 20 weeks, her milk came in. Her doctor advised her to bind her breast to stop the production, but she decided to ignore the advice.”I thought to myself, OK, I have this milk. Now I need to figure out what to do with it,” Anderson told Today Parents.
She decided to begin pumping her milk to donate. Unfortunately, her employer at the time was not supportive. When she asked if she could take breaks to express milk she was told, “Your baby is dead.”
“It doesn’t matter whether or not you now have a baby to hold. I was a lactating woman with physical needs,” Anderson told Today Parents.
There is unbelievably so much judgment that exists around grieving mothers who’ve lost children during their pregnancies. When a child is born still, there is this underlying, unspoken hope that the parents can just move on. Maybe we are so horrified with the concept of losing a child like this, that in many cases we don’t give parents the space they need to grieve. It’s the only way you can really explain an employer daring to make a statement like, “Your baby is dead.” If a mother is lactating, why should it be anyone’s decision but hers to determine what to do with that milk?
Anderson is fighting to change the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law that does not include bereaved or surrogate mothers. She’s hoping to change the terminology to include all breastfeeding mothers. Her personal efforts yielded an amazing 92 gallons of breast milk over eight months that resulted in more than 30,000 feedings. Wow.
What an incredibly selfless act — to work through your grief while at the same time helping others. Her voice and story has also comforted other women going through the same circumstance. An amazing thread of comments erupted when Today Parents shared Anderson’s story on their Facebook page:
My daughter was stillborn at 36 weeks, and I did everything I could to keep my milk from coming in. However, nearly 3 weeks after her birth I had a terrible morning and my milk came rushing in. I decided right then it happened for a reason and I started pumping right away. It saved my soul. Knowing my daughter was the reason I could provide this milk to babies in need brought me back to life and made me feel like her life and my pregnancy weren’t for nothing. Bless all mothers who find it within themselves to do this selfless act while going through such grief and loss.
I personally have been pretty quiet about our decision to donate breast milk after our daughter passes (she will either be stillborn or pass soon after birth). This was a decision both my husband and I made but I am also aware of all the ney-sayers out there. I want to be confident in my emotions and physical abilities before my personal “world” knows. You… are a true inspiration to me.
My daughter was stillborn at 33 weeks and in those few hours after, it didn’t even cross my mind that I was about to start lactating (mind you, she was my second child). I understand the pain and strength that this beautiful mother endured through every single moment. It is beyond inspiring…her gift of love and life to others is encouraging to all women like me who must endure the devastating pain of losing a child.
My son was born at 24wks. I pumped to try to give him the best start possible. But he grew his angel wings at 13 days. I was so devastated but being able to donate my milk to other babies in need seemed to help me work through my grief.
Each year in the United States about 25,000 babies, or 68 babies every day, are born still. That is a lot of families dealing with grief — and a lot of women dealing with the physical repercussions of having been pregnant. It’s incredibly brave and selfless for women who lose their children to continue to lactate so they can donate milk to other families in need. They should certainly be protected by the same laws that protect any other lactating women. Anderson is working for Mothers Milk Bank Northeast and working toward becoming a breastfeeding consultant.
“Family and friends were always so nervous to bring up Bryson’s name and didn’t realize that I needed the acknowledgement, but now with what I’m doing, he gets brought up every day, which makes me smile.”
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