I had two stillbirths in two years.
After my second loss, my midwife offered me pills to stop my lactation.
Instead, I decided to donate my breast milk.
While I was in the hospital after my second stillbirth in two years, a French midwife discreetly handed me a box of medication to stave off lactation.
I understood it was a compassionate gesture, meant to prevent a daily reminder of a devastating loss. As I do when I'm in doubt about something parenting related, I consulted my online mom network back in the US about their experience, and at the end of a long thread of advice came a surprising reply: "Why not just donate your milk?"
I was embarrassed I hadn't thought of it myself.
This wasn't my first time donating breast milk
I had donated gallons to milk banks after two of my previous deliveries. Why should this one be any different?
It turned out there was a lactarium in our French city, but when my partner asked about donations, they refused without explanation. Same for those located in other major cities. Though I had also donated privately in the US to a couple adopting a newborn, research revealed that route to be illegal in France.
Incensed by the idea that my daughter's milk might be defective simply because she was no longer alive — her milk being essentially the only "organ" left for me to donate — I rented a hospital-grade pump and stubbornly got to work filling my freezer with breast milk.
A stranger made my donation possible
In the meantime, I wrote desperate emails — one to a female French politician vocal about human milk donation, another to the Association of Lactariums of France, and finally to a European council on human milk located in nearby Switzerland.
Only the last one replied, a compassionate response from a representative saying she was leaving for Lisbon, Portugal, the next day to attend a conference held by the European Milk Bank Association. "I cannot promise anything, but I will do my best to find someone to help you."
Thanks to her, I received an email one week later from the director of my city's milk bank asking my partner and me to come in for a discussion. She told us the story of a woman who donated her milk while her newborn lay in intensive care. When the child died, the lactarium allowed her to continue donating, but when they asked her to stop six months later, she fell into a deep depression.
Ending her donation was like mourning her child's death a second time. Their guilt at watching this mother suffer led to an unwritten policy never to repeat the situation.
It was healing to know it wasn't my child's being deceased that prevented the lactarium from accepting her milk and that their reasons were compassionate. But I was adamant.
I repeated all my reasons for wanting to donate. Pumping my milk would induce the tiny contractions necessary to get my uterus back to pre-pregnancy size and health and further help prevent breast and reproductive cancers.
Having had my own six-week preemie, I knew well that donating this milk — especially that of a premature infant — could either help a preterm baby in need or further human-milk research. I also told her I wanted to clear a path for other bereaved mothers to donate.
I assured her that donating was in no way an attempt to keep my daughter alive; we planned to get pregnant again as soon as it was safe to do so.
She said as long as I agreed to stop after six weeks, we could give it a try.
I kept it up for four, donated two gallons of my daughter's milk, and was able to bring some meaning to my grief.
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