Monday, October 18, 2010

Milk

I hold a vision of myself, face puffy and tear-streaked, eyes red, hair hanging slack around my horrified, angst-ridden face. I have no shirt on. I am about to get into the shower, and my breasts are as hard as concrete, every node popped out to its fullest, the sides dimpled all the way around to my back as each and very milk duct was being pumped fuller, fuller, fuller... and not a drop expressed. I remember pushing with my index finger, pushing from the top down towards my nipple to let just a drop or two come out, and feeling surprise at the thick, fatty stream that instantly poured down my breast and dripped down onto my belly, still swollen. I put my finger to my daughter's milk and tasted it. I hadn't known it would be so sweet.
I had to ask, when I was in the hospital, what to do about the milk. The midwife held my hand, told me about putting on a tight bra, about the cabbage leaves, about trying not to touch my breasts. I remember her telling me that any time my breasts were stimulated, whether it be changing my shirt, or the hot water, or my touch, that more milk would come. If I could avoid such things, the milk would soon pass.
As with almost everything at that time of helplessness, I took her advice and clung to it. I was a mother without a baby, and therefore I must make the milk stop. I must do what she said and put on that teeny tiny bra my sister lent me, and take advil, and keep ice on my breasts to dull the pain. When I took a shower I stood with my back to the water, knowing that I shouldn't let the water touch my breasts, lest the milk be permitted to flow.
I compare these moments to the experience of watching my baby girl be taken away from me, and I wonder how it is that I can repeatedly say that the milk was the hardest part. In hindsight, though, I think that part of it being the hardest part was not just the slap in the face that my body was working furiously to provide food for my baby who had died, but the fact that I didn't know that I didn't have to make the milk go away as fast as possible. It could have been a piece of her to keep for a while.
I don't think I would have been in the mindset to pump my milk and donate it, although looking back I wish I could have come to that place. But what I do wish is that somebody had told me that it would be okay for me to pump a little to alleviate the pressure, and that I could take the weaning of my breasts, so to speak, at my own pace. At the time I felt so compelled to make the milk go away because I felt it was my duty; it was what I had to do because there was no baby. But at the same time I was obsessed with the milk; I was constantly taking off that bra and looking at my breasts and crying and letting some milk escape, and feeling guilty and proud of myself for making it and wishing I could keep some of my baby's food all at the same time. It never occurred to me that I could take this process at my own rate. I never thought, let's just let this happen in a way that doesn't hurt, and maybe the milk will last a while, and that's okay.
When the engorgement went away, and the physical pain was gone, I felt freed. I squeezed milk from my breasts every day, let it drip into the sink, tasted it, let it soak my bra pads, and dreamed about it. I dreamed that I was in the locker room at my old middle school, getting changed, and a girl called across the locker room that I was wearing a padded bra.
It's not a padded bra, the girl me said, they're nursing pads, I had a baby.
I was fiercely proud of my milk, because it made me a mother, and I did, in fact, have a baby.
I wonder now, what it would have been like if I had been allowed to go about this at my own pace, if someone had offered me the choices that were out there: to make it go away very fast, to let it come and help it go at my own pace, to let it come and let it keep coming, or to give it away. As with many things, I can't truly look back into my bedraggled, addled brain at that time and know what choice I would have made. But at the time I didn't make a choice, because I wasn't offered one.
*written in response to a conversation I had with a local lactation consultant who attended my seminar last week. She and I were discussing the idea of teaming up to create a resource for bereaved moms that explicitly provides the different options available to moms and perhaps touch upon the emotional journey of the milk. More to come on this.

8 comments:

lesliedispensaperlman said...

I wish this post were here a few weeks ago. I lost Cullen five weeks ago but the milk of course did not realize that. I entered the world of the fellow bereaved through a search on lactation after a loss. After nursing my three living children I was actually concerned that somehow stopping my milk supply after Cullen might in some way impede nursing the next child that we will be trying for.
In retrospect I probably would have done the same thing (no weaning) because I want my cycles to start as soon as possible. But the option to wean is a very important one for all of us and should definitely be a part of the discussion.
Thank you for this post.
Grace- Leslie

Hope's Mama said...

I was given a pill as that is protocol here in Australia. Someone gave me the pill, I put my hand out and took it. I didn't really think of doing things any differently nor did I question it. I had no baby, therefore I needed no milk. But getting home, it broke my heart. And made me dreadfully ill. I could still squeeze tiny droplets out, but it hardly flowed from my body like I had imagined for nine long months that it would. I too tasted it, because I wanted to know what her first food would have tasted like.
Not being able to feed Hope is one of the most painful things for me to reflect back on, still to this day. Get all weepy just thinking about it.
xo

Rixa said...

My midwife lost her third baby. She pumped and donated for 10 months and felt this helped her immensely in the grieving process:
http://rixarixa.blogspot.com/2009/09/breasts-in-mourning.html

dude said...

i hated the milk, hated every drop. it was there to nourish my baby, help her grow... why couldn't it have kept her strong a little longer. why couldn't it have flowed faster so she didn't have to work so hard to get it. why couldn't it help her?
I actually didn't want to nurse Lemon because I felt like such a failure, I didn't want to be responsible, solely responsible for keeping Lemon alive after I failed her sister.
My husband is actually the one who urged me to try. Lemon latched right on, and it really does make me feel so strong to know that I was solely responsible for keeping her alive and I did it.

Charlotte's Mama said...

I checked out Rixa's post and it made me think of something that i was musing last night as I was writing... which was that I wonder, and imagine, that it might be a more obvious healing tool for a mother who had previously nursed babies to pump and donate milk, as opposed to somebody who had never done it before. I certainly think that if I had given birth to Charlotte after nursing Liam and Aoife, it would have seemed obvious to me that her milk could save somebody, and that it was something she could do for the world. But having never done it before, it never crossed my mind. I sat with a mother a few weeks ago who was about to deliver her fourth child, who had died. She had cherished nursing her others and was quick to say longingly, I wish I could pump my milk and donate it. How quick I was to leap forward and say, YOU CAN. It set some soothing balm on her torn apart heart, and I can see how this would work. There is much more to say on this topic.

Ya Chun said...

The milk was definitely an emotional mine field.

I don't know now if I would have tried donating it then or not. Of course, I also really hate pumping now and very rarely do it.

YabbaDabbaDoula said...

There are no right or wrong answers here, as a lactation consultant it is my bias that families be informed of their options. We provide families who experience loss in the facility I work for (I am a Lactation Consultant) with instructions related to lactation suppression, and donation.
This project may interest you:
http://www.mohalabirth.com/Mohala/Bereavement.html

Laurithree said...

I too found the lack of Lactation information offered after my loss frustrating and disappointing. I was lucky to have knowledgable friends to suggest and facilitate donation.

Such a resource for other moms is exactly what I am hoping to accomplish with my Rowan's Milk Survey and Blog. Perhaps we can work together. I developed the survey with the LC who helped me so much after my loss.

You can check out my story and link to my survey on Lacation After Loss on my blog http://rowansmilk.blogspot.com

Thanks for sharing,
Laurinda Reddig