Lactation After Loss: A Personal story of how donation helped to honor the loss of their son
"Milk donation after loss created purpose and a legacy for our son"
A mere 6 days until the day our baby was due we received life-altering news: there was no longer a heartbeat. The emotions from that day, March 4, 2016, are still raw. All of the preparation, anticipation and celebration for nothing - I had failed. I could not deliver results! I failed to keep our baby safe and healthy; I failed my husband who had counted on me, and I felt like a fraud to family and friends.
Midway through the pregnancy, the doctors detected heart abnormalities and sent us to a specialist to develop a plan for the arrival of our baby.
Now let me pause for a moment to explain two things: we did not know the gender of our baby until his birth and we blessed the lord with a 7 lb 13 ounce boy whom we named Sawyer.
But we did know that our sweet Sawyer had two known heart conditions. The plan was to give birth at Swedish in Seattle, and from there our baby, and my husband, would be immediately taken by ambulance to Children’s Hospital where Sawyer would undergo his first of 2-3 surgeries during the first phase of life. Later on a heart replacement would be imminent. Obviously this was not the easiest hand to be dealt, but we had a plan and were ready to provide the best care and quality of life for our baby.
Still we were clueless about the process of a stillbirth delivery and put our trust in the nurses and doctors. Our main nurse was AMAZING and made us feel as comfortable as possible and helped us make decisions when we had nothing left to offer.
All of our family was on standby to love on Sawyer before we spent the night saying our goodbyes. Between this time, the most kindhearted photographer captured images that we have so tightly grasped onto in remembrance of our handsome boy. Our nurse also crafted a box with memorabilia that includes Sawyer’s weight and his hand and footprints. These seemingly little things made the biggest difference in our ability to navigate the debilitating process.
We were given the opportunity to donate Sawyer’s remains to research at Children’s Hospital where they did an autopsy. Making this decision took only a nanosecond because it honored our son and created purpose for his life. His life has provided an opportunity for doctors to explore the possibility of in-womb care, prevention and long-term health care. Sawyer's life has expanded the field of prenatal medicine and hope.
Leaving the hospital I felt empty - now what? My husband pulled the car around, and I noticed the car seat was gone. He had moved it in to the trunk in an effort to protect our hearts. It was a drive home that took forever. I wanted out of the car; I wanted our son back, and I wanted my heart to burst with joy. I looked forward to the sleepless nights, to the cry of our baby and to all of the firsts. All of those things we would never get to experience.
The nurses sent us home with a prescription requisition to stop my production of breast milk. We were supposed to fill the prescription the following day.
The day we got home I was an empty corpse, and I felt lost and useless. That was until I said to my husband something like, what could I do with my breast milk if I didn’t stop it? He joked about selling it to body builders - neither of us had a clue.
By the power of Facebook, I started searching to see if people had a need. Wow, my eyes opened!! People had stories; people were offering to pay for breast milk; people were desperate for natural milk, and my next steps were clear!
Instead of picking up medicine to stop my milk production, we came home with a double breast pump, bags, nipple cream and pads. My purpose was renewed, and I was given the opportunity to add to my son's legacy by helping others. I had a goal; I had a plan; I had a distraction, and I knew someone needed us and the liquid gold my son sacrificed.
After joining a few FB pages, lurking and stocking up on my breast milk supply, I took the leap and responded to a mom in need of supplemental nourishment for her baby. One mom and baby quickly turned in to supporting two, three, four, five and more babies. Moms who struggled with milk supply; moms who adopted, and a mom who had a breast reduction and was not able to produce milk. This final mom was Sawyer’s primary beneficiary.
I was determined and pumped around the clocks, every 3 hours--a regimen which continued after returning to the workforce. I had taken 1 month off, and my husband was home for 3 weeks.
Once more my son's life had a purpose, and I was the catalyst to bring that purpose to fruition. I was humbled. No longer did I feel in control of a highly-controlled environment. My body, my time, my energy, my in-control personality succumbed to the calling to help moms and babies; Sawyer expected no less. All of Sawyer’s gifts were accompanied by a note of encouragement. His mom was proud. Our son gave his life to support the health of others. To give them the best shot with supreme nutrients!
After 10 months, our journey came to a peaceful close. Sawyer gifted nearly 3,000 ounces of the purest form of nutrients to babies in need. His parents remain honored and proud.
Our love is abundant,
Sawyer, Dawnelle and Jason