A Bereaved Donor’s Thoughts on National Donor Day

By Amy Anderson

National Donor Day was originally established in 1998 to coincide with Valentine’s Day. It is a day to not only think more about cherishing our loved ones but also a reminder to extend kindness to others by offering the gift of life. Donate Life America defines this observance as “a time to focus on all types of donation including organ, eye, tissue, blood, platelets and marrow”. We recognize and celebrate those who have given or received the gift of donation, spread awareness for those awaiting donations, and remember those who tragically didn’t receive a donation in time.

Personally, February 14th is yet another day when my heart aches for my middle son, Bryson. Although he is no longer here, his legacy lives on and his death will never overshadow his life due to his precious contribution to this world: approximately 92 gallons of mothers’ milk.

Bryson came into our lives just long enough to breathe passion into our souls. Throughout his pregnancy, my body and mind eagerly prepared to provide nourishment, comfort, warmth, and immunities through the act of breastfeeding. I have always treasured breastfeeding as a way to extend my maternal superpowers and undying love onto my growing babies. However, although it is natural, instinctual even, it isn’t necessarily easy and is sometimes impossible. Much like walking, the actual coordination behind it must be learned and practiced. Indeed, a measure of sacrifice is involved. The mom has to offer her body on demand for the benefit of her baby.

For me, offering myself was a minimal sacrifice in contrast to the anguish I experienced as I was forced to recognize the dynamics of my body which didn’t understand that the baby it birthed had died. Because birth is not an isolated event, my breasts began lactating with great intensity, producing preterm milk which had a composition specifically created to nourish and protect my very prematurely born baby.

Pure desperation led me to begin pumping breast milk in hopes of easing the incredible physical pain. Then, through research I realized that for premature babies, human milk is more than just a perfect food, it is a priceless, life-saving medicine. Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which is an excruciatingly painful bowel disease that causes parts of the intestines to die, is the second-leading cause of death for premature babies. According to the NEC Society, the use of a human milk diet (mother’s own or donor milk) can lower the risk of NEC by 79 percent. Donor milk absolutely saves lives. In this sense, donating breast milk isn’t so different from organ donation. Bereaved lactating women can offer irreplaceable life-saving nutrients in honor of their precious loved ones.

For most mothers, expressing milk is a means of nutritional sustenance for her baby. For me, it was my sole means of expressing my love and sustaining my son’s memory. When tragedy strikes, a bereaved mom is left to brave the boundary between death and life, grief and purpose, hope and healing, all while experiencing unfathomable heartbreak. Donating through grief can foster healing and gratitude in an otherwise dark and desolate time. Expressing milk in Bryson’s name gave great honor and purpose to his brief life while turning our tragedy into blessings for others. All life has meaning, and my son’s life is no different. I became passionate in doing everything I could to help other families avoid this unimaginable grief. Through profound loss, infinite love remains and becoming a donor is a way to restore hope while demonstrating this altruistic love to save lives. Bryson’s final gift is that of an organ donor’s legacy.
Millions of people are helped by donations every year, likewise millions of people find meaning in the gift of life upon the death of a loved one. There are numerous ways to become a donor including breast milk, blood, and marrow donation, as well as registering to donate the gift of life when you depart this world. While you may have symbolically given your heart for Valentine’s Day, consider the possibility of giving more of yourself to help those in need. February 14th is a celebration of everything that’s wonderful about humanity. Today we celebrate love; today we celebrate life!

Related Post. Donating Through Grief: Amy and Bryson Anderson’s Story here

Donating Through Grief: The Anderson’s Story