By Chelsea Levis.
Chelsea lost her first child, and finally was able to donate milk after her third baby arrived. She shares her unique story of donating years after loss.
My life was shattered the day our firstborn son, Timothy, died unexpectedly during childbirth in 2014. The pieces of the life that I once knew were broken and I struggled to understand how to survive our worst fear. How do you come home to a house empty-handed but waiting for a baby? How do we love our son when he’s not with us? And what do you do with a postpartum body that thinks it had a living baby? Naturally, your body makes breast milk, and at the time, that felt like another reminder that I couldn’t do anything to save our baby that died.
Parenting him by providing for others
A couple of weeks after Timothy died, I learned about Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast. To help struggling babies in intensive care, they offer the nutrition of breast milk from mothers who are able to donate. The cruel reality of not being able to nurse my son all of a sudden changed to the thought of me parenting him by providing for others. Except by then my supply had diminished and I couldn’t pump enough milk. Brokenhearted, I stopped pursuing breast milk donation. Nothing in that season of life felt right.
As years have passed, hope and confidence began to heal our family’s heart. We started to pursue life, having been struck down but not destroyed. Our second child, a baby girl, joined our family and we finally had a tangible person for our parenting hands to love. And recently, July 2017, another baby boy graced our home. During that pregnancy, I thought again of Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast. I couldn’t provide milk many years ago, but now I could, and in honor of Timothy.
A sweet gift that helped heal the void
The process of donating milk isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. You do have to go through paperwork, blood work, and a phone questionnaire. But that’s to ensure that the milk these ill babies receive will only be helpful to them. In my case, I pumped an additional 3-4 ounces daily, in addition to what our son needed. It took about 3 months to achieve the minimum amount to donate (although for a recently bereaved parent, there is no minimum). The process of donating in honor of Timothy was sweet gift that helped heal the void of not being able to physically donate four years ago.
Honoring Timothy’s life
After giving over my freezer bags of milk, I was reminded again that some of the hardest things in life yield the most joy. The milk bank sent us a picture of a quilt that they’ve created to honor the babies gone too soon whose milk has provided life for other fragile lives. They included a leaf for Timothy on one of the branches, even though the milk I donated came many years later. This was another reminder that all life, no matter how small, is loved and valued.
If you are a recent parent, bereaved or not, I encourage you to contemplate if you can donate breast milk to other babies in need. The Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast website has great information and their staff is helpful in explaining any questions to guide you in the process.
Screening to become a breast milk donor is done through an easy four-step process. Once accepted for donation, milk can be shipped for free door-to-door or through one of our donor milk depots throughout the Northeast.