Donating Through Grief: Julianne Kaphar

Certificate for donor milk - Kaphar

In 2012, after two years of trying to conceive, I got pregnant with my third child, my daughter Calla Pearl. Her pregnancy was very similar to my other two successful pregnancies; I was extremely nauseated for about 4 months, but everything else seemed to be totally fine. My numbers from all of my tests were good and the ultrasounds showed good, strong growth. We had no reason to worry, so I didn’t think twice when I stopped noticing her movement on a weekend trip we had taken. But as the hours turned into a day, I ended up taking a late night trip to the hospital, just to be sure things were “okay.” That was the night that our lives were changed forever by the stillness of the ultrasound monitor. There was no explanation for it; at 28 weeks, our perfectly beautiful baby was gone.

I chose to be induced that night, and after another full day, I finally gave birth to my silent daughter on August 27, 2012. We were so overwhelmed by everything about the process – birth and death mixed into one. One of the hardest aspects of it was that my body still believed that my baby was alive. I had always prided myself on how much milk I made while nursing; my badge of honor was how chubby my two sons had gotten on my milk. So my body would indeed provide milk for my daughter, even though she wasn’t there to take it. The hospital nurses advised me on how to restrict the incoming milk with ice compresses and tight bras, so I dutifully obeyed.

But on the second day after she was born, I remembered something I had read about a woman donating her milk to a baby whose mother had died, and suddenly, I knew what I had to do. People tried to talk me out of it, saying that it would exacerbate my grief. But once I started, it felt to me like a way I could actually take control of some of my grief. I knew that my milk was special, that my body had created it for my premature baby, and that it was giving other babies a fighting chance. I ate the best possible food I could, and I watched with pride as my freezer quickly filled with bags of my baby’s milk – a total of 1,515 ounces, nearly 12 gallons, over 3 months.

Pumping milk was not emotionally easy, but there was something about it that made me feel connected to my daughter in a special way. I realized that my daughter was a generous baby, and that her gift, which is bigger than I can comprehend, was indeed nurturing life.