Shawnna, A Life & Legacy Of Kindness

The world needs kindness . . .

Shawnna lived by the words, “The world needs kindness.” She passed away in January 2023, leaving behind her beloved 13-year-old son Jackson, and so many others who knew and loved her. Ten years earlier Shawnna gave birth to her daughter, Lily. Lily was born at 23 weeks. Her aunt Amber remembers holding tiny Lily, her hands the size of quarters. Lily was small and fragile, and her life was too short. But her presence was powerful, and so was the experience of losing her.  

The immensity of losing a child so early is rarely understood by those who haven’t experienced it. Their attempts to comfort by suggesting you can, “have another child,” or that “the loss will be easier because your time with them was short,” are painfully misguided. Lily could never be “replaced,” and her loss would stay with Shawnna every day, for the rest of her life.  

Shawnna – big sister, best friend . . .

Shawnna and Amber were sisters and best friends. They finished each other’s sentences, they would show up dressed alike by accident. They shared a vision of the world and who they wanted to be in it. Amber learned from Shawnna the kind of mother she wanted to be. She also learned from her older sister about kindness. And she learned about finding empathy, even in times of deep despair. Every year on baby Lily’s birthday, Shawnna gave a gift of kindness to honor her daughter. One year she worked with a nonprofit to create a mural at the elementary school where she worked with the literal message BE KIND.  

Amber’s own daughter, Juniper, was born just two months after she lost her sister Shawnna. Becoming a mom herself ignited even more empathy in Amber for the loss that her sister had experienced. And Amber’s journey into motherhood was colored by the immense grief she was experiencing. Amber wanted her sister Shawnna by her side, helping guide and ease her into this enormous new role. But she wasn’t there. 

Learning to turn off the noise . . .

Amber was committed to breastfeeding and in those quiet moments nursing Juniper, she would feel Shawnna looking over her shoulder. She would hear her say, “You are doing great. You are a great mom.” Amber knew that breastfeeding was good for her baby for so many physical and emotional reasons. In her grief, she found that it was also an important part of her own healing process. Through breastfeeding she felt a potent, reciprocal love with her baby. She was nurturing a connection that they both needed. And while she doesn’t expect to “get over” the loss of her sister, the bond she is building with Juniper brings her more peace.  

Both Amber and 13-month-old Juniper remain committed to breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for 24 months. Just 35% of Americans are still breastfeeding when their child turns one year old. For Amber, the longer she nursed, the more empowered she felt. “I used to be self-conscious. But the longer I breastfeed, the less shame I feel about it. I no longer care what other people think. I know that breastfeeding is healthy for Juniper, it makes her strong, it helps her regulate her emotions. It’s important to both of us. Now I just turn off the outside noise. I’m doing what’s right for us.” 

The power of kindness – a gift for Shawnna and her beloved children . . .

Amber learned about milk donation in a prenatal breastfeeding class. And right away, she knew she wanted to help. She had worked at nonprofits, one focused on reproductive justice and another on domestic violence. These experiences help her know the power of giving, the power of being part of the solution. And so, before she had any idea how breastfeeding would go for her and Juniper, she set the goal of donating. “I wish my sister Shawnna had known about milk donation when she lost Lily. I know she would have wanted to donate after losing her. It would have helped her. Now it helps me, because I know I am helping tiny babies like Lily, helping them live.” 

It wasn’t easy for Amber to build up enough supply to be able to donate. But she kept going because this was a gift she really wanted to give. A gift in honor of her sister and niece and one she hopes will serve as an example for her teenage nephew Jackson. It is a gift that honors empathy, generosity of spirit, and finding peace amid heart wrenching losses. A gift that reminds us that to show up where and when we can. A gift that reminds us that the world needs more kindness. 

In a world where you can be anything, be kind! Feeling inspired? Have more milk than your little one needs or know someone who might? As a small nonprofit with a mighty mission, your generosity makes a huge difference. Please consider sharing the gift of your milk (or a little information about us) to help support babies in need.

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