Legacy Milk – Part 2

Yesterday we highlighted a special type of donation that some families choose after saying goodbye to a baby at birth – milk donation. Today we continue the celebration of “legacy milk” through a guest blog post written by Amy, mother to baby Brody, talking about her donation experience. If you missed yesterday’s post here is a link: http://purposefulgift.com/legacy-milk-donation/


When you first receive a diagnosis of anencephaly, you go into shock. It’s nearly impossible to wrap your mind around the fact that your baby, moving and growing, otherwise perfectly healthy, is going to die either at birth or shortly thereafter.

Shock intermingles with grief, sometimes anger, and even despair. But amidst the myriad of emotions, God gives hope and purpose. I knew this all had to be for a reason. Perhaps I wouldn’t know all the reasons until heaven, but I could find some, and do my part to bring them about.

One of my first thoughts when thinking of how I could use this horrible situation for good was through milk donation. I knew my body would naturally produce and, at first, this added to the sorrow. Then I began investigating if my milk could be used for other babies. I got some mixed information and yet, still felt a strong desire to pursue this opportunity.

I learned that Ohio has a milk bank that will accept donations and process them to be used in hospitals with the sickest of babies – often times with preemies that tend to only thrive on human milk. There was paperwork and a couple of phone calls, an application and blood work… before I knew it, a pump had arrived in the mail and we were close to our due date.

Fast forward to February 17th, 2014 the day of our son, Brody Micah Whitsel’s, birth – a beautiful, tragic, and yet precious day. After a difficult delivery and no sleep for two nights, the time to say our final goodbyes had arrived. I was alone with my husband and our boy, and we gave our final kisses, and he left the room to hand him over to the nurses. I began to sob and waited for my husband to return and hold me. Moments later a woman walked in the room just before he returned. Without going into detail, this was the worst part of our experience at the hospital. She was a lactation consultant, her timing was terrible, and maybe she didn’t realize it but she was completely insensitive. After she left I was worried that my pumping and donating experience would not be helpful after all.

Thankfully the support and advice did not end with her. God led me to a distant relative that was also a lactation consultant! I had no idea! She lives across the country. We wrote back and forth, and she helped me tremendously those first crucial weeks. I also found great help through a Facebook anencephaly group.

Physically, it was difficult at first. I didn’t feel I was emptying fully and would get blocked ducts. I struggled getting up in the night and not having my baby, but just a machine. After just a few weeks, my mother bought me a really nice Medala pump with all extras you could want. I have to say this made a huge difference! It was so much easier to use, much more efficient, and it resolved many problems I was having. Other issues resolved as I tried tips and tricks that I learned from others.

Emotionally, I found it to be very healing. Yes, there were many tears associated with it when, at times, I resented all the work and time I gave, and I didn’t even get to bring my baby home. When I struggled with the first pump, I would cry and say, “I’m sure this would be easier if I just had my baby!” However, the positive benefits far outweighed the difficulties.

In hindsight, I think it was a life saver in those first few weeks. I couldn’t do much else as I was recovering physically and grieving at the same time. It gave me a structure to my days. It was a somewhat simple task that I could do several times a day and gave me that sense of accomplishment and purpose when I was otherwise just lying around and watching a lot of TV!

One difficult hurdle came when I called the bank to say I had my first box ready to ship. They asked a few questions and we quickly discovered that they wouldn’t take anything I had pumped so far! I had been taking Ambien and, though it’s perfectly safe, they still wouldn’t take it. I was devastated! All that work and sacrifice, for nothing! I quickly reached out to my FB anencephaly group and almost instantly they pointed me to a resource – Human Milk for Human Babies. Within hours I was connected with four mothers who wanted my milk! I asked them a few questions and quickly knew which one I should pick. We set up a date and she drove over an hour to come pick it up. I was quite nervous about it all. We just chatted in the driveway and then she offered to introduce me to her little baby girl. In my mind I hesitated and thought it would be too hard, but my heart said go for it. She was beautiful! I was overjoyed to see this tiny little girl who needed to grow and know that I was able to help her.  Of course, after they left I did go in the house and have a good cry! But I was so thankful that I didn’t have to just toss all that I had collected from those first weeks.

I ended up pumping for three months. I discovered that I could stretch out the time in between sessions significantly and my body just adjusted beautifully!  I only pumped twice a day for weeks! This was a huge blessing as I was back to work and pumping several times a day would have been much more difficult to coordinate.

Weaning off was similarly easy. I’d heard horror stories about the pain and all these unusual techniques to stop the milk from coming in. I found I could just space out the pumping sessions more and more until I did once a day, then once every 48 hours, and then just hand expressed a little bit in the shower to relieve some pressure, and then I was done! I was so grateful that it seemed so easy to me to stop the process.

Sending in that last box was so exciting but sad, too. I felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment. I was relieved to finish that chapter. I was thankful for Brody and saw each ounce as a gift that came from his life. I was sad, though, because I felt like a part of Brody was gone. I didn’t want to stop because it felt like letting him go all over again. At the same time though, I knew it was time, and I was ready.

Everyone is different and many have different experiences, even with their living babies. I know pumping is not for everyone. I would however highly recommend looking into it and giving yourself time to ask, is this for me? I believe God will direct each woman’s heart and give peace about her decision. For me, pumping was the right decision.  Yes, I miss my boy every day, but only God knows how many babies we were able to help – maybe even save – through our donation.


Thank you, Amy, for sharing your journey and for donating to those in need!

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