In the fall of 2018, I was fortunate enough to become a donor for The New York Milk Bank. At the time the decision was simple; I had milk that I could share and I wanted to donate it. In retrospect, I have realized that being a donor was a vital part of how I learned to parent my son.
I first found out about The New York Milk Bank through the hospital where I delivered my son. I distinctly remember having a final conversation with my midwife before being discharged. She asked if there was anything else she could help me with. I asked if she knew of anywhere I could donate my milk. She gave me a worried look falling somewhere between sympathy and concern. Politely, she reminded me that I had barely begun the third trimester, she was uncertain if my body would produce milk. She didn’t want me to get my hopes up. My son had just died. There was no hope, for anything. But I knew there would be milk.
Despite her caution she was able to look up the information for me, and I left the hospital with a piece of paper containing the information for The New York Milk Bank. It was mixed in with dozens of other pamphlets for bereaved parents, and it was the only piece of paper in the stack that I would look at for several weeks. The next morning I woke up, and I pumped. Four hours later, I pumped again. And again, and again. In those early days and weeks amidst the most devastating grief, I pumped. And my milk came in.
My first phone call with The New York Milk Bank was awkward, of course. It always is when you tell someone your baby died. But after the initial shocked condolences, each interaction with them left me feeling appreciated and respected. My contact at the milk bank was one of the very first people who treated my son like an actual person. She immediately began referring to my milk as Richard’s milk, because after all, it was. It made my heart swell with pride just to hear someone speak his name. He and I were doing something, together.
A few weeks after being approved as a donor I had over 300 ounces of milk and was ready to make my first donation. A few weeks after that, I had 200 more. Each time I labeled a bag with a date, name, and number of ounces I grew a little more as a mom. Milk. Love. Something I took so much pride in being able to give to my daughter, I was now also able to give in honor of my son.
Being my daughter’s mother has always come easily to me. Being my son’s mom has been much more of a challenge. I didn’t know how to parent a child that I did not have the privilege of raising. I had no idea what that world looked like, and sometimes I still don’t. But after my son died, donating his milk was the first thing I was certain of. As my world came crashing down, it was the only thing that made sense.
Although I didn’t fully realize it at the time, donating Richard’s milk helped me take those first frightening baby steps into living a life after his death. It showed me that the love I am able to give my son will always look different than the love I am able to give my daughter, but it will never be second best. And it taught me an early lesson in how to parent and love my son. I will always look back on being a donor as a bright spot during a time of chaos, and I will always be grateful that my love had somewhere to go.