Stillbirth is something that no mum-to-be ever wants to think about. That said, it can happen. And when it does, the results are tragic.
One mum took this beyond unthinkable situation and turned her tragedy into something positive for other families with babies.
Roughly 3,000 Australian families are affected by perinatal death (stillbirth or when the baby dies within the first few weeks) each year, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Planning for nine months, bonding with baby for three trimesters and falling in love with that little person growing inside makes this situation almost unbearable for many women.
When doula Wendy Cruz-Chan suffered through a stillbirth at 9 months, she found something good in the horror and sadness that she was going through. Obviously, any mum’s body goes through changes as her pregnancy moves along. After delivery, milk production increases—letting mum make enough to feed her newborn. This post-pregnancy body change can be heartbreaking for a mum who doesn’t have a baby to feed. Cruz-Chan, like most new mums, had breast milk to give. But, she didn’t have a baby to give it to.
What did she do? She decided to donate it.
Cruz-Chan wrote on her Facebook page, “3 months ago today, I embarked on a lactation journey 3 days after my stillbirth of my son Killian.” She goes on to post, “I had pumped and donated 2,038 ounces of my breastmilk to 6 babies.”
The mum originally set a goal of pumping and donating 2,000 ounces – that’s almost 60 litres (which she clearly surpassed). In order to reach her goal, Cruz-Chan had to pump every three to four hours, including nights. Even though the near-constant pumping was exhausting, she noted, “But it was so worth it. Seeing those babies thriving from my milk really helped me through the healing process.”
With more than 60,000 reactions and 16,000 shares, Cruz-Chan’s post doesn’t just show the amazingly good deed that this mum did. It also brings stillbirth into the public eye, and helps others to better understand the tragedy behind it. Then there’s the issue of breastmilk donation.
“Seeing those babies thriving from my milk really helped me through the healing process.”
It’s not so surprising that many mums (or people in general) don’t know about breastmilk donation. Okay, so let’s say you don’t want to nurse your baby. Can you get a breast milk donation instead of using formula? Um, not likely. Breast milk donations are typically held for babies of women who can’t produce their own milk or can’t produce useable milk (this is usually because of medical reasons). Donated milk is also given to medically fragile babies (in hospitals and under medical supervision) and those who sadly don’t have living mums.
For women who experience the heartbreak of pregnancy loss or stillbirth, milk donation is a way to create hope. Cruz-Chan sums this up perfectly in her post,
“I wanted to show that even after a tragic stillbirth, you can turn that into something positive and inspire those around you. Through my grief I evolved and learned to pull myself out of the darkness.”