This time of year has me thinking of a bittersweet story in my doula career. We had a client who was due with her first baby in mid-February. On December 21 she presented with preeclamptic symptoms that warranted an early induction at 33 weeks gestation. This client was well-prepared and had taken some great childbirth classes. She knew what she wanted for her birth and she was a great advocate for herself and her baby. And she found herself in new territory being induced at 33 weeks along. We had not completed all our customary doula prenatal visits at this time but I went to visit them in the hospital during the slow induction process. I was working in the lactation department of the same hospital so I could easily go see her. She and her providers were patient and the induction process took about 48 hours. I joined them in labor when they were ready for additional support and a few hours later a sweet little baby girl was born and weighed less than 4 pounds. It was December 24, Christmas Eve. After a brief moment of skin to skin contact the baby was taken to the NICU. This client and her husband visited their baby for many hours each day and breastfeeding became a focus of her efforts. I met her once again at the hospital and we talked about milk supply and pumping. This Mom had a goal for her baby to have breastmilk for her first year of life. We kept in close contact about her efforts to provide breastmilk for her baby. Here comes the bitter part of the story. On January 1, New Year’s Day, when her baby was 8 days old, this mom suffered a pulmonary embolism while she was visiting her baby in the NICU and they were not able to revive her. The news shattered my heart. It was so hard to believe it. She sent me a text just 15 minutes before she died addressing some of her breastfeeding questions. There is one line in the text that haunts me to this day. She said she was so tired as she walked into the NICU that day. She needed a wheelchair to get from the parking garage to the elevator. My heart ached for the sweet and kind father who was now solely responsible for his premature baby daughter at the same time he suffered a sudden and devastating loss. My heart ached for the baby girl who would not know her mother who had loved her so dearly for 8 days. The father reached out to us as doulas and asked us to help him accomplish his wife’s goal of providing breastmilk for his baby for the first year. We reached out to past and current clients and the community and many women donated milk to this sweet baby.
Here comes some sweetness to this story. On the same day this woman died, New Year’s Day, January 1, another woman in a nearby hospital gave birth by Cesarean to twin boys six weeks early. They were in the NICU for six weeks and she dutifully pumped breastmilk for them. I met her three months later when she reached out for postpartum support and lactation help. She had a challenge with oversupply and was remarkably getting enough milk each day to feed her twin boys and have 100 ounces to store. That is enough milk to feed six babies! Having an oversupply is a unique challenge and while it did take some time, we were able to help her dial back her supply closer to what her babies needed. She had freezers full of milk. We connected her with the Dad who was seeking breastmilk for his baby and she became one of the main donors of milk. A sweet friendship developed as he would come by to pick up the frozen milk. This picture is of the twin boys and the sweet baby girl who shared milk. There is tenderness in this tragedy and admiration for the devotion of this father and those who support him.