When Mother’s Milk Was All I Had to Give

I’ve been exclusively pumping for over two years. Neither of my twins could nurse at birth because they were born at 27 weeks gestation. I managed to establish a milk supply for twins by relying solely on a breast pump.

Micah and Zachary were born via emergency c-section, each weighing just over two pounds. I did not get to see them when they were born as they were whisked away to the NICU. Intense fear and guilt clouded feelings of joy.

In the OR recovery area, I begged my nurse to bring me a breast pump. I had never even seen a breast pump, but I just knew I needed to start making milk for my very premature twins. My nurse refused to bring me a breast pump. She said I’d need to wait until I got to my private room. I begged, explaining how important it was for me to establish my milk supply for my tiny babies.

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Hours later, when my breast pump finally arrived, I began the routine of pumping for 20 minutes every two hours around the clock. I didn’t make a single drop of milk in over 24 hours. My twins’ care team explained that if my milk didn’t come in, my premature babies would be fed formula. No one mentioned the option of pasteurized donor milk and I didn’t know to ask. More than 48 hours after giving birth, colostrum finally arrived.

Thankfully, my partner and family offered nothing but encouragement and support. As I pumped, I read about the lifesaving power of mother’s milk for fragile infants. The more I learned, the more determined I became to provide my twins with breast milk for as long as possible.

By the time Micah and Zachary were six weeks old, my milk supply was well-established and I had plenty of milk for both of them. A bovine-based formula-fortifier was added to my milk to boost the caloric and nutritional content. Neither of my twins responded well to the fortifier and they experienced constipation, frequent bouts of emesis, and terrifying breathing episodes. Tragically, Micah developed necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and became critically ill.

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I continued my round-the-clock pumping schedule, through intense uncertainty. The one way I could nurture my fragile babies was by giving them my milk. Making milk was my one source of empowerment, when all of my motherly responsibilities had to be handed over to clinicians.

Throughout Micah’s hospitalization, I continued to pump milk for Micah and Zachary. Neither of my twins learned how to nurse, so I exclusively relied on a breast pump to nourish their little bodies. Tragically, due to complications from necrotizing enterocolitis, we lost Micah when the twins were 11 months old. Despite our tragic loss, and the hell that I watched Micah endure, my body somehow managed to continue to make milk.

We just celebrated Micah and Zachary’s second birthday, and I am still exclusively pumping. When Micah was critically ill, I couldn’t hold him for four months straight. But, I could nourish him with my milk, and that was a profound gift.

Micah is gone, but my milk supply that I built for twins is not. I have donated my milk to families who have adopted children and to milk banks who pasteurize the milk for fragile hospitalized babies like mine at risk of NEC. Providing breast milk for my babies and other babies in need, brings me a sense of peace. My heart will forever ache to have Micah back in my arms. Still, I am grateful. In my lowest of lows, when I felt like I had nothing to give, I could still give my milk. My milk gave my babies life, other babies love, and my devastated soul, peace.

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