Trigger warning : article about miscarriage/stillbirth
Another Mother’s Milk
Before you read any further, let me introduce myself, I am Jenny, and this story is for my son, Percy. Nice to meet you all.
Do you remember the time where you would sit idle, contemplating the not so distant future with your little side kick? Where you would lounge in comfort, cradling your bump, telling them of all of those amazing adventures that you had lined up for you both.
I, as a proud, new expectant mother of her first child had already outlined, and mentally planned all of those coffee dates with other mothers; where we would discuss the latest cloth nappies, the best breast feeding positions, why our milk changed colour, the latest nursing bras and if indeed reusable breast pads soaked up more milk than those costly disposable (I can now tell you that my sewing skills are not adequate to soak up an early morning engorgement). I was (very much so the past tense) excited to share this seemingly blissful world with other parents.
But, most of all, I longed for the first latch, the first feeling that as a woman, you are truly needed, you are that one person, for the first time in forever, where your existence is imperative. I longed for my purpose, my purpose that had been given to me from the day of our Littluns conception. From the moment we saw those two blue lines – other than feeling the up most fear of “what in the world have we done?”- I knew that my time in the Navy, my time over seas, that was nothing compared to my new promotion of “Mother.” I was ready to replace that one medal I had worked so hard for, for a new, gurgling, fresh smelling bub, slung to my chest, demanding that I gave him my attention.
My blissful dreams of the expectations of becoming a new Mum remained a picture perfect, filter enhanced, social media blur for thirty one full weeks. Me and Percy reached many milestones together, carefully logging our growing bump, with enthusiastic flash cards, of which saw my social word celebrating our existence, every one of us quietly rejoiced behind our screens; pictures carefully edited, with bright, vibrant colours until our world moved from Technicolor excitement, and slowly crashed into a dull aching monochrome.
The dreams of sharing cake, sipping luke warm flat whites escaped and warped into a nightmare of being cast aside, isolated from the group of women I no longer belonged with; an invitation slowly torn up with screeches of “you can’t sit with us” as we witnessed Percy’s heart lying silently on the monitor.
There is no true description that can express the utter devastation of learning that your most precious possession, most carefully wrapped prize has left your world. In that one moment, minutes seemed like hours, the world flew on by so quickly as your eyes are pierced to a screen, stuck, hoping that the images are lies. Your body is perfectly primed to feel everything, desperate to feel the last kick of your lifeless son. The dust that lingers in the air, microscopic particals can be felt on the end of your finger tips, suddenly the buzzing of near by traffic consumes you, the pattering of footsteps out of the door engulf and drown in your ears as you try to block out the mumbles of “I am sorry, but your baby has died.”
Percy arrived in my life silently, his eyes shut tightly as he dreamed of a sweeter world. In those short moments of exhaustion I willed for him to wake, willed for him to be joking, a joke only a son could play on his Mum; but my boy, stubborn as his Father, let out no cry, his body carefully preserved in the comforts of the womb, placing my lips on his forehead, I kissed my Percy goodbye.
The moment I placed my eyes on Percy, I knew that the world deserved to know his name, he deserved to have a place, somewhere within the world’s thoughts. My son had given me eight glorious months of pregnancy, he had given me purpose and I refused to allow that purpose to leave me. I refused to be consumed by grief, to allow his name to be forgotten.
From the moment I had learned that I would become a Mum, I felt an innate desire, that utterly consumed me, to breastfeed. It was a thought of which I carefully planned, and revised for (not that it is an exam!) but I joined the groups, I met the breast-feeding mummies and I became excited for the months (the years, even though my husband thought that would be impossible) of bonding with my child, nourishing them, and doing the one thing that I, as a mummy, thought I knew best! I was not about to give up that hope!
Before you race ahead and wonder, “what is this crazy woman planning on doing?” no, I was not about to search on GumTree for “wet nurse” advertising (although that is huge in America!) with my son in my arms, I asked my midwife if I could express and donate to my local NICU. Alas, that plan did not turn out the way of which I intended. Although being one of the largest cities within the south west, Plymouth do not have the facilities to support breast milk donation (crazy, I know! If I ever win the lottery, or sell a few books, which ever comes first, I will pay for the facilities of breast milk donation in Derriford hospital!) My “generous” offer was politely declined, and whilst still holding my son, not truly ready to part with him I was warmly told “it is time to look after yourself now.”
I hope you are all getting to know me that little bit better now, and have come to the realisation that I am a fiery and determined woman (Fred, my husband calls me his feisty Italian woman. I am not Italian, I am northern, and I am unsure if there is much of a difference!) you can probably guess what I did next; as I was escorted out of the back entrance of the labour ward, saving me from the sheer devastation of walking through the main entrance, and encountering all of those gorgeous new mothers, beaming from ear to ear as they carried home their precious new prize; instead I was hurried away, secretly, as though I had never given birth. The moment I came home, I hooked up my fresh out of the box breast pump, exhausted, still wearing my adult size nappy, fearing the first trip to the toilet, I proudly expressed my first 20oz of milk.
I was not ready to give up my son, my body had already started to forget him, my uterus slowly shrinking back to its former size (albeit slightly larger than usual.) The one thing I had left of my little Percy was his milk, and I could not live and see it go to waste.
Each morning I awoke in indescribable pain, the day my milk came in will be etched into my memory forever, the sheer embarrassment of walking in public and sporting, rather not so proudly two large wet patches of milk on my chest. I felt like giving up, I was still frantically searching of ways to donate, scouring NetMums as though it was my new Bible (I AM NOT religious in any way, and please never say to a grieving Mum “God needed one more angel” alright then, he can have yours, how about that?) until I stumbled across Human Milk 4 Human Babies; my prayers has been answered – seemingly the only prayer my imaginary God had answered that week – I scoured and advertised, in search of a baby that needed Percy’s milk. Until, finally, after only a couple of hours, I was approached by a Mum who had a premature daughter, and her milk supply had not established for her daughters demands. Seemingly I had a terrible uterus, a terrible placenta and to top that, a terrible umbilical cord, but my breasts! those bad boys were on another level, Within the first week I had established a routine that saw over 40oz of breast milk expressed, lovingly stored in bags and delicately placed in the freezer drawer that my husband had emptied and cleaned for me.
For those of you wondering “why? Why would someone endure that?” amongst the tender breasts and cracked nipples, I had found a purpose, a replacement for the former purpose that had so cruelly been stolen away from me, just as I had it at my finer tips. Every ounce of milk I expressed reminded me of my son, it reminded me of the person he had made me, he had made me selfless. Being a mother is about putting the needs of your children before your own, and even though I did not have my child, the needs of another quickly took the place of mine. The smell, that sweet smell of Percy’s milk kept his memory alive for me; every drop reminded me of seeing, holding and smelling him for th first time, that milk smelt just like him. to this day, I smell the milk, and I then smell the blanket, my last possession of him and they both smell the same! It is a comfort I was never willing to leave.
Alas, my breasts decided differently, eventually after eight weeks of expressing 40oz a day, I suffered from burning pain in my left breast, the dreaded mastitis took over. The pain was unbearable, it was taking my recovery steps backwards, and that was the moment I felt forced to say my final goodnight to my boy, Percy. My body, my mind had finally dictated that my time to heal was near, my time to move forward, and remember me was knocking at my doorstep.
In the weeks that I expressed my milk, my story was followed by many local mothers; from it I have found the kindness of strangers; women I have never met before have brought me food, flapjacks, flowers and milk storage bags. With the most treasured of gifts being a piece of jewellery, encrusted with Percy’s hand and footprints, dangling below it, a ball of my breast milk, encapsulated forever, a constant reminder, that at some point, I was a mother.
As I sign off, please, before you fall asleep tonight, say Percy’s name for me. Remember him as the boy who taught his mother compassion, selflessness and that life is there to be lived.