Monday, September 17, 2018

Bereaved mothers find solace, purpose in donating their milk

Kate Weidner, at home in Oak Park, in the rocking chair she bought to nurse Everett.

     Today's column came from asking a basic question. In mid-July, I was researching this column on the United States cravenly coddling formula producers by pulling out of a global accord on the importance of breast-feeding. I was talking to Summer Kelly, the head of the local milk bank, in Elk Grove Village, and asked, "So who donates to your milk bank?" This column is a result of asking that question.

     Not every pregnant woman who gives birth in a hospital comes home with a baby.
     Six out of every 10,000 women deliver a child in the United States only to have their newborn die during childbirth or shortly afterward.
     One of them was Kate Weidner, 35, of Oak Park.
     "My husband works in architecture. We have a 3-year-old son, Gus," said Weidner. "We got pregnant with our second son. He was due in October of 2017. I was diagnosed with a really, really rare condition, vasa praevia. The baby's umbilical cord didn't attach, and some of the veins and arteries are left vulnerable. If I went into labor, he would die instantly."
     The plan was to have a C-section at 34 weeks, to give the baby as much time to develop but still two weeks before labor, with its fatal complications, was to begin.
    That almost worked.
     "At 33 weeks, two days, I started gushing blood—a hemorrhage," Weidner said. "I knew right away what was happening."
     An ambulance rushed Weidner to West Suburban Medical Center. She had a crash C-section, but the baby, whom they named Everett, was in very bad shape.
    "None of his functions were functioning," Weidner said. "His heart wasn't circulating blood."
    Her husband was in California on business, got back to Chicago just in time for them to be together, briefly.
    "We were able to be with him and hold him," she said. "We started the process of being a family. My first son was so easy ... this was the absolutely worst thing that could happen."
    The next day, Everett Weidner died.
    A new mother's body doesn't know her baby is dead. Since the 18th week of pregnancy, her system has been getting ready to feed her new child. After birth, progesterone levels drop triggering the production of milk.
     "I breast-fed my first son and loved the experience," Weidner said. "I had intended to breast-feed my second son..."
    Her milk was here but her baby was not. A counselor at the hospital instructed her in techniques to dry up her milk.
     "It's funny," Weidner said. "No one told me about milk donation. I don't know how I knew about it. I learned when I was planning the C-section, I knew donor milk was an option, but didn't know who donated it, never suspected I would become one who would be a milk donor."
     Some two dozen mother's milk banks are scattered around the country. The majority of milk collected goes to premature infants in hospital intensive care units; most of their donors are women who have expressed more milk than their babies need, though some are in Kate Weidner's situation.
     "Ten percent of our donors are bereavement donors—women who have lost their babies," said Summer Kelly, RN, executive director of the Mothers' Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes. "It really helps with the grieving process."
     Nursing releases Prolactin, a hormone that can lesson symptoms of depression. It also gives grieving mothers something to do.


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3 comments:

  1. That first sentence is marvelous, full of sadness but foreshadowing hope.

    john

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  2. Neil thank you so much for writing this column! Milk donation is a much needed but little read about gift to mom's and babies. Thank you for shining a light!

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  3. "Some moms deal with their grief in other ways."

    That line made me think of someone I had not thought about in years. My first wife's close friend lost not one baby, but two. She had a funeral for her twin sons and erected a double headstone. And she was never the same person after her double loss. She divorced her husband and moved to an isolated communal retreat in a West Virginia hollow, where she hand-crafted hammer dulcimers for musicians. Don't know whatever became of her.

    Not sure of the connection...or even if there is one. Perhaps it's that such a devastating loss might evoke a strong desire to create something with one's own hands. Just a guess. A shrink I am not.

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