After receiving the worst news of her life — that her third son had passed away in the womb at 20 weeks — Amy Anderson found a meaningful way to give back and keep Bryson’s memory alive.
Anderson and her husband, Bryan, parents to Brody, 8, and Owen, 2, found out that their youngest son Bryson was suffering from a lower urinary tract obstruction (LUTO)in utero at 15 weeks. Bryson was monitored closely as he fought for his life over the next month, until the couple learned that he had died on Oct. 28, 2010, at 20 weeks. Anderson delivered Bryson stillborn two days later and began pumping her breast milk the next week.
Sadly, this wasn’t Anderson’s first time experiencing pregnancy loss. Anderson had three miscarriages within the past eight years. Following Bryson’s stillbirth (classified when a miscarriage occurs after 20 weeks), Anderson said she felt most connected to this loss, since she watched him wiggle on ultrasounds almost daily for a month in addition to holding, kissing, and staring at his perfection upon delivery.
Anderson decided to honor Bryson by donating the breast milk that he would have used to other babies in need — without the support of her doctor or employer. Anderson went against doctor’s orders to bind her breasts and restrict milk supply and started pumping for donation instead. When Anderson asked her boss if she could take regular breaks to pump milk at work, she was bluntly told that her baby was dead. According to Anderson’s now-former employer, the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law didn’t cover surrogate or bereaved moms.
Anderson tells Babble:
“Initially, I was oblivious to the journey ahead of me as no one prepared me for what would happen to my breasts after Bryson was born. In fact, I was told that it was way too early for breast milk to be produced by my body. But this was a horrible misconception. Within a couple days after delivering Bryson, my milk came in. My rock-hard chest was throbbing, and milk saturated everything. Still, no one suggested the option of donating Bryson’s milk, just ways to suppress it, which were all completely ineffective. As I expressed the milk, a real sense of calm descended. I felt a powerful closeness to my Bryson, which reminded me how much I loved the breastfeeding relationship I had shared with my eldest son.”
Anderson kept pumping for eight months and donated 92 gallons of breast milk to five different milk banks in four states and Canada, all in Bryson’s memory.
Anderson’s donations yielded over 30,000 feedings and became a proactive way for her to work through her grief. Five years later, Anderson continues to honor the son she lost by fighting for a more inclusive breastfeeding law change and by working to complete her certification as a breastfeeding consultant. She has also set up an official Facebook page in Bryson’s memory called Donating Through Grief to help other moms cope with lactation after pregnancy loss.
Donating human milk has been practiced for more than a century, but it wasn’t until 1985 that safety guidelines were set in place. Today’s breast milk market has been aptly described as “booming,” with a nationwide premature birth rate at 7.6 percent that increases the need for donor milk in neonatal intensive care units. As the Mother’s Milk Bank of Austin explains, healthy donors who offer up their surplus to fill this need give vulnerable preemies a better chance. Most babies who receive donated milk are preterm or sick babies in the hospital who can greatly benefit from the infection-fighting properties of breast milk.
For moms interested in donating, the options are aplenty. The National Milk Bank provides a toll-free number to call to find a Prolacta Bioscience affiliated milk bank in your area, ensuring that all donated milk meets strict standards. The International Breast Milk Project also outlines all of the frequently asked questions that come up among interested donors — qualifications, donation window, pumping equipment, and more. And many times, you can even find a local milk bank that will allow you to drop off on-site instead of shipping your frozen milk.
Whether you have extra or are giving for a more personal reason, most moms who donate their milk say that they find a deep sense of satisfaction in doing so. As Anderson explains to Babble, the simple act of donating became a beautiful way to keep her son’s legacy alive:
“When tragedy strikes, a bereaved mom is left to brave the boundary between death and life, grief and purpose, hope and healing, all while experiencing unfathomable heartbreak. Pumping milk in Bryson’s memory felt so very right. All life has meaning, and my son’s life was no different.”