Mom to Jonah Henry
May 12, 2012 – May 14, 2012
Morgantown, West Virginia
Jonah’s Milk, by Heidi L. Solomon
September 3, 2012
After a long battle with infertility, my husband, Deva, and I were thrilled to be expecting our first child. We spent our days dreaming about our son to be and happily anticipating his arrival in late August. I planned to nurse him and greatly looked forward to breastfeeding.
What was a perfect pregnancy ended abruptly at 25 weeks when I went into sudden preterm labor. Our baby boy, Jonah Henry, was born weighing 2 pounds, 1 ounce, a good size for 25 weeks. He was immediately whisked away to the NICU. I felt so helpless – unable to hold or even touch him at first. Upon his birth, the nurse and lactation consultant got me started with pumping. They said the best thing I could do for Jonah was to pump breast milk for him, which would be given to him on his second or third day of life. So I began pumping and I felt so good doing something that could actually help him.
Sadly, Jonah passed away in our arms after only two days of life. We were completely devastated. Within the hour of his passing, I was discharged from the hospital…heading home with empty arms. Because my milk had already come in and I was pumping every couple of hours in the hospital, I needed to quickly come up with a plan for what to do with Jonah’s milk. Should I stop cold turkey? Should I gradually cut back? What would I do with the milk? It was for Jonah, but now our baby was gone. Emotionally and physically drained, I called a friend who is a lactation consultant, hoping she would have the answers. Not only did she give me a plan to cut back pumping and gradually stop, she also told me I could continue pumping and donate my milk, if that was something I wanted to do.
I continued pumping during the next day and did some soul searching about my options. At that point, my milk had really come in and I was getting about ten ounces a day. I was so sad that I could not help Jonah by giving him my breast milk, but I realized that I could help other babies. I learned that when you have a preterm baby, your body creates special nutrients for whatever gestational age the baby is born. So my breast milk was specially formulated for a 25 week baby and those nutrients could actually save a preemie’s life. Plus, breast milk helps protect preemies from life-threatening diseases and infections and allows them to spend fewer days in the hospital. It gave me such comfort to know that other preemies could benefit from Jonah’s milk.
With the decision to donate, pumping breast milk for sick babies became my focus for the weeks and months following Jonah’s death. Every four hours I watched the white milk fill the little bottles and got such joy thinking about how Jonah’s milk could save another baby’s life. I have now pumped for over 3 months, which yielded well over 1300 ounces of liquid gold. On July 23rd I shipped two giant coolers filled with Jonah’s milk (36 pounds!!) to the Mother’s Milk Bank of Ohio in Columbus. Jonah’s milk will be going to the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital and other area hospitals to benefit preemie babies in their NICUs. In addition to donating breast milk to the Milk Bank, I have also been able to donate to three close friends’ babies and actually got to feed Jonah’s milk to each of them. Feeding Jonah’s milk to babies Callie, Payton, and Noah was incredibly bittersweet – my heart ached for the chance to feed that milk to Jonah, but in the reality of his loss, I was overjoyed to feed his milk to the babies of three friends I love so much.
I continue to grieve the loss of my pregnancy, the loss of my baby boy, and the loss of my chance to nurse him. But I celebrate giving birth to Jonah. I celebrate his life. And I celebrate the chance to give Jonah’s milk to babies in need. Sometimes beautiful things come out of the saddest of tragedies.
You can contact Heidi at firstname.lastname@example.org.