We got home from the hospital around 6:00pm the day after Poppy was born. Our friend Kirsten drove us in our car. I sat in the front. Eli sat in the back next to the car seat. It was rush hour and when I saw all the cars driving to and from wherever they were coming and going I felt crushed. Didn’t they know my baby had died?
It was a blessing that Kirsten was there to drive us home as neither Eli nor me were capable of operating a moving vehicle. In my lap I held a small bouquet of flowers my friend Althea sent to our delivery room as a condolence. Thank goodness I had something to carry, my arms were so empty.
By the time we got home, our friend Suzanne had already let herself in and filled our refrigerator with food. She’d also taken the bassinet out of our bedroom and moved it into the garage. My doula stopped by to check on us. I faintly remember talking with her about how I knew we could get through this, trying to hold on to some sense of hope. I really needed to be alone with Eli so she didn’t stay long.
We hadn’t eaten much of anything over the last day and a half and we both had an appetite so we decided to rummage through the groceries Suzanne purchased for us. We’d given her a short list when she visited us at the hospital. Eli likes Swiss cheese and we’d asked for some. Reaching into the cheese drawer, I pulled out the chunk Suzanne bought and saw that it was the expensive, fancy kind. I held it up to Eli to show him and simultaneously, as if rehearsed, we sounded it out together in silly accents: “Le Gruyere”. We both busted out laughing. Hard. I had to hold onto the kitchen counter. I remember looking up at him thinking “My god, we just might actually survive this.”
We tried watching a movie later that evening, both of us lying on the couch, numb, not knowing what to do with ourselves. There were very few people at that point who knew Poppy was even born, much less dead. We still had to tell everyone.
I’d been gloriously open about my pregnancy on Facebook. Over those 9 months we posted pictures of my growing belly, announcing how far along I was, how our baby girl was progressing, how excited we were to meet her. We were oblivious and happy. I was glowing inside and out.
Around 10:00pm that night we mustered the strength to announce Poppy’s birth on Facebook. Only there were no pictures to share, no plump, pink baby swaddled in a blanket. There were only devastating words to express that our daughter was stillborn. We posted simultaneously, each on our own page and then immediately shut off our phones.
I fell asleep that night, but didn’t stay down for long. My breasts were full and aching. I needed to express. I was going to donate Poppy’s milk. This was extremely important to me. I would not let my milk go to waste. There is a human milk bank in Portland called the Northwest Mother’s Milk Bank that I’d connected with while still in the hospital. With the help of the nurses I submitted my application to donate before we left the hospital that afternoon.
Swollen breasts. Soft belly. Silent house. I walked into the nursery and sat down in the glider we’d purchased for Poppy. I was so excited to nurse her. I was a breastfed baby. Nursing is quite possibly the most beautiful thing in the whole world. Cupping my breast in one hand I started to “press, compress, release, press, compress, release, press, compress, release.” The Standford.edu breastfeeding videos I’d watched in anticipation of Poppy’s arrival gave me some sense of what to do. In my other hand I held a teaspoon to collect the drops of colostrum that dripped out of me. When the teaspoon was nearly full I used a tiny syringe to suck it up.
Colostrum is said to be like liquid gold. It has an intelligence all of its own. It is truly a miracle liquid made specifically by the body for the newborn and only lasts a short time before milk comes in. I tell you now that I felt true happiness with each drop I expressed. I don’t know if it was the hormones my body was naturally releasing or if it was the knowledge that Poppy’s colostrum would help save the life of another baby somewhere. Regardless, I felt it.
I am sad when I think back to that first early morning, knowing now the grief that was yet to come. I was much too much in shock to have any idea how hard it was going to get. But I feel joy too. Each moment I spent expressing and eventually pumping, I felt deeply connected to Poppy’s energy. I am honored that my milk donation was accepted and received as a gift to a premature or ill newborn in need. I’ll never know the baby who received the milk, but I know that Poppy is very proud of me for giving.