Making Mama Milk for Micah and Zachary

I’ve been making mama milk for two years. I feel like I should celebrate, bake a cake or do something to thank my body for nourishing my babies under tragic circumstances. Thanks to my mama milk, I could provide my premature babies with something that no one else could. Somehow I managed to establish a milk supply for Micah and Zachary by relying solely on a breast pump. Neither of them could nurse because they were born too early. Somehow I managed to continue to make milk when my boys’ lives were at risk. I made milk when Micah was critically ill. I made milk before, during, and after each of Micah’s countless surgical procedures. I even made mama milk the night we said goodbye to precious Micah. In the hours, days and weeks after our tragic loss, I continued to make mama milk for Zachary. Mama milk gave me this fundamental connection to my babies.  First time holding Micah

We just celebrated Micah and Zachary’s second birthday, and for countless reasons, I still make mama milk. I’m not sure when I’ll let my milk dry up. Not only does Zachary love to have a warm bottle of mama milk before bed, but when Micah was so sick, my milk was the one and only meaningful thing I could give to him. When Micah was really sick, I couldn’t hold him. I couldn’t even move his body. But, I could nourish him with my milk, and that was an amazing gift.

Micah and Zachary were 24 weeks along when I carefully wrote out my birth preferences. I planned to have a natural, vaginal birth, with as few interventions as possible. I planned to avoid all unnecessary medications. I planned to breast feed the twins immediately after they were born. I planned to avoid formula and pacifiers. I dreamed of having this beautiful, life changing, amazing experience to welcome Micah and Zachary into this world.

Three weeks later, I was on an OR table. Micah and Zachary were born just shy of 28 weeks via emergency c-section. I could not even see my babies after they were born. They were taken out of my body and immediately whisked away to the NICU to fight for their lives. My intense anguish and fear overwhelmed any feelings of hope and happiness.

In the OR recovery area, I begged my nurse to bring me a breast pump. I had never even seen a breast pump. I just knew I needed to start making milk for my babies. My nurse refused to bring me a breast pump. She said I’d need to wait until I got to my private room. I cried and begged, repeatedly, explaining how important it was for me to establish my milk supply for my tiny babies. Kangaroo'ing Zachary

Two hours of crying and begging finally earned me my breast pump. It arrived, but I had no idea what to do with it. I placed the cups on my breasts and hit the button. I pleaded for my body to make milk for my babies.

I pumped for 20 minutes every two hours around the clock and didn’t make a single drop of milk in over 24 hours. If my milk didn’t come in soon, my babies would be given formula. I already hated my body for not holding and keeping my babies safe, and now I hated my body for not making milk.

Nearly 48 hours after giving birth, the smallest drops of milk dribbled down into the plastic cups. I was so relieved and thankful. Soon enough I had a freezer full of milk for Micah and Zachary. I often felt helpless to my twins, but making milk allowed me to do something to help nurture them.

At the hospital, I made milk in the boys’ rooms, in front of their whole care team and our family. I was so committed to making milk, I did not care who was in the room or who was trying to hold a conversation with me. I could talk and make milk at the same time. My babies needed my milk. If seeing me make milk made someone uncomfortable, they could leave the room.

By the time, Micah and Zachary were six weeks old, my milk supply was well established and I had plenty of milk for both of them. But, Micah could not tolerate the formula fortifier they insisted on adding to my breast milk. Micah developed necrotizing enterocolitis and became critically ill. I continued my round-the-clock milk making schedule, through intense uncertainty and discouraging comments. Mama & Micah

“You can stop pumping so often now.”

“Pumping is so awful.”

“You should stop waking up in the middle of the night to pump.”

“Don’t you want some privacy while you pump?”

“Micah can’t even eat anything, why are you still pumping for him?”

Seriously? The one and only meaningful way I could nurture my premature babies was by making milk for them. I failed at keeping them safe inside of my belly, I would do everything I could to give them mama milk.

Throughout Micah’s 11-month hospitalization, I continued to make milk for Micah and Zachary. Neither of the boys learned to breastfeed, thanks to their rough start to life, so I exclusively relied on a breast pump to nourish their little bodies

Tragically, due to necrotizing enterocolitis, we lost Micah when the boys were 11 months old. Despite our tragic loss and the hell that I watched Micah endure, my body somehow managed to continue to make milk. I have donated breast milk to local families who have adopted children and to milk banks who pasteurize the milk for hospitalized babies. Providing mama milk for my babies and other babies in need, brings me such peace and fulfillment. Losing a child is one of the most tragic losses anyone can experience. My heart will forever ache to have Micah back in my arms. Yet, I am so incredibly blessed to be healthy enough to have given my milk to both of my babies and other babies in need. Cheers to making mama milk for two years.

Remembering Micah’s Smiles: How I learned to live after kissing my 11 month old baby goodbye

When I married my best friend, Noah, we were young, healthy, and so excited to start a family together. We expected our family building journey to be simple. But, we struggled with infertility. I was jealous of my friends who got pregnant without even trying. I desperately wanted to have my own child.

Three years later, our miracle babies found us. We were ecstatic to have twin boys on the way. We named the twins Micah and Zachary early in the pregnancy. All of my appointments went smoothly. I was healthy and did everything right. My pregnancy was perfect, until it wasn’t.

At 25 weeks gestation, I went into preterm labor. I was hospitalized and placed on strict bed rest. Our goal was to make it to 28 weeks.

We didn’t.

Micah and Zachary were born at 27 weeks and 5 days gestation. They each weighed about 2 ½ pounds. I did not get to see or hold them after they were born; they were immediately taken to the NICU to fight for their lives.

I struggled with profound guilt and anxiety. I hated myself for not being able to protect my babies and keep them safe inside of me. The alarms, medical jargon, machines, and NICU scene were overwhelmingly frightening. My babies were so tiny, tangled up in wires and cords. I was afraid to touch them because I thought I would hurt them. I didn’t know how to be their Mommy. I fell apart when I left them at night. I was a mess.Go Blue

Thanks to the boys’ nurses and my family, I became a NICU Mommy. I did everything possible to give Micah and Zachary the best chance at a healthy outcome. I expressed breast milk every two hours around the clock. I kangaroo’d them every day. I learned the NICU language. I stayed involved in their care. Micah and Zachary struggled, but overall, they were gaining weight and making steady progress.

When the boys were six weeks old, Micah developed necrotizing enterocolitis and became critically ill. Necrotizing enterocolitis sent Micah into a downward spiral that resulted in end stage renal disease and intestinal resection, not to mention a host of other life-threatening complications. Nearly six months after the onset of his illness, we accepted that Micah would need a kidney transplant. We finally brought Micah home, but he still needed to be back at the hospital six days a week for hemodialysis. Despite our efforts, Micah hovered around 9lbs for months. The bowel resection made it impossible for him to absorb the nutrients he needed to grow.

Micah fought and surpassed everyone’s expectations. Despite his struggles, Micah’s smile and eyes told me everything would be okay. He was not only going to live, he was going to thrive.

I was in the middle of planning Micah and Zachary’s first Christmas and birthday when Micah took a sharp turn for the worse. As the day played out, the situation grew very dim. By mid-evening, the news of Micah’s life coming to an end was spreading to our family and friends. It felt like a nightmare.

I hoped for a miracle.

I hoped that Micah’s kidneys would suddenly wake up. I hoped that somehow Micah would turn everything around and we’d all go home together.

Then, I realized there would be no miracle. My baby was leaving this Earth and I could not do anything to stop it. His time here was over. I didn’t get to keep him. I would have to say goodbye to my precious Micah and all of the dreams I had for him.

I didn’t think I could do it. I told Noah that I could not let Micah go as I held him. His last breath, his last heartbeat, could not be in my arms. Noah insisted that it was best for Micah. His life started with me. It should end with me. And so it did.

I am blessed that Noah and I had hours to say goodbye to precious Micah. We sang to him. We made hand and foot prints in his favorite storybooks. We hugged, kissed and snuggled him tight. Micah knew he is deeply and forever loved.

I didn’t know how to live without Micah. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t talk. All I could do was cry.

My grieving heart needed ways to stay close to Micah. I wanted to give back to other families in Micah’s name. Noah and I considered everything that brought Micah joy. We wanted to find that one thing that brought Micah joy and then give it to other families to enjoy, too. One person stood out: Bob Huffman, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital’s music therapist.

Through our journey, we found that music provides calm amidst chaos and peace in times of heartache. Music transcends time, space, language and all other barriers, so we started a fund to help expand the children’s hospital’s music therapy program. We named it the Micah Smiles Fund, because of the incredible smiles that Micah shared with us as we showered him with music, storybooks, and our love. Through the Micah Smiles Fund, we are able to share Micah’s love of music with other families, and that brings us a deep sense of peace. It’s almost like we’re experiencing Micah’s joy, as other families benefit from the Micah Smiles Fund.

Thanks to the generosity of our family, friends, and perfect strangers, the Micah Smiles Fund has raised more than $40,000. The Fund is being used to start a fellowship program for recently credentialed music therapists. The first Micah Smiles Music Therapy Fellow was just named and will begin in early 2014. We are comforted knowing that the healing sound of music will reach more families because of Micah.

There is no healing with the loss of a child. I have learned how to live with my loss, but I have an everlasting heartache that runs deep into my soul. It is a part of me and always will be. And I want to keep it that way, because that ache in my soul is Micah.

This journey has given me strength, compassion, endurance, and fight that I never imagined to be possible. I am blessed for the richness that Micah has forever added to my life. Giving back to other families is one of the best ways for me to stay close to Micah. I find peace knowing that other families are better off because Micah lived.