People never seem to know what to think when they find out I am donating Brock’s milk.
The reaction is typically positive or, at the very least, neutral. They are often very curious about the process behind it, or why I decided I wanted to do it. I’m not entirely sure why I felt so strongly about it, to be honest, but it was the first definitive decision I made after I found out that he had passed. At the time, I told myself it was because I wanted to make sure that someone got some measure of good out of my terrible situation. That is still true, and that is what I often tell people when they ask, but I’ve come to realize that it’s not that black and white.
What I don’t tell them is that I like how pumping keeps me accountable. It gives me a reason to get out of bed on the bad days, and keeps me from overindulging: my desire to make good milk keeps me from taking in too much caffeine, sugar, alcohol or Ativan. It helps me keep a slightly sunnier disposition, because I often humour the idea that Brock’s milk, forfeit by him when he passed, might very well be saving another baby’s life. If I can spare another couple from the devastating emotional trauma that my husband and I suffered when he died, that is as close to a consolation as I can get.
Even harder to explain is that the responsibility keeps me sane. I dropped my whole life — quit my job and moved — in preparation of devoting every ounce of my time and energy to motherhood. If I weren’t doing something in his absence, I would go insane. I already find there are too many hours in a day, and not enough to fill them with. The very least I can do is devote a couple of hours a day to a positive venture. It, in itself, is a ‘job’. It doesn’t stop me from having too much time to think, but it’s a bit of help, at any rate.
Furthermore, and easily the most complicated reason why I continue to pump – something which happened gradually, and took deep root before I quite realized what was happening – is the fact that I am not ready to let go yet. Letting my milk dry up will feel like I’ve admitted defeat, like I have accepted that it is time to move on with my life. I feel tremendous guilt even when I am late for a pump, like I’m dishonouring Brock’s memory.
About two weeks ago, I realized I had developed an emotional attachment to expressing his milk. Life has begun to approach a new normal, and I am starting to feel pressure to devote my time to ‘normal’ ventures. I am falling behind on schoolwork – I quickly ran out after his demise and applied to do correspondence – and I am starting a new job in the next couple of weeks. (In both cases, I ran out and got involved in them because I needed to fill the void that Brock left with something, and this was my own convoluted way of trying to cope.) My husband is extremely eager to try and conceive our rainbow baby, something which will likely not happen while I am still nursing. I share his enthusiasm for a new baby, but I also don’t know how to explain, even to him, that pumping milk is the only thing that keeps me feeling any sense of purpose. It feels like the only part of pregnancy and postpartum that my body has figured out how to do right. It’s the only tangible reminder I have of my son, aside from some constantly fading memories and various types of scar tissue. It’s the only thing that I have left that is here for him, the only part of him that is, in some way, alive.
I pump his milk because I don’t know how to stop. I feel like the day I stop will be the day I admit that he’s gone for good. It’s not that I don’t know he’s dead; I realize that nothing I do will bring him back. I also realize that I can’t pump forever, and that I will need to move on at some point. All the same, letting the last piece of him go is not something I am ready to do yet.
I have been told I am amazing, and called a saint and a martyr. People keep revering me for my strength and telling me what an incredibly selfless thing I am doing. I smile, nod, and thank them for their kind words, because it is a lot easier to take their praise than it is to explain why I’m actually doing it for myself. It’s great that they perceive it as strength, but, honestly, I have never felt so weak.
I don’t think people would understand if I tried to tell them that pumping Brock’s milk is part of my grieving, and my way of coping with his loss. I’m slowly learning to wean from the pump. It might take several more weeks, or months, before I can let go for good, but, in the meantime, I need to have faith in myself that I won’t take on more than I can handle emotionally, and that I will know when it’s time to move on. I’m awaiting the day where I can feel good about what I have accomplished in his memory, rather than feeling guilty about not doing more than I already have. I’m not quite there yet, but at least I’m moving in the ‘right’ direction. Unfortunately, the right direction still feels wrong to me.
A couple months ago, I would never have anticipated a problem even remotely like this. I was blissfully unaware of the complicated, ugly beast that grief can be. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to get that sense of naivety back. I want to go back in time to the 19th of October and scream at my midwife when she told me that he was fine and I should go home.