A Maine woman has done something incredible following the devastating loss of her stillborn son and has a strong message for other women going through something similar.
In 2010, Amy Anderson, from Caribou, Maine, lost baby Bryson when she was 20 weeks pregnant. She told FOX 5 News Bryson developed a lower urinary tract obstruction and his tiny heart couldn't handle the pressure that was building up in his bladder. The baby was delivered as a stillborn in October of that year and after that Anderson said she was completely numb.
As she grieved Bryson, Anderson dealt with another type of pain. Her breasts started filling with milk just days after Bryson was delivered. She said her rock-hard chest was throbbing and milk saturated everything. Her doctors said it was too early for breast milk to be produced by her body, but that was clearly not the case.
"Lactation can happen even as early as with a second trimester loss," Anderson told us. "The medical community needs to recognize the dynamics of a body that doesn't understand the baby it birthed had died."
She said her doctors advised her to "bind her breasts" and take Sudafed to suppress milk production, but she decided to do something else. Instead, she expressed her breast milk and donated it to babies in need, which is something she said no one suggested.
"Though it's not the best choice for everyone, it can help to foster healing and gratitude in an otherwise dark and desolate time," she said.
Anderson was already a mother of two, one son and one angel, when she lost Bryson and said she loved the breastfeeding relationship between a mother and her baby, and pumping her milk brought a sense of calmness to her.
"Pumping milk in Bryson's memory felt so very right."
Her breast milk was considered "preterm breast milk" which is healthier than full-term breast milk. It contains more fat, protein and the mineral sodium, chloride and iron and those nutrients are extremely valuable to preterm babies.
She pumped for a total of eight months. She began by sending donations to Mothers' Milk Bank Ohio and then her milk donations went to Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast (MMBNE). Her final donation was made in person in June of 2011.
Anderson told FOX 5 she's advocating for a mother's right to know about the option of donating through grief.
"In order for a bereaved woman to make an informed decision, she first needs to know her options and about the benefits of this unique form of organ donation which can be completely life-changing for the many precious recipients of donor milk," said Anderson. "Equally as important is the treatment of bereaved families who are left to brave the boundary between death and life, grief and purpose, hope and healing with minimal support due to the societal taboo."
In an article she published for the MMBNE, Anderson shared that Bryson isn't the only baby her family grieves.
"You won't see them in family pictures or on our family outings, though, because our precious middle children live within our hearts. Joey Skylor, Bryson, Bean, and SweetPea came into our lives just long enough to breathe passion into our souls," Anderson said.
Anderson said in honor of her "forever babies," 11,762 ounces of Bryson's milk was donated, which is almost 92 gallons. It went to the highest of high-needs preterm babies. Anderson said the milk was spread across five states and three different countries.
She told us one of the biggest obstacles was dealing with her situation in the workplace.
"I was completely blind-sided that the very law created to protect breastfeeding mothers would not pertain to my situation because I did not have a 'nursing baby.'" She said she's dedicated to changing the terminology of the federal law to be formally inclusive of all lactating women.
Anderson told us that even though it's been hard at times, she feels completely humbled, blessed and overwhelmed with gratitude to see her story being shared internationally.
"I've shed tears reading beautiful stories of other bereaved moms completing acts in honor of their angels, shared in heartbreak for those moms regretting missed opportunities, and offered information and references to professionals seeking knowledge about this unique form of "organ donation". It warms my heart to have others acknowledge my Bryson's brief yet beautiful life and to know that we are making a difference in the world! "
Anderson said it has become her mission to connect with and support other bereaved mothers. If you would like to connect with Anderson or learn more about Bryson's legacy, you can follow her on Facebook.