Wendy Cruz-Chan was only 19 weeks pregnant with her son Killian when she was diagnosed with a rare uterine infection that led to him being stillborn.
While she was still reeling, emotionally devastated by the loss, Cruz-Chan noticed that her body was still preparing for a baby. Her breasts were so engorged they were leaking.
Determined not to let the negative feelings get her down, she decided to do something positive: She would donate her breast milk to moms with babies in need.
"I felt like my job being his mother was not done," says Cruz-Chan over the phone. "I needed to do more. I couldn’t dress him. I couldn’t hold him more. I couldn’t feed him and watch him grow. I needed to do something more to fulfill my purpose as a mother."
Cruz-Chan's husband supported her plan, and together, they started pumping and storing for moms and babies in need.
As a doula, Cruz-Chan already had connections to local new mom groups online, so she simply reached out and told them she had milk to spare.
A whole lot of it.
The process of getting the milk was exhausting. They were often up in the middle of the night relieving her swollen breasts — a common reality facing women who lose their babies.
In the end, however, Cruz-Chan says it was worth it.
After three months of pumping, she was able to donate 2,038 ounces (almost 16 gallons) of milk to six babies who needed it.
"Looking at those babies’ faces I was helping warms my heart," said Cruz-Chan. "It makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. Like I’m doing something to make sure my son’s milk is being used with lots of love."
There are many reasons why it might be more difficult for some moms to breastfeed than others. One baby in particular, named Mackenzie, who has a genetic disorder called epidermolysis bullosa (EB), especially benefited from Cruz-Chan's donation. As a result of EB, Mackenzie's skin is very fragile and she often breaks out in blisters. Cruz-Chan's milk, however, seemed to soothe her digestive track, which in turn helped calm her condition.
Cruz-Chan says the whole experience not only gave her a sense of purpose, but it also helped her grieve and mourn the loss of her son.
Now, she's raising money to get CuddleCots — beds that help preserve stillborn babies longer so parents can spend more time with them — into hospitals in New York City.
"People don’t want to talk about stillbirths, but they happen every day, and women suffer more because they feel like they can’t talk about it," she says.
October is Infant Loss Awareness Month. This is the time to be sharing stories like these to help support women and families who have lost children.
If you've recently lost a child and are looking to donate your breast milk, Cruz-Chan encourages you to reach out to your local breast milk bank or new mom and doula online communities. "Surround yourself with people who truly support your decision," she encouraged.
Helping other moms and babies may end up being the right experience to help you get closure and move forward with your life. It certainly was for Cruz-Chan.