Huffpost Parents

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jennifer Canvasser Headshot

When Mother's Milk Was All I Had to Give

Posted: Updated:

I've been exclusively pumping breast milk for over two years. Neither of my twins could nurse at birth because they were born incredibly fragile at 27 weeks gestation. I managed to establish a milk supply for twins by relying solely on a breast pump.

Micah and Zachary were born via emergency c-section, each weighing just over two pounds. I did not see my babies when they were born. They were taken out of my body and whisked away to the NICU to fight for their lives. Intense fear and guilt clouded feelings of 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 very premature twins. My nurse refused to bring me a breast pump. She said I'd need to wait until I got to my private room. I begged, explaining how important it was for me to establish my milk supply for my tiny babies.


Hours later, when my breast pump finally arrived, I began the routine of pumping for 20 minutes every two hours around the clock. I didn't make a single drop of milk in over 24 hours. My twins' care team explained that if my milk didn't come in soon, my premature babies would be fed formula. More than 48 hours after giving birth, I was so relieved when the smallest drops of colostrum dribbled down into the plastic pumping bottles.

My family supported my determination to provide breastmilk for Micah and Zachary. My husband made sure I was well-nourished and had everything I could possibly need to optimize my milk supply for our twins. My mom and closest family members took care of everything else so I could take care of my fragile twins. Support was critical to my success. Not once did my inner-circle utter a discouraging comment about my pumping schedule. As I pumped, I read up on the lifesaving power of mother's milk for fragile infants. The more I learned about mother's milk for fragile infants, the more determined I became to provide my twins with breast milk for as long as possible.

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, our NICU insisted on adding a bovine-based formula-fortifier to my breast milk to boost the caloric and nutritional content. Neither of my twins responded well to the formula-fortifier, which caused them severe constipation, frequent bouts of emesis and life-threatening breathing episodes. Tragically, Micah developed necrotizing enterocolitis and became critically ill. 2014-05-30-IMG_1348.JPG

I continued my round-the-clock pumping schedule, through intense uncertainty. The one way I could nurture my fragile babies was by giving them my milk. Making milk was my one source of empowerment, when all of my motherly duties and responsibilities were taken away and given to clinicians.

Throughout Micah's 10-month hospitalization, I continued to pump milk for Micah and Zachary. Neither of my twins learned to breastfeed, so I exclusively relied on a breast pump to nourish their little bodies. Tragically, due to complications from 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.

We just celebrated Micah and Zachary's second birthday, and I am still exclusively pumping. When Micah was critically ill, I couldn't hold him for four months straight. But, I could nourish him with my milk, and that was an amazing gift.

2014-05-30-DSC_5988.jpgMicah is gone, but my milk supply that I built for twins is not. I have donated breast milk to families who have adopted children and to milk banks who pasteurize the milk for fragile hospitalized babies. Providing breast milk for my babies and other babies in need, brings me great peace. 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 blessed. In my lowest of lows, when I felt like I had nothing to give, I could still give my milk. My milk gave my babies life, other babies love, and my devastated soul, peace.