‘A day after my twins died, I began pumping. I didn’t know who I was going to donate to, or when, but I had to do this.’: Grieving mom donates 3,000 ounces of breastmilk to mothers in need

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of child loss and miscarriage, as well as graphic images, that may be upsetting to some.

“My husband Andre and I first met in March 2014 after a mutual friend introduced us through Facebook. We started talking and soon a relationship bloomed. By June we made our relationship public, and that following September, at the wedding of that same friend’s daughter, he proposed marriage to me, and I said yes.

Man gets down on one knee to propose to his girlfriend after they met on Facebook
Courtesy of Tara Martin (Divine Perspective Photography)
Courtesy of Tara Martin (Divine Perspective Photography)

One of the main things that brought us together and helped us work through our differences and completely opposite personalities was the fact that we both wanted to have children. So, after we got married in March of 2015, we began right away.

Newlyweds laugh together while taking wedding photos on their special day
Courtesy of Ashley Brooke Photography 
Courtesy of Ashley Brooke Photography 

Our first two pregnancies ended in miscarriage, the first in April (5 weeks), and the second in August (10/11 weeks). Before I had always thought miscarriage and pregnancy loss were rare. And here I was not only faced with it twice, but told it was very common.

That second baby we named Chris. Shortly after losing Chris, we got our rainbow baby. Our Evelyn Rose (Evie). She was born a year after Chris died and is the light and joy of our lives, for she is the rainbow that outshone our flood, both then and now.

Mom takes photo of her newborn daughter, her rainbow baby, in a pink and blue striped beanie
Courtesy of Connie Watson
Couple who have experienced multiple miscarriages hold their newborn daughter together after the mom gave birth
Courtesy of Connie Watson

And that brings me to our twins. Jordan Suzanne and Ariana Catherine. Nearly four years after Evie was born, we decided we wanted to give her a sibling. We started trying to conceive and, like Evie and our other pregnancies, found out we were expecting very soon.

At about six weeks, I experienced some light spotting and panicked. Based on my past miscarriages, I was certain I was about to lose this pregnancy. I left work early and rushed to the hospital to find out I was NOT miscarrying. Instead, I heard the magical words, ‘There are two heartbeats.’

Twins! I always knew there was a chance for twins from my family history, but I was still shocked! This meant double everything! We would need two car seats, a double stroller, two cribs, two highchairs, double the clothes, and double the diapers!

Once we got over the initial shock, we actually got really excited about it. And Evie was super happy to be getting more than one sibling. I bought the book ‘God Gave Us Two’ by Lisa Tawn Bergren, and we used it in our pregnancy announcement. It soon became affectionately known as ‘the twins’ book,’ and Evie asked for it to be read at bedtime on multiple occasions.

Little girl announces her parents' twin pregnancy with a sign and a book titled 'God Gave Us Two'
Courtesy of Connie Watson

Around 12 weeks, we announced to everyone publicly and my initial doubts faded. Everything went well the next few weeks, but then at the tail end of 15 weeks, the same day we found out they were both girls, my OB brought me into his office to talk privately. He told me it was difficult to see baby B’s head, and he was concerned she may have anencephaly.

Ultrasound scan of Baby B in twin pregnancy reveals potential Anencephaly
Courtesy of Connie Watson

He also mentioned that since they shared a placenta, there was also a risk they could develop twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS). So, I was referred to the high risk specialist for a more detailed anatomy scan to confirm and monitor.

When I started researching anencephaly, I wanted to scream. Surely this isn’t what my baby has? Perhaps she was just lying in such a way that her head couldn’t fully be seen? But because my pregnancy with Evie went smoothly, and I tend to overthink things in general, I was sure I was worrying for nothing.

But I was not. Nearly a week later it was confirmed baby B, my sweet Ariana, would be born without most of her skull and she would die shortly after birth. That day I cried the entire drive home, alone. There was also a concern she could die in utero, and if she did it would put baby A, Jordan, at risk due to the shared placenta. And, as I said before, there was also a risk of TTTS. We were given the option to either terminate baby B, which would allow baby A to thrive on her own, or carry them both to term.

It was the hardest decision to consider. If we decided to terminate baby B, not only would she be gone (even though she had a fatal birth defect), there was a chance I could go into preterm labor just from the procedure alone. If we didn’t, and she died in the womb, baby A would die, too. There was no way to know what was going to happen, or what decision would be the right one. Being faced with this was like trying to choose between walking through a room full of poisonous snakes or fire. There was no one right answer.

I started seeing the high risk doctor every 2 weeks to monitor the babies. As the weeks went by, and everything seemed to be going smoothly (despite Ariana’s anencephaly), we decided it was best to just continue with the pregnancy. Sometime after the 20-week mark, the high risk doctor cleared the babies of any sign of TTTS, but we still continued with the bi-weekly appointments just to be sure, and to monitor Ariana’s anencephaly.

Woman pregnant with twins takes a photo of her growing belly bump in the bathroom mirror with a Mickey Mouse shirt on
Courtesy of Connie Watson

We soon came to terms with Ariana’s inevitable death. Though everything seemed dark, we were comforted by the fact we would still be bringing Jordan home. As it got closer to the third trimester, we scheduled a C-section for February 26th, which would put me at 34 weeks. Even though we knew Ariana was going to die, we still had hope. Until February 3, 2021. I was 30 weeks and 5 days pregnant.

I went for my normal bi-weekly scan at the high risk specialist. The ultrasound tech did her usual scan, and I made quips about Jordan being tucked inside my hip as usual. Ariana was kicking around and being super active like she usually was. And Jordan, to me, was as chill as ever. I did take note the tech didn’t pull up a heartbeat on Jordan like she did for Ariana, but I brushed it off. Surely everything was still fine, right?

She left with a smile and said the doctor would be in shortly. Looking back now I realize her heart had to have been breaking as she tried to keep up a smile for me. The doctor came in and he asked me how my day was at work and how I was feeling. Then he grew quiet as he looked through the ultrasound and even did a little scan himself.

Without a word he put the wand away, took extra time to wipe the ultrasound gel off my belly, helped me up, and waited for me to re-adjust my clothes before uttering the words that broke my heart. ‘I’m afraid I have bad news. Baby A no longer has a heartbeat.’ Even with my previous losses, I never heard those words spoken to me before. And I never want to hear it again. I said to him, ‘But just last week at my OB, she had a heartbeat, they both did!’

He said, ‘I know, and I’m so sorry. It has nothing to do with baby B’s anencephaly, and there is no twin-to-twin transfusion. I don’t know what happened, I’m sorry.’ I started crying and he held me for a few minutes. Then he told me to take as long as I needed to, and he left me in that dark room alone, my heart and my world completely shattered.

I didn’t stay long because I needed to get out of there, and I needed to get home. I somehow made it to the car, my vision blurred with tears. I texted Andre that we needed to talk when I got home. I was not going to tell him through text, and I was not going to call him. I needed to tell him in person. It was only about a 15-minute drive, but that day it felt like hours. I was crying and screaming and punching the steering wheel so much I’m surprised I made it home without crashing. I even had a brief moment where I considered purposely crashing the car in order to escape this nightmare I had found myself thrust into.

But I kept going, because I had a family to get home to. Andre and Evie needed me. And I needed them. And somehow I knew Jordan and Ariana needed me, too. I finally arrived home. I stumbled up the stairs, desperately trying not to crumble into a pile until I got into the apartment. Andre led me to the couch, the same place where I sat and cried about Ariana’s diagnosis, and where Evie was waiting, wondering what was wrong. I took a breath and finally blurted it out. ‘JORDAN DIED!’

Later that night, after we sent Evie to spend the night at her Nana’s, Andre and I held each other in the bed and I finally let it all out. For the first time ever in my life, I wailed. I didn’t just weep or cry, I wailed. I never want to hear that sound come out of me again. I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe. I had to consciously pull it back just to keep from asphyxiating myself.

Over the weekend we made plans with my OB to have the C-section moved up to February 12th. But on Monday, February 8th, shortly after a visit with my OB to go over details, I went into labor at 31 weeks and 3 days. At first, I was scared, but once we arrived at the hospital a weird sense of calm came over me. Call it calm, call it numbness, I truly believe now that God held me the whole time I was there, giving me all of His strength. That’s the only way I can explain how I got through the day. And it amazes me, because I was so angry at Him. And yet, even in my anger, He held me.

They told Andre to go around to the front entrance, and then they made him wait outside of the OR. So thanks to Covid, I didn’t have my number one support person with me the entire time I was in labor. They began to prep me for a C-section. As they did so, my contractions grew stronger and much more frequent. I labored by myself, with no physical support and no pain meds, for nearly 2 hours. The whole time, though, I was constantly messaging Andre, my family, and my photographer, Rachael from Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep.

By the time they wheeled me into the OR I began feeling the urge to push, but I had to hold it so they could get the spinal block in. The pain was indescribable, and all I could do was lean on the nurse who gripped my arms and sides to help me keep still for the spinal block. They finally got it in, and laid me down. My OB told me to push and with just two pushes, Jordan came out at 5:04 p.m. There was no celebration, no joy, no baby crying. Just the sound of the machines and my waters pouring out of my body as my daughter was born sleeping.

That’s when they finally let Andre in. They weighed Jordan (2lbs 5oz), then wrapped her up and handed her to Andre. He sat behind me and I watched them both as everyone started the C-section for Ariana, who had positioned herself sideways in my womb.

Husband holds his stillborn preterm daughter after his wife gave birth to her
Courtesy of Connie Watson

At 5:16 p.m. Ariana was born, also weighing 2lbs 5oz. Though she was born alive, there was still no sound of a baby crying, and she had already begun to fade. I got stitched up, then they wheeled me out into recovery where Rachael was waiting for us. She and the nurses went to work immediately, getting handprints and footprints, swaddling the girls for pictures, then dressing them in their burial gowns for more pictures. I had brought the ‘twins’ book’ with me and Andre got some pictures of the girls with it.

Girl dad holds his twin daughters in the OR, one born still and one with ancencephaly
Courtesy of Connie Watson

The NICU doctor kept monitoring Ariana throughout it all and at 6:10 p.m. she reported that Ariana’s heart had stopped. The next few days were a mix of resting and trying to come to terms with grieving the loss of both of my girls. I’m thankful they were able to remain in the room with me during my entire stay, as an empty room would’ve been much harder to handle. But I was bleeding, tired, and sore from having given birth twice (and two different methods of birth, no less), without any living babies to show for it.

Woman holds her newborn daughter with anencephaly
Courtesy of Connie Watson
Mom holds her twin daughter who was born still
Courtesy of Connie Watson

But the one thing I was certain of was I wanted to donate my breastmilk. I met with an LC at the hospital who set me up with the hospital pump, and I began pumping the day after the twins were born. This was Tuesday. Thursday, my milk finally came in. I didn’t know who I was going to donate to, or when, but I knew I wanted to do this for my girls. Organ or tissue donation was too much for me to fathom, but THIS I knew I could do.

My last day with the girls was another day of calm. I don’t know if it was God this time or if I was just tired and numb from it all. As I started packing up my things, I came across the book again. I had intended on reading it to them sometime during my stay and had forgotten. So, I sat down then and there and began reading as I cried. Though I knew their spirits were no longer there, it was something I needed to do.

Twin mom reads the book "God Gave Us Two" to her twin daughters that both passed away
Courtesy of Connie Watson
Courtesy of Connie Watson

 

After the story, I finished packing up, then laid one of the hospital baby blankets over the bassinet and informed my wonderful nurse, Steve, that we were ready. He then tenderly unhooked them from the machine and wheeled them out, never to be seen again.

The days, weeks, and months since then have been up and down. I started showing signs of preeclampsia and depression and was soon put on medication for both. For weeks all I could do was the bare minimum to survive. I found joy in nothing except my daughter Evie, the only light in my ever-present darkness.

Mom battling preeclampsia and postpartum depression takes a selfie with her rainbow baby
Courtesy of Connie Watson

One thing I was sure about through all of this was my decision to pump and donate breastmilk. I met with a local IBCLC who helped me increase my supply and connected me with local groups where I could potentially find someone to donate to. Because of my medications, I couldn’t donate to the NICU through milk banks, so local donations was my only option.

2 months after the twins’ deaths, in April, I reached out to one of the groups, a local breastfeeding group on Facebook, and shared my story. I connected with a mom there who I gave my very first milk donation to. Since then I’ve also donated regularly to her and 3 other local moms, one of which has a special needs child. Between the four of them I have thus far donated almost 3,000 ounces of breastmilk. My goal is to keep pumping and donating until the twins’ first birthday.

Courtesy of Connie Watson
Woman who lost her twin daughters donates her breastmilk to mothers and babies in need
Courtesy of Connie Watson
Courtesy of Connie Watson

Along with sharing my girls and their story on Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram, donating breastmilk is the best way I know to honor their deaths. Their milk has and continues to nourish 3 babies and a medically complex child. Donating helps to keep their memory alive, and it helps keep them close to me as it’s my last remaining physical link to them.

One of my goals in sharing my story is to bring awareness to perinatal and infant loss. Being aware of these things doesn’t make it hurt any less when it happens, but it’s more so others who haven’t experienced it can understand how blessed they are that they don’t have to deal with this level of grief. And lastly, I share for other bereaved moms out there. Grieving and donating breastmilk through grief is a lonely journey, but it doesn’t have to be as lonely if you know you’re not alone.

I also want mothers of stillborn babies, or neonatal loss, to know donating breastmilk is an option. They don’t have to hide their engorged and leaking breasts like it’s a dirty or shameful secret. It may feel like a betrayal, but it’s a natural and biological result of giving birth, regardless of the outcome. Whether a mom decides to donate or not is entirely her choice, but it’s still an option.

And to any moms who just got that fatal diagnosis, just had their baby born sleeping, or just lost their infant or child: the darkness is real, and you will feel lost in it for a very long time. But when the light does come (and it will), you’ll be able to see it. My favorite thing to say after going through all of this is: for though there is heartbreak and pain, there is love.”

Mom who lost her twin daughters to stillbirth and anencephaly decides to donate her breastmilk to moms and babies in need
Courtesy of Connie Watson

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Connie Watson of Hope Mills, NC. Follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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