Full breasts and empty arms

After Elliott was born the nurses would gently ask if I needed any pain relief, even Panadol.  But I didn’t and I hated that. I was in pain for many days after the births of my other two children but immediately after Elliott was born, the moment he came out, I felt no physical pain, there was nothing wrong with me. “How are you going.. physically?” they asked and each time I had to reluctantly answer “fine”.

I hated that there was no physical proof apart from some light bleeding that I just had a baby. It was like it never happened, like I was never pregnant, and like I never just went through the pain of birth. If anything, it was a reminder that he was too early and too tiny to stay. I desperately wanted to have some form of pain like I had after the other two, as proof I gave birth, as proof he was real, or maybe to mirror or justify the emotional pain I was in.

The next blow came our way soon after. One of the beautiful midwives sat on the end of our bed, in our dark room, and gently said,

“Now your milk will come in.. I’m sorry… I know its cruel… and it usually comes in the day of the funeral”

I instantly burst into tears and felt my heart break that little bit more. I breast fed my other two and loved it so much. It was one of my favourite things and I was so excited at the possibility of doing it again. I held my baby in my arms and thought, how can this keep getting worse, how is this possible? I wanted some level of pain as a reminder I just gave birth, not the painful reminder of what I’ll never get to do with my baby.

They no longer give you tablets she told me, I just have to wear a tight bra, not touch them and my body will realise there’s no need for the milk…eventually it will just dry up. Every time I told someone I’m going to get milk- my sister, best friends- I cried and they shook their heads and understood how it was so unfair.

I considered donating my milk thinking at least some good could come of it. I asked for information and investigated this option but decided not to. When asked what my decision was I felt guilty when I told them. For a while I continued to question if I had done the right thing, that I chose not to benefit someone else when I could have, but knew I had to do the right thing for me, and I know for me it would have felt like I was torturing myself.

The midwife was right, on the morning of the funeral my milk came in. She was right, it was cruel. I had two rock hard painful breasts as I’m hugging people at my baby’s funeral. I was beyond upset at it- my body realised I had a baby, a baby that needed nourishing. But my baby was lying in a coffin. I was angry at my body that couldn’t do its job and keep him safe but went on to produce milk without an issue to feed him. Thanks body, thanks for absolutely nothing I thought.

I’ll never forget the moment of coming home after his funeral…the torture and pain of sitting there in our home, with full breasts but empty arms.

After a week or so my milk dried up like they said it would. It was so hard when it came in but in an unexpected twist it was just as hard when it was gone. I don’t know why I did it, but that day I weighed myself. I stood staring at the scales that told me I was back to my pre pregnancy weight. Most mums see that number with excitement, I stared at it and cried. Just as I struggled with there being no pain, I couldn’t stand the fact that here I was, without a single physical sign he ever existed- no baby weight, no pain, no milk…no baby.

I think this increased my desire to have a tattoo of his footprints and name on my arm. I have three other tattoos but in places easily hidden. For his tattoo I needed it in a visible place, somewhere I could see constantly. It was a way to mark him in a permanently physical way on myself, and perhaps thinking about it now to show others I meet he exists. I now draw a lot of comfort in my tattoo- his tiny footprints I touch everyday bring me warmth, his name I wear with pride, the 21 little stars growing in size and finishing under his footprints remind me how truly grateful I am for the 21 weeks we had with him, 21 weeks I’d never wish away.

However in all the comfort it brings me, I have learnt that it or any and all of those physical signs don’t matter. I know, our family know, our friends know, he was and still is here, right in our hearts. He’s eternally imprinted on us, within us. If I cant see my other two children in front of me, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist and the same goes for Elliott. No matter what, he’ll always be our loved son. And that’s what I need to hold on to.


2 thoughts on “Full breasts and empty arms

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