It's every parent's worst nightmare: losing a child. Olivia Hope Coloma was born at 26 weeks.
"The doctors told us that as the days progressed she was getting worse," recalled her mother Farrah Coloma. "She actually had a blood infection, which they found. It was E Coli and then she had a brain bleed. She had [fluid in her lungs], she had pneumonia. She just had one thing after another, so we had to decide what we wanted to do. so we decided to let her go... Everyone got to um, you know, see her for the first time, and the last time. And then she passed six days later. April 8 of this year."
Often after a loss, a mother's body doesn't understand the death has occurred, and tries to feed her baby... A baby who is no longer there.
"Some parents choose to go ahead and express that milk and donate it," said Christine Staricka, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Certified Childbirth Educator. "Whether it's for a few days, for a few weeks, or even some people donate for many months as a part of their grieving process. And it can really help them find sometimes a way of understanding and giving meaning to something that can be one of those most important things that happens in their entire lives."
Farrah made that selfless decision to donate her breast milk.
"I had a good amount of milk coming in," she said. "They were freezing it for her, she got to taste it, but that was it. and then I tried to stop when we found out that she wasn't going to live. And of course, if you start producing, it won't stop! And so it will take a while. And it was very painful. A nurse came into my room and said 'hey, do you want to donate your milk'. And I thought 'oh, that's a great idea. I didn't know you could do that.'"
For six weeks after her daughter's death, Farrah's husband helped her pump every three hours, day and night., to donate to the Mother's Milk Bank in San Jose, in order to help feed other newborns fighting to survive.
"We have to get milk from Mother's Milk Bank for our preemies because some of these preemies won't survive with formula," Farrah said. "It's just too hard on their stomach, or too hard on them. and so they rely on Mother's Milk Bank to provide them milk for their preemies so that they would be able to make it out of the NICU. So for me, when I heard that, I thought, 'OK, my goal is to get this milk out to them so that, you know even though I may not ever meet any of these babies, I know that I did a small part in helping them."
In total, she donated 300 ounces, the equivalent of about 2.3 gallons, in Olivia's honor. That breast milk provided about 600-1,200 feedings to premature infants in neonatal intensive care units across the state.
"That was really therapeutic for both of us," Farrah said. "It helped us- I think it really helped me heal. I realized that it honestly was helpful to me to be able to donate my milk during the time I was grieving. Because if not I think I would have gone into a really deep, deep depression because of it."
This Friday Baby Cafe, a local breastfeeding support group, is partnering with the Mother's Milk Bank of San Jose to host a Breast Milk Drive, so nursing moms can bring their surplus expressed milk to donate to newborns in need, or come to get screened to become a future donor.
"We're all in this world together," Farrah said with a smile. "You know, us moms are able to provide something to other babies. If we are breastfeeding, you know we could give a little bit of our surplus to another baby so that they would be able to survive, be able to thrive, be able to come home. and that's the best thing, being able to take your baby home."