“We had been affectionately calling our baby “Gus,” as a joke referencing my good friend’s cat. When we found out that he was a handsome baby boy, the name stuck. We decided we had no choice but to name him August.”
Elaine and her husband, Tyler, originally wanted to keep their baby’s gender a surprise, but they changed their minds when, at a 20-week ultrasound, they learned of unexpected complications.
“We were presented with the news that every mother and father fears,” said Elaine. “The nurse practitioner stood wringing her hands, shakily trying to tell us that it appeared our baby had fluid on his or her brain.”
After several weeks of monitoring his head circumference, little August was born at 29 weeks gestation.
“Gus came out breathing on his own and appeared to be “unhappy” with us for waking him,” joked Elaine. “We fell in love instantly with our little miracle. The staff at the hospital was astonished he was so healthy, and in my opinion, he was perfect.”
The next 58 days with Gus were wonderful. He successfully underwent surgery to remove fluid buildup on his brain, and he overcame many obstacles despite his small size. Family, friends and hospital staff were amazed at his progress and flooded his room with cards and banners.
“The only challenge for our little fighter was eating; he wanted nothing to do with a bottle,” said Elaine. “We decided that getting a g-button put in was the best option and scheduled the surgery.”
Gus came out of surgery well, and Elaine and Tyler excitedly began dreaming of bringing him home at last. The next day, however, a stitch came loose, and he was prepped for another procedure. While Elaine was at home to gather overnight items for a hospital stay, she received a phone call that Gus was in cardiopulmonary arrest.
“The next several hours went by like something from a movie,” said Elaine. “We sprinted through the hospital when we arrived. We prayed and cried. We hoped for a miracle. It was pain as I could have never imagined. Hour after hour, code after code, we stood and prayed and held each other.”
Doctors and nurses worked for hours to save Gus’s life. Elaine and Tyler were surrounded by loving family and friends until it was time to say goodbye to Gus.
“They wrapped my wonderful little boy in a blanket, and I sang to him, because in that moment I realized I had never done so,” said Elaine. “He passed in my arms while Tyler held us both. “You Are My Sunshine” was the song I chose as that was everything he was and always will be.”
Elaine was grateful and overwhelmed with the love and support shown to her family during this challenging time. She desired to spread Gus’s “sunshine” to others after hearing about breast milk donation.
The Milk Bank pasteurizes breast milk collected from approved donor mothers to hospital NICUs across the Midwest. Studies have shown that second to mother’s own milk, pasteurized donor human milk is the safest option for premature and fragile infants, giving the smallest individuals the best start at life.
“We were very blessed and had a large stock of milk in our freezer. I felt that even though my son couldn’t use the milk, maybe someone could.”
Elaine called The Milk Bank and spoke with a donor mother coordinator to discuss logistics and next steps.
“I was at home with all the lights off, in my pajamas, feeling sad. The woman on the other end of the line floored me. She spoke to me with such understanding and kindness and was generous enough to share her [personal bereavement] story with me. I connected with her immediately and felt at once that donating my milk had a purpose.”
After completing the approval process, Elaine brought more than 550 ounces to an area milk depot site, which shipped the donation to The Milk Bank for pasteurization.
“Knowing the milk intended for my son went to help other babies and mothers going through a tough time gave Gus’s life worth, and it was a reminder of the continued blessing of his life,” said Elaine. “I hope that these babies grow to become healthy and strong, and it is such an amazing feeling of peace to know that from my son’s life we were able to be a part of their journey.”
The Milk Bank created a memorial leaf in August’s name, which Elaine and Tyler were invited to place on Garrett’s Giving Tree in the office lobby at a recent open house.
“It was such a wonderful reminder that Gus lived, and he was a huge part of our lives, even if it was for a short amount of time,” said Elaine. “There is now a permanent reminder of his life on a wall in Indianapolis. There are people that will see my son’s name every day.”
Elaine now encourages mothers, including bereaved, to consider milk donation.
“Donating your milk will be a blessing to the families with babies that greatly need your milk, but it will also be an incredible blessing for you. My experience with The Milk Bank helped me to honor my son’s life. The wonderful staff at The Milk Bank helped me to recognize what a gift my son’s life was and beautifully honored the blessing he was through Garrett’s Giving Tree.”
Interested in becoming a milk donor? Start here. Are you a bereaved parent? When you’re ready, we are here to help you navigate this journey.