I met Taylor earlier this year “URL” and her experience with her newborn loss has profoundly touched me. She is one of those people who “wow” you. She turned her painful experience into a beautiful mission. Taylor and her partner lost their baby Holden when he was five days old. He was unknowingly born with a congenital heart defect. In those five short days, Holden was able to take in his mom’s milk. Taylor’s supply had come in so quickly to meet Holden’s feeding demands that she had to continue to pump after he had passed. She made the ultimate decision to continue to pump, as emotionally painful as it was, in order to gift other babies who were sick in the ICU, fighting as hard as Holden.
In his name, she continues the fight with Holden’s Milky Way, a milk-sharing network for all of the mamas & babes who are looking to make a cosmic connection by donating or receiving milk.
1. You’ve been going through so much this year, how do you currently feel?
This year has definitely been an emotionally and physically challenging one, to say the least. After losing Holden last December, I wondered if I would ever be able to feel true happiness or joy again in the little things in life. I’m very sure that there is nothing worse in this world than losing a child and their death takes a major piece of you along with it; you immediately change into a different person. I decided that I needed that change to reflect how strong, important, and meaningful his little being actually was. I started pumping after his death, in order to donate milk to other babies in need in his honor. There were so many in the hospitals in need, but also in the community. I founded Holden’s Milky Way in hope that milk donation could be a personal experience and a gift that keeps on giving around the nation and world. He made such a large impact in five short days of life and continues to do so through this organization.
I have felt sorrow through his loss and through a recent miscarriage after Holden. I feel that I am able to be highly relatable in that way; no woman should ever walk through grief alone and should never feel unable to speak up about it. Talk about them. Say their name. Be proud that you can keep their memory alive, no matter how long they were present for. Each life is so very important.
Holden was everything I knew that I needed; I felt that I was born to be a mother. Our pregnancy was nothing short of average or normal. We never had any indication of any health issue or complication. I was induced at 37 weeks due to gestational hypertension unexpectedly, but never felt more ready to meet him and hold him in my arms. I was in labor for over 36 hours and pushed for 3 of them. It was the most difficult thing I had ever done, but he was beyond worth all of it. Those first 24 hours were the best 24 hours of my life, spent breastfeeding and skin to skin without any pause; I adored him. After 24 hours, Holden’s oxygen levels started dropping severely. He was rushed to receive an echocardiogram and our whole world flipped upside down instantly; he was diagnosed with severe coarctation of the aorta, which is a congenital heart defect. Before I knew it, we were being transferred out of our current hospital to a hospital better suited to perform open heart surgery on my sweet boy at just days of life. I walked out of that hospital, still bleeding, in pain, and barely okay to be discharged, but I refused to leave Holden’s side, as any mother would do. A mother’s love is unlike any other. Holden never made it to his first open heart surgery, as he passed away after fighting for five days. I never left that hospital room once and I never put him down. He was being held and loved from birth to when he passed in his father and I’s arms. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, and I completely lost myself in caring for him and his every need; to this day I would not change a thing about it.
Every single move I make in life is for Holden. Before I make a choice I consider if it would make him proud to call me his mom, and I act. I not only continue making daily mama and baby matches for his nonprofit, but carry him through my professional career as well. When I was pregnant with Holden, I was going through my Master’s in Nursing program and I graduated right before I gave birth to him. Since his passing, I have become a postpartum registered nurse and have joined the bereavement team. When a mama comes to our floor after she has lost her baby, I purposefully take them as my patients in order to give them the care that they need and to provide them with someone who truly understands some of the emotions that they are going through. Most feel uncomfortable with infant loss, but from what I have experienced, it is a comfortable place for me to be in. A place that I deeply understand and can empathize with. I walk with those other mamas, hand in hand.
At first, I was worried that it would forever change me for the worst. Infant loss is an almost impossible thing to walk through. It will always be hard, no matter how much time has passed. I soon found that through Holden simply existing, I became someone I never knew. I became a mother; every mother is a force to be reckoned with. I became more selfless, strong, compassionate, relatable, and found that I no longer was living for myself. With a child physically here on earth or not, once you become a mama, you are always a mama; no one can take that from you and it is the most special title.
Realizing that Holden is truly gone every day; that this is not just a horrific dream that you cannot wake up from. Going to sleep every night and waking up every morning having to remember the days leading up to Holden’s death and putting in all of the hard work with therapy to learn to process and live with that trauma, has been one of the most challenging parts of life after loss. Becoming pregnant again after loss has added another layer of fear and anxiety that I never knew existed, but it just adds to our story and makes me better equipped to help other mamas in need of emotional support in the future. We take it one week at a time, we breathe, we process as it comes, and we remind ourselves that there is more work to be done.
I love knowing that Holden is always with me. I feel him every single day in everything that I do. Sometimes it is through physical signs and sometimes it is just a feeling. The bond that we had is the strongest and I carry that so deeply in my heart.
I have had to learn to process triggers that can occur at any moment in time, over the smallest things. That’s the hardest part; you never know when they will hit. You just know when they do; because the feeling is indescribable. It’s like all of the air is knocked out of your lungs and you keep repeating in your head that you can’t believe this is your life now. Being pregnant with August, we have had to have extensive testing surrounding his heart, even to the point where we had to return to the same hospital that we lost Holden at; the same floor. All I can say is that as I mentioned before, I cope by taking it one second, one minute, one day, one week, and one moment at a time. I stop and breathe. I remember how blessed I was to have even had the opportunity to have held, kissed, and met Holden and I hold tightly to those memories in my mind. I also give myself grace in knowing that every emotion I feel is acceptable, viable, and okay; anger, sadness, happiness, joy, rage, confusion, numbness; it’s okay to not be okay sometimes and it is beyond important to let yourself feel every wave that comes through at full force. It’s part of truly healing.
I want the world to know that you are not alone, no matter how lonely you feel after experiencing pregnancy loss or infant loss. There is a sea of women, including myself, ready to step in and listen to your story, listen to your little one's name being spoken, and if you need, listen with no intention of answering at all. There is no right or wrong when it comes to grief. There is no room to feel ashamed or like something is wrong with you and that is what caused it; it’s not your fault. Say that on repeat. This quote has always stood so true to me, “sometimes people have to leave without a reason”. You can create purpose in their life through every single thing that you do. They are never truly gone as long as you are here to carry them in your heart and to reflect their lives through every single action.
Through every word I speak to other mamas in need, through every drop of donated milk that is nourishing and sustaining another baby, and through every baby that gets to live a long and full life, with every little beat of their heart. Through every mama that I hug in my arms as they cry out after a loss, wondering how they will go on. His brother’s and sister’s will always know who he is and how much he truly changed my own, as well as countless other’s lives. There is a little piece of him in every breath I take.
Remembering that Holden is still with me and he is always watching. Other mamas who are struggling are watching. My family is watching. When I feel a wave of anger and despair, I pray that I can feel an overwhelming sense of peace and understanding when I am ready.
When I was donating my own milk, I began by donating to sick babies in the NICU at various Children’s Hospitals in Ohio. I had so many local moms reaching out in need of breast milk for their little ones because they couldn’t produce enough, for various reasons, asking if I had any extra. I realized that I loved the ability to meet up with these moms face to face and meet the babies that I was helping. In other words, I was able to put a face to a name and know that these babies would be able to thrive, unlike Holden was able to do. It felt so good to see the relief on the mom’s faces, knowing their baby would be able to receive breast milk in any capacity. These moms care so deeply for their little ones and were thrilled to be able to help provide whatever their baby needed to grow healthy and strong.
Holden’s Milky Way allows other mamas to meet those who they are donating to, to put a face to a name. When they are physically able to talk, hug, and help those other mamas and babies in need, they feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. We make the matches based off of proximity, in hopes that these new matches will become lifelong friends and create an unbreakable support system when needed. Traditional milk banks are so very important too, especially for babies who are immunocompromised and need filtered breast milk, but you do not get to physically see and meet the baby you are donating to. We feel that close connections are needed in life; they are the backbone of community. Support is very necessary, especially during this time in the world.
Our goal in the first year has been 10 donor mama and mama+baby recipient matches. So far, we have been able to match over 30 continuous donor mamas and have received countless amounts of one time milk donations from other mamas around the United States. This includes other loss mamas who have donated their pumped breast milk, which is so very close to my heart, as this is the basis of what Holden’s Milky Way was founded from. We have had triplets who have received milk after they were discharged home from the NICU, mamas who underwent breast augmentation surgery and were unable to produce, and have had the pleasure of hearing many unique stories and have been able to produce for each and every one of them. We have exceeded all expectations just by word of mouth, with little to no advertising, and are so proud of what we have accomplished.
To reach out and look for support. There are so many groups of women and people (for the dads who have lost and are grieving too) that understand and are there to help you walk through this new, unwelcomed, phase of life. Also, therapy is so hard, but such important work when you are ready. They are able to provide you with coping mechanisms and an unbiased sounding board whenever you are in need. It saved me in the first few months following Holden’s death.
You are NEVER alone and your baby is always watching. Don’t give up and make them proud.
Taylor is the definition of strong as a mother.
If you wish to donate to Holden’s Milky Way, visit their website:
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