After the tragic death of her newborn son, a mom found some peace by generously donating her breast milk to other babies. In all, Ariel Matthews donated, 2,370 ounces, equalling 18.5 gallons or 148 pounds, 13 pounds more than what she weighs.
“It felt good to honor Ronan that way,” Matthews told TODAY. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have been able to donate.”
On Oct. 3, 2016, Matthews delivered Ronan, who was a robust 9 pounds, 3 ounces. Prior to his birth, doctors had discovered a heart defect, but they believed medication and surgery would help him thrive. For days, Ronan lived in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) before surgery, which wasn’t as successful as everyone hoped.
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“It wasn’t until after the surgery when it became more complicated,” she said. “I had a feeling he wasn’t going to make it."
On Oct. 14, Ronan passed away; it was the day after Matthews’ 25th birthday. She felt devastated and wanted to do something to honor him. In 2015, after giving birth to a stillborn baby, Cayden, who died from a heart defect, she had donated breast milk. It felt good to help others after her loss, so she thought that it might help her heal again.
And Matthews already had a head start. During Ronan’s NICU stay, she had been pumping and freezing her milk. She had 398 ounces and decided to keep pumping until she reached 1,000 ounces. As she was working up to it, her father, Eric, challenged her.
“My dad thought it would be cool if I pumped my body weight in breast milk and I thought ‘You know what? That does sound really cool,’” she said.
For two months, Matthews pumped as much as she could.
“I would pump at least 10 ounces every time I pumped,” she said. “My body was making so much milk.”
Pumping felt exhausting, and she knew she’d have to stop soon. Her 3-year-old son, Noah, and a job search made finding time to pump challenging. When she surpassed her weight of 135 pounds, she stopped and looked for donors. With the help of a doula, she found three baby boys in need of breast milk. One baby's mother struggled to produce enough breast milk, and the other two babies lived with non-biological parents.
“I helped one baby get to a year of being on breast milk and not using formula, and that felt really good,” she said.
“It felt great, honestly, that I had an opportunity to help moms and babies. I felt like if Ronan could talk to me he would want me to donate for him,” Matthews said.
While grieving over Ronan has been extremely difficult, Matthews shared her story to try to help others.
“I know that good things can come from things that are pretty much terrible. There is light from the dark,” she said. “People have said that this has given them hope. That feels really good.”