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After Losing Her Baby, This Mom Started Donating Her Breast Milk
PHOTO BY Courtesy of Erika Cabantog
  • On the first night of the wake for her newborn child, Erika Cabantog learned about the story of the triplet babies who lost their mother in March 2021 (read here). She then thought to herself, "How is it that I lost my baby, and they lost their mommy."

    What happened next led Erika, who's also mom to her and her husband Jeff Cabantog's first-born child Summer, to advocating for breastfeeding by donating her breast milk.

    Erika now tells her story to SmartParenting.com.ph in an online interview: "The next morning, my milk already came in, and I was torn between letting it just dry up or donating it.

    "After a few days, when I was already feeling very sore and had no choice but to express my milk, I saw a post asking for breastmilk donations for Joel's triplets in the mommy group South Pinanays."

    She describes South Pinanays this way: "Established in October 2013 and officially registered as an NGO last July 2015 as South PiNanays Empowerment, Inc. (SPiN), it is mainly a breastfeeding and parenting support group for mothers and families living in Parañaque, Muntinlupa, Las Piñas, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon."

    Erika says she then asked for a sign from Baby Sapphire if the late child would want Erika to donate her breast milk. The answer was yes, and so she did donate her breast milk not only to the triplets but also to other babies.

    Breastfeeding journey

    Looking back, Erika says she first had breast milk with her first baby Summer. She recalls, "When I first got pregnant, I researched all about parenting. At first I looked at the different formula brands, until my husband said casually, 'Try mo kaya mag-breastfeed.'

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    "And then I learned so much about breastfeeding and the benefits of breast milk. By the time I gave birth, I was so ready to breastfeed my first born Summer. I did from birth till she was 3 years old."

    She points out, "Being a full-time working mom, I made sure I had enough stash for her daytime feeding and directly fed her at night. I expressed milk while I was at work or on business trips for 2 years.

    "I truly believe that breastmilk is the best nutrition we can provide to our children. And so no matter how hard or 'hassle,' I would express milk wherever I went--be it on a boat, an airplane, even on a bus. At first, I was an oversupplier so I would donate to those in need."

    She adds, "I only had to wean Ate Summer because it got too painful for me. Little did I know I was finally pregnant again. And I knew in my heart, I would breastfeed my second child too. Maybe even tandem feed if Ate wanted. And I thought if I would have abundant milk supply again, I will surely share it."

    Erika had a difficult second pregnancy and childbirth only to eventually lose her baby. But the outcome, however painful, gave her another purpose as a mother.
    PHOTO BY Courtesy of Erika Cabantog
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    Difficult second pregnancy

    Erika, who suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), also shares the story of how she conceived Baby Sapphire: "We waited a long time for Baby Sapphire. I was diagnosed with 2nd degree infertility due to my PCOS. Even though we didn't do any family planning, it took us almost 2 years of actively trying to conceive to have her."

    "It was a more complicated pregnancy as I developed PUPPPS," she adds referring to the skin condition Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy. "And had to be on bed rest from 28 weeks to 36 weeks due to preterm labor.

    "But my lab tests were all normal, and her development was perfect for her age. And so when my labor started naturally at exactly 39 weeks of gestation, I felt ready. I was going to attempt a VBAC and I trusted my OB and her expertise."

    Erika goes on relating about her experience with vaginal birth after Cesarean (VBAC): "After 25 hours of labor, as I was already pushing her out, my contractions suddenly stopped. We had to do an emergency CS but it was too late. My perfect little baby's heart stopped beating.

    "She was revived but soon after, her lungs and her heart stopped, and never worked again. We lost her due to uterine dehiscence and abruptio placenta. And I never saw her alive. Like her sister, once again, I wasn't able to have the Unang Yakap I planned for and dreamed of."

    Dealing with their loss as a family was another heartbreaking story, as Erika remembers her older child's reaction: "When my then 3-year-old Ate Summer saw her baby sister in the casket, she cried and said, 'I don't want a baby angel, I want my baby sister.' And that just shattered my already broken heart."

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    Day by day, Erika says, the dark clouds over their little family started lifting to let the sun shine on them again: "Through God's grace and the prayers of all our loved ones, we are moving forward one day at a time. I believe that Baby Sapphire is watching over us--Tatay Jeff, Nanay Erika and Ate Summer--from Heaven, and it is my fervent hope that one day we may be worthy of joining her."

    Breastfeeding advocate

    Erika may have lost Baby Sapphire, but she was given the opportunity to share her breast milk. She avers, "I believe that, for the most part, breastfeeding is a choice mothers need to keep choosing for their children.

    "I chose to breastfed Ate Summer no matter the challenge being a working mom presented. I chose to express milk to honor my Baby Sapphire because while I was babyless, there were many motherless babies, like the triplets, who needed breastmilk."

    She adds, "Nowadays, we can empower ourselves by learning more about breastfeeding and its benefits for our babies and for us. The support we get from mommy communities can make all the difference especially when we are surrounded by those who do not understand."

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