It was 2016 when I first heard the story of a mom, similar to my age, who unexpectedly died during childbirth as she was giving birth to her eighth child.

Died during childbirth.

Those words alone have haunted me since I first heard about her story, and continue to resonate in my mind whenever I rock my own children to sleep.

The baby, innocent, fresh, full-formed . . . lived, and will never know the sweet scent of her own mother.

However, through word of mouth, instant technology, and a group of mamas that understood the weight of a mother dying and leaving her new baby in an unknown world caused a community centered around breastfeeding to be conceived.

It was the mother’s wish that her daughter be breastfed, a gift of time and love she had given her previous seven children.

A Facebook group was formed and within the first 12 hours of the tragic news circulating, more than 2,000 ounces of breastmilk had been collected for the little girl.

Breastmilk from mothers across the area and surrounding states that woke in the wee hours of the night to nurse their own babes back to sleep, mothers that sit in tiny office cubicles hunkered down under desks pumping milk, mothers that sit in hospital rooms holding their small babes hooked up to machines nursing in hopes to one day escape the confining walls.

The baby had a group of mamas all around her, working to keep her alive on the sweet, natural nectar her biological mother recognized as important.

The group was successful in collecting thousands of ounces of breastmilk for the baby to eat during her first year of life. She thrived from a community of mothers who wanted nothing but the very best for her.

At the time of her death, I only had one child. My breastfeeding journey did not start out strong and had its fair share of ups and downs. Much like riding a bike, the first several months of nursing my son were filled with frustration, sleepless nights, a skinny babe, weighed feeds, tears, emergency surgery, re-lactating, and finally . . . growth. The journey with my daughter has been one of ease, health, and peace.

It was a sweet friend who casually sent a text message during the first few weeks I was learning what it meant to be “Mom” that offered ounces of her own milk to help aid my new son. An offer that I did not turn down, and still consider one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive.

Collectively, I have breastfed for almost three years of my life. Two different children, two completely separate human beings, both nourished at the beginning of their lives by me. This will win me no awards, many will not care, my own children may never even realize, but it has been one of my biggest accomplishments.

When I told others of my goals for breastfeeding in the hospital after just giving birth to my son I didn’t think it possible, when I had surgery and my first baby was losing weight I thought it ridiculous, and when I wake up at 2:30 a.m. most nights to comfort a crying soul I often think it dumb, but we continue to make it.

Recently, I have had the honor and blessing of being able to provide for many mothers desiring to feed their children with breastmilk. I feel in a way it is my time to repay the kindness shown to me during my lowest moments of motherhood.

Their stories and backgrounds all vary, their children are different ages, but their need is the same.

Some women don’t produce enough, a bond I share with many after the experiences with my son. Some, are sick. Physically unable to produce the milk that they desire to give to their children because they are fighting for their own lives. Some are grandmothers who pick up milk for their grandchildren, who they have stepped up to raise at a moment’s notice.

I delicately place each bag of milk into a storage container and think about the children who will receive my milk. This milk that was pumped during the hours of the night when my entire house is silent with rest and I can hear the breaths of my baby just inches away. I am comforted by her presence and caressing her forehead as she dreams sends my mind to the little girl who never got to meet her own mother. In some small way I take delight in knowing that through my milk, I can nurture those I may never even meet.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding talks about the connection most breastfeeding women have with one another. A connection I did not understand until I started breastfeeding:

Many women are surprised by the passion they come to feel about breastfeeding. If you meet another breastfeeding woman anywhere in the world, you feel a connection, no matter how different her culture is, and no matter how long ago you or she breastfed your babies. Not many of us felt this passionately about breastfeeding until we did it ourselves, and many of us remember it as one of the best things we do in our lives. The experience is just that powerful.

Breastfeeding is many things. I don’t claim to understand them all, on the hard days I don’t feel like I know much, but on the good days, I am pushed to feel that much stronger for the decision I made to nourish my children.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding goes on to talk about the breastfeeding journey like this: 

Breastfeeding eases you into your identity as a mother. You’re your baby’s food source and you’re the one who can comfort him best, so you’re the one he turns to. Your body responds instinctively . . . you don’t have to think through what to do once you get the hang of it.

Instinctively, we as mothers know what to do. We step in at a moment’s notice to help a baby we might never even know. We pump or feed for our own babies with the hope they will one day grow to be strong, healthy, and smart. We give of ourselves for the betterment of someone else. We nurture and we care.

We chug along, and we bond together.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog

You may also like:

I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me This About Breastfeeding

I Exclusively Pumped for a Year—And My Baby and I Thrived

Emily Reed

Emily Reed is a stay-at-home mom to two small children. After previously working in the newspaper industry, she now freelances for several publications.