Artwork tells stories of babies helped by donor milk

Painting of a woman with her son on her chest in hospital
The exhibition launches at the Taliesin Arts Centre at the Swansea University Singleton Campus [Leanne Pearce, Connecting Hearts exhibition]

When babies cannot receive their own mother’s milk, donor milk can be life saving for sick and premature babies.

It can also change the lives of families, donors and communities.

Now an exhibition showcasing the stories of the people that have received donor milk for their baby, donate milk or support the work of milk banks is going on display.

Through paintings and audio, it will bring to life what milk donation can do for families and how it can act as a beacon of hope for those affected by infant prematurity, baby loss, maternal cancer and more.

It is a collaborative project with Swansea University, the Human Milk Foundation and artist Leanne Pearce.

Painting of Indigo in hospital
This picture of Indigo was taken when he was fighting for his life in Great Ormond Street Hospital, said his mum Kim [Leanne Pearce, Connecting Hearts exhibition]

Indigo’s mum said she had a "beautiful pregnancy".

"As we entered the first lockdown, suddenly the whole world changed, so we decided to have a home birth as the hospitals sounded so stretched.

"However, things didn’t quite go to plan and Indigo became stressed and showed signs of meconium aspiration syndrome, which basically means he had a bowel movement inside of me and that became an emergency."

She said she ended up having a caesarean section and Indigo went into intensive care.

"Things went from bad to worse, his long collapsed, he had blood transfusions, he was put into a coma.

"It’s a horror movie, and the sad thing was, he wasn’t the only kid in there.

"There were times in that ward where things did not look like they were going to go well and my partner really fought for me to hold Indigo."

She said having that skin-to-skin [contact] changed the game.

"He was transferred to Great Ormond Street in the last bid to save his life and day by day he got stronger, and as he started to wake up, he was hungry, he was really hungry.

"And as quick as I could pump he was drinking it."

Kim said she came home from hospital with Indigo, but he began to lose weight, and the panic was back.

"Someone mentioned hearts milk bank and I phone up and they agreed to support us, and after that conversation I felt supported and heard. We’re going to be OK.

"A knock on the door, and a wonderful, big gentleman, all in leathers with a helmet on a freezer bag full of amazing mums' milk.

Kim said she was very well supported in the process of understanding how to top up with the milk so was focusing on her own milk coming through.

"My supply got greater and within six weeks, we were able to enjoy breastfeeding, and I continued to breastfeed for three years.

"Looking at the most beautiful painting of our little boy Indigo, having just fought the biggest fight, he is strong. And he’ll be four [years-old] in June, and thank you all your beautiful mamas for sharing your milk and making this story possible."

Indigo said: "Thank you all the mummies for my milk."

Painting of Chris holding baby Will in hospital
Claire said she was especially thankful to the mums who donated milk [Leanne Pearce, Connecting Hearts exhibition]

Claire is Will’s mum.

"He’s the little boy in this painting being held by my husband Chris, the beautifully painted image evokes a lot of emotion for me," she said.

Will is about 16 days old in the picture.

"He had been through so much in his little life, he was born a healthy baby at full term, however when he was 10 days old he fell seriously ill."

He had RSV, a common virus that most babies and toddlers will experience before they turn two, but for Will, being so young, it was too much for his body to cope with and he stopped breathing.

Will was put on a ventilator to allow him the best chance possible to fight off the numerous viruses and infections he had.

"Throughout his hospital stay I’d done my best to express milk which I fed to Will, but I found my supply was diminishing not increasing.

"For me it was important that Will was receiving my milk as I knew it was full of the antibodies and nutrients he needed to help him recover.

"I felt so disheartened that my milk supply wasn’t enough," she said.

Claire said she was diagnosed with cancer in 2019, and had surgery and treatment. She was in remission at the time she fell pregnant but her body just could not keep up.

She said her friends and family did a Google search and came across the Human Milk Foundation, and they reached out to see if Will could be an eligible recipient.

"I felt a massive wave of relief when the first batch of milk was delivered. The supply would be combined with mine to provide Will with 100% breast milk.

"And slowly he did recover, and this image shows Chris holding him for the first time after coming off the ventilator and Will breathing on his own.

"It was a hugely emotional moment, one filled with hope and love."

The Human Milk Foundation continued to support Will and his family for the next month, each week they would welcome their next batch of frozen milk.

"We will forever be grateful for their selfless giving and supporting Will in helping him get stronger and becoming the happy and healthy little boy he is today."

Claire Michelle, a snowdrop donor, said: "A snowdrop donor is someone who donates milk after the death of their baby."

During her pregnancy she knew she wanted to donate milk if she was able to.

"I thought it was a lovely idea, and it was also something my gran had done in the '60s."

During labour, she was told her son Rupert had died.

"It was the worst thing that had ever happened to me, it literally feels like you’re in a horror film.

"It’s unbelievably painful."

She said after the birth she was told she would be given medication to dry up her milk.

"It felt so wrong, I knew I still wanted to donate.

"That night I searched the milk bank's website desperately looking for information and wanting to see pictures of babies that had benefited from the milk.

"Milk gives life, if my own baby wasn’t going to benefit from his milk then I’d donate it to honour him and help other families in need."

Claire Michelle said it brought her a lot of comfort thinking about them as she pumped, especially those at risk of necrotising encephalitis, which kills premature babies and human milk can help prevent that.

"Knowing my sons gift may help save another baby's life brought me so much solace and peace.

"It gave me purpose and made me feel like I was still a mum."

She said she chose this picture to reflect on grief.

"It is a moment where the milk flowed and so did the tears."