Go Ahead, Have a Good Cry Over That Spilled Milk


go ahead, cry over that spilled milk

Sometimes all it takes is a bottle of fresh breast milk, a toddler, and a good cry.

Whoever coined the phrase “don’t cry over spilled milk” clearly never breastfed their baby, and certainly didn’t spend any time pumping. If so, they would have chosen a different liquid to target.

I say this because I have cried, many times, over breast milk stress and cried hard when my breast milk spilled. When pumping liquid gold, every drop is precious! And when it spills, you’re not only devastated, but really frustrated, as well. You often begin to narrow your frustration toward gravity, or the closest object that you can to blame, so that you don’t have to wallow in any additional stress.

Most recently, the unfortunate brunt of my spilled milk frustration came in the form of my 21 month-old cherub who has the self-control of a Dachshund puppy.

I must admit, I should have seen it coming. She is fascinated by the whole activity–holding breast shields to her own torso, watching the milk trickle with unwavering concentration through the membrane into the bottle. It’s cute, right? However, on this particular occasion, she came bounding in like a jackrabbit in a strawberry field as I removed the bottles from the valve.

Eyeing the containers with genuine awe, she couldn’t help herself; she quickly reached out and grasped the open bottle. In true toddler fashion, for no explicable reason whatsoever, she fell over. And the beautiful, fatty-filled, open bottle of freshly-pumped breast milk went with her.

So I reacted…

An instant flood of irritation and disappointment overcame me. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out something curt and angry at her. For the first time, I saw hurt in my daughter’s eyes. She lowered her head in shame and ran out of the room. My anger quickly turned inward and I immediately hated myself. I burst into tears.

Sobbing, I cleaned up the mess, not knowing if I was more upset about the lost milk or my rash response to her innocent curiosity.

Hot tears ripped down my cheeks. I could hear my husband soothing our whimpering daughter in the next room. I should have been more patient, I told myself. She doesn’t understand; she’s confused, too. Her mother was going to have a baby and then one day she went away and there was no more bump around her middle. She was in the hospital for days and now she goes away for hours on end and comes back with pictures of another baby. “Where is my new brother?” she must ask herself. “Why have things in my little toddler world so rapidly changed?”

Suddenly, it struck me–I didn’t understand this either. I hadn’t given myself time to grieve the interruption of my pregnancy, or reconcile the unexpected birth of my premature son.

One morning in January, I woke around 4 a.m. with excruciating back and abdomen pain. At 29 weeks, I was in labor.

We left for the hospital and by 6 a.m. I was in the operating room for an emergency c-section. I learned that I had suffered an abrupted placenta and if I had waited any longer to get to the hospital, I would have put my baby’s life, as well as my own, in danger. My son was born 11 weeks early and weighted 2.5 lbs. Since our hospital didn’t have a NICU, he had to be airlifted without us to a hospital in Boston, over an hour away. I was only able to touch his hand for a minute before he was whisked out in a plastic case with wires and beeping, and a CPAP mask covering most of his tiny face. It wasn’t until almost a week after he was born that I held him for the first time.

I hadn’t let myself just cry. I needed to release the pressure and just be. Sitting with this kind of intense emotion isn’t easy, but once the wave passes and the emotion settles, there is a calm that pulls you through.

So, when you need to, cry over the milk.

Allow yourself to cry over that thing you can’t control or manage. But then let forgiveness move in and begin the repair. After all, being a parent is one of the hardest challenges that life will dish out to you. 

It’s been about a year since the spilled milk incident. I am happy to report that my toddler has forgiven me and I have forgiven myself. Our little preemie is thriving. In all of this, I have learned to roll with the challenges because, once you’re a parent, life does not get simpler. But it does become more beautiful, and that is worth smiling about.