I never thought of myself as a superhero before. I didn't wake up in the morning and go through my closet and wonder if I should put on my superhero spandex and leotard. I just pulled on jeans. I wonder if Superman or Wonder Woman thought of themselves as superheroes. Did they look in the mirror after dressing and say, "You look like you could save the world in those tights, you superhero, you." Or did they roll out of bed, reach for the nearest mug of coffee and rub sleep from their eyes, thinking about all they had to accomplish at the office before they saved the world?
But then I read Breast Milk Sugars Give Infants a Protective Coat by Nicholas Wade in the New York Times a few years ago. I was hot and bored.
It was August.
Everyone was hot. The goats sought shade beneath cars and refused to budge. Dogs dug ditches and lay, panting. Humans fled to the beaches where the water was like a hot tub. I was bored because every single person I knew and wasn't related to was cooling off in countries other than Djibouti. So I read everything I could find on the internet, while the power was on. And I came across an article about breast-feeding.
I didn't know it at the time, but it was World Wide Breast-feeding Week, which is, presumably, why the article was in the paper. Djibouti tends to miss a lot of these 'world-wide' awareness weeks, though a few weeks later a banner might appear downtown in faded block letters, the paint dripping in the humidity.
The essay was about how scientists recently found a purpose for something in breast milk they had previously thought was superfluous. It actually had meaning, they discovered, a reason for existing.
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I came across this line:
"Everything in milk costs the mother - she is literally dissolving her own tissues to make it."
A few weeks after birthing twins, I switched from breast to pump - a more bovine-like experience but far less painful and with my machine I could pump two breasts at once. I could feed my beautiful babies and none of us was crying (them from hunger, me from the pain of being chowed until I bled).
Five years later I had a singleton. That's what a non-twin baby is called (who knew?) One baby. One baby! I breast-fed Lucy more than eighteen months.
This amazing realization came, as I fed Lucy and as I read the New York Times article and I am reminded of it again this month (in good Djibouti style, one month after the actual Worldwide Breastfeeding Week which was August 1-7, 2013) even though I am many years post-milk-mom:
My body was built to breast-feed.
My body was turning itself into a liquid substance that could sustain the life of another human being. I don't know of any super powers more incredible than that. Superman certainly can't do that. Spiderman can't do that. The Hulk can't do that. Superwoman, yes, but I don't know if her suits have a maternity line.
The uniform wasn't what I expected - shirts with crusty milk stain circles at nipple level. But the powers are amazing - the ability to squirt milk from fifteen feet away and the quick cure for burns of rubbing on breast-milk, super-calorie burn.
What does it mean to be a super hero? Living the life I was created for. Superman was made to fly. Spiderman could shoot webs out of his wrists and climb up walls. These men didn't shirk from what they were designed to do. Me, I breast-fed three children. More or less (machine-assisted or not).
I have a feeling this is only the beginning of further, unprecedented discovery. What else was I created for? What other powers are hiding, waiting to be revealed and used? Look out bad guys lurking in the shadows and underbellies of the world, here comes Super Mom in her breast-milk stained suit.
-By Rachel Pieh Jones
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