Health

‘People want jewellery with meaning’: how breast milk became a gem

First there was Alessa’s birth, by
emergency cesarean section, in February 2020. In the hospital after surgery,
Partida struggled to breastfeed. Once she and her daughter were discharged,
nursing was still challenging.

“It was a really long journey,” said
Partida, a 29-year-old speech language pathologist in Watsonville, California.

Now that it was ending, she wanted to
find a way to mark it.

While scrolling through posts on a
parenting Facebook group, Partida came across an unusual but fitting keepsake:
a pendant containing a white stone. The main ingredient? Breast milk.

She knew she had to have one.

This may be the first time you’re
hearing of breast milk jewelry, a niche of the commemorative market. But
there’s plenty of precedent for trinkets and wearable items containing organic
matter. Earrings and brooches fashioned from human hair were popular during the
Victorian era. More recently, synthetic diamonds have been manufactured from
cremation ashes. It’s common, too, for parents to save umbilical cords and baby
teeth.

For her own piece, Partida shipped
about 10 milliliters of breast milk to a company called Keepsakes by Grace.
About a month later, she received a milky-white heart-shaped pendant in the
mail.

“It’s the last drop,” Partida said.
“It’s the last thing you have to remember the journey.”

Freda Rosenfeld, a lactation consultant
in New York City, said she understands the impulse to memorialize the
experience.

“For many people, breastfeeding is an
extremely special and important time in their lives,” Rosenfeld said. “Often when
they wean, it’s a little sad, because it was such a special moment.”

Sarah Castillo, owner of Keepsakes by
Grace, said her clients often purchase pieces from her after they have
experienced difficulty nursing.

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“A lot of my orders come from clients that
are either suffering through a hard time or they’re weaning and not ready yet,”
said Castillo, 25, who lives in Tucson, Arizona. “A lot of it comes from that,
almost like a desire to continue, but either they can’t or they decided it’s
time to stop.”

Castillo started her line in March
after seeing similar products on Instagram. She experimented with her own
breast milk for months, eventually landing on a method that involves
dehydrating the solution to make a powder, then mixing the powder with resin to
make a stone. Her pieces typically cost $60 to $150.

“Jewellery is already really
sentimental,” Castillo said, but in the case of jewelry made from breast milk,
“it is literally holding a memory.”

Ann Marie Sharoupim, founder of Mamma’s
Liquid Love, said her clients have similar motivations when they buy her breast
milk jewelry. Sharoupim, 34, who has a pharmacy doctorate and lives in
Rutherford, New Jersey, sells earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings
featuring breast milk stones. They are $90 to $1,500. This year, she said, she
sold nearly 4,000 pieces.

“People want jewelry with meaning now,”
Sharoupim said.

She recommends that buyers treat their
jewelry as they would a pearl, taking care to keep it dry and limiting its
exposure to chemicals. After a customer places an order on her website,
Sharoupim sends instructions on how to best mail half an ounce of their breast
milk to the company.

For some parents, jewellery made from
breast milk can also be a way to cope with loss.

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Rebecca Zuick, 31, a software
development student in San Antonio, purchased a ring with a stone made from her
breast milk in February 2017, both as a way to celebrate the end of
breastfeeding her son, Asher, and to cope with the stillbirth she experienced
in July 2015.

“For me, looking into getting jewelry
made out of breast milk, it was a way to kind of hang on to the memory and the
legacy of the child that I wasn’t able to nurse, because that was milk that
they would have been able to have if they had survived,” Zuick said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and
the World Health Organisation both recommend that infants be breastfed for the
first six months of their lives. However, for many mothers, that is untenable
because of work; the United States is one of the few countries with no national
paid maternity leave.

Jacqueline Wolf, a professor of the
history of medicine at Ohio University and the author of a 2001 book on the
decline of breastfeeding in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, noted that,
for the most part, the mothers who are able to breastfeed during those early
months are those with paid maternity leave or flexible work schedules.

“Most women don’t have jobs like that,”
Wolf said. “I think that this jewelry is also a little bit symbolic of this
injustice.”

© 2022 The New York Times Company

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