I’m not quite as much of a hippie as many seem to think. Yes, I’m a lifelong vegetarian who has voted for both Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein in the past (but WILL be voting for Hillary in November, let it be known). Still, when I got pregnant, I was floored by the number of people who assumed that I would soon be eating placenta, sewing cloth diapers, and/or breast-feeding my kid until he’s 11. So far I have done none of those things, but here's one thing that I have done that guarantees that my hippie card will be valid for the next umpteen years: I have commissioned jewelry made out of my breast milk. One of the first things I did when I found out I was pregnant — in between freaking out, puking, and puking some more — was hire a doula. (They make births safer and cheaper, didn’t you know?) During our initial meetings before the birth, my doula asked me the usual “how crunchy do you want your birth experience to be” questions: Did I want to cut the umbilical cord myself? Did I want to use a handheld mirror to reach down and view my baby’s goop-covered scalp as it first greeted the world? I politely declined these things, trusting that the plain-old birth experience package would be plenty magical and gross, no bonus add-ons necessary. And yet, months later, when faced with the question of whether I wanted to pump liquid out of my chest and mail it in a ZipLoc baggie to an artist in Indiana who would transform it into keepsake jewelry so I could remember this whole birth/breast-feeding/new-parenting business forever, I was like, let's do it. Of course no one actually asked me this question; I asked it of myself when I stumbled across Sacred Legacy Arts on Instagram. Its founder, Kelly Howland started experimenting with what she calls “DNA keepsake jewelry” after the birth of her second son. Aside from breast milk, her custom pieces can include such items as hair, ashes, and our old friend, placenta. The concept seemed like the adult equivalent of the collages I made in preschool that included leaves, sand, and probably also my hair, all glued to construction paper in the name of art and nostalgia. But Kelly’s jewelry made with human bits is actually pretty. Plus, it’s not like I could be a huge copycat and just get my kid’s belly-button stub cast as a necklace or anything.
The specific process by which Howland preserves the breast milk into a gemstone-like nugget is confidential, but she will say that she utilizes "chemicals to professionally preserve the breast milk so it can be included into a jeweler's-grade resin." She then adds the breast gem into a bead, necklace, or ring setting — just like any other gemstone. I chose a set of 14K gold stacking rings from Kelly’s inventory and shipped off my bag o’ milks. Kelly requires one ounce of milk for the process, which is but a mere drop from my gigantic 8-month-old’s 10-ounce dinner bottle, so it was not missed. The fact that no refrigeration is required in shipping — the site says the milk won’t be fresh enough to drink but will be fresh enough for jewelry — struck me as medium-gross, but what is parenting other than dealing with medium-gross bodily fluids, most of the time?
"So many mothers hang on to tangible mementos from their motherhood journey that usually just end up taped into a book or tucked in a shoebox in the closet," Kelly explains. "My own journey had been so empowering and healing that I wanted a visually beautiful way to honor these moments in my life... Before long, I realized my art could reach families of all walks of life and capture so many different chapters of people's stories." And, for me, breast-feeding has been a memorable chapter, to say the least.
I could say that every time I wear these rings, they’ll remind me of nursing my sweet chubby boy, cuddled up together, stroking his adorable duckling-fluff hair that happens to grow in a mohawk. But, probably more often, they’ll remind me of the three cases of mastitis — that’s infected breasts, thank you — that I got during the first two months of his life, complete with red nipples, a 103-degree fever, and chills so bad I thought they were a seizure. I'll be reminded of the first time I breast-fed my son in public, which happened to be while standing up in a crowded subway car (because rip off that embarrassment Band-Aid, folks). I’ll be reminded of getting plugged duct after plugged duct until I finally discovered that neither a baby nor a breast pump can suck a plug out as well as an adult human can (thanks and sorry, Baby Daddy). And of that time I forgot to bring my breast pump parts to work and had to borrow...from my boss. And of the time I didn’t keep my bra on during sex and accidentally gave my partner an inopportune milk shower (could potentially be a sexy thing; was actually just a sticky thing). And, of course, the time my Long Island Railroad train car was stalled without power for four hours and I, in a fit of starvation and claustrophobia, opened my breast pump cooler, chugged a five-ounce bottle of my own breast milk, and felt worlds better. So, yes, I had my breast milk made into a ring, Funnily enough, that was the least weird thing I’ve done with it.