By Hugh MacDougall
Web Exclusive, November 19, 2007
We all know that mother's milk is the best of all natural therapies for babies. What a start in life! It is less known to modern parents that this miraculous substance has been used through the ages as a healing agent for a variety of ailments. I certainly didn't know, until I was told the following story in China.
The family's name is Su and it will be easier to call my hero by his English name, David. Ten year old David was on school holiday. His father was a practical man with many skills and, though illiterate, managed to supplement the small income from the family farm in many ways. David wanted to be like his father so took every chance he could to help him. This holiday, Mr. Su was building a metal boat and David was allowed to hold the metal welding rods while his father applied the fiery electric charge. Both had masks on of course but perhaps the glass in David's was below standard. This family is locally famous for their endurance but after two days the boy's eyes were hurting badly and he could stand the pain no longer.
When it became just too intense he ran inside to his mother and the two went out to find the village doctor. David was given a cream to put on his eyes and told to lie in bed with his eyes closed until he recovered. Two days later there was no decrease in the boy's suffering. Meantime, Mother Li had been talking about the problem to other villagers. (Li - Since the Revolution it has been the custom in China for women to retain their family name at marriage.) An old woman said she knew a cure and when David's mum heard what it was she ran to the home of a young woman who was suckling a child. The old woman was known for her lore and the young woman was surprised at the request but agreed immediately, for any of the villagers are always glad to help another.
The two women arrived back at the Su's farmhouse to tell David about the cure. Ms. Li told her son the news carefully and the young woman watched in veiled amusement, for the villagers are conservative and certain things about the body are never spoken of. The boy's face went scarlet with embarrassment as he heard his mother tell him that his eyes were to be bathed three times a day in milk from the young woman's breasts! Only his pain persuaded him to agree to such a thing but he shyly relented.
Mr. Su was banished to the courtyard and the women went to another room where milk was expressed into a clean bowl. David's mother carefully poured a little into each eye. David felt no discomfort from the liquid and was soon asleep.
The helpful neighbor came several times in the next two days to ensure David's medicine was always fresh. At the end of that time the boy was better and the young mother was proud of her miraculous fluid.
Today David is a professional photographer who serves the villagers and citizens of nearby communities. Each sharp image he produces is a reminder that he has more reasons than most of us to be thankful for mother's milk and its miraculous properties. You can be sure that his own daughter was breastfed until ready for a natural weaning.
His experience was not unique. Mother's milk is known as an effective eye salve in many countries. It took a three minute search on the internet to cure me of my own blind ignorance of the subject. Guess which magazine told me the true story of the miraculous healing substance produced by women the world over. In Mothering's November/ December 2005 issue, Liz Laing wrote about it in her article 'Your Walking Medicine Chest: Mother's milk is the perfect panacea for a whole host of ailments—from pinkeye to acne. Just a squirt will do the trick!'. Thanks Liz, you opened my eyes.
By the way, I am a fifty-five year old man whose two children were breastfed. I never thought I would write about breastfeeding but I couldn't resist sharing David's story. I was so amazed.
I am a Scots-born Australian who is currently having a love-hate relationship with China. In Australia I changed career every half decade except for a prolonged period as a Social Welfare worker, in Juvenile Justice and Child protection work, and as a Counselor. Now I am in my fourth year in China teaching in High School and at a private English school, proofreading and co-translating and now dabbling in writing professionally. I have long been a keen amateur short story writer and poet, even occasionally a performing poet. China is a challenging place for a social justice oriented Westerner but I am refueled by many ordinary Chinese people with beautiful natures and wonderful stories to tell. I hope to share many of these with Western readers.