While human people are sleeping, my baby awakes. She whines and wriggles over to my listless body. Leading with her pale, swollen cheeks and newly cut teeth, she pounces on my chest. My flesh of my flesh uses her sharp talons to pull the wound on my breast into her mouth. Then, she sucks my blood.
I don’t mean that she seems to suck my blood because our night-long suck-fests leave me so parched that my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth—although that is certainly true. I mean that babies are vampires because milk is blood, mostly.
The breast is basically a little factory that repackages the nutrients from your blood into a more palatable beverage and then stores it for extraction. In case high-school anatomy is a blur of formaldehyde and dead cats, mammary glands are oversized sweat glands that serve one ultimate purpose: spraying your hard-earned stockpile of nutrients into the mouth of your vampire baby.
To oversimplify, here’s how milk production works: Inside each mammary gland there are bunches of alveoli; these cells are vats that fill with milk. Lining the walls of each vat, there are bands of lactocytes, or food processing cells. Capillaries act as pipelines, sapping the protein, fat, and sugar from your blood and delivering those nutrients to the food processors; the lactocytes filter and modify those ingredients before ushering them to the vat.
Other nutrients pass directly from the pipe into the vat through spaces between the processors. Those unprocessed ingredients include plasma, vitamins, and leukocytes. Leukocytes, as a reminder, are white blood cells—the cells that fight infections in the body and ooze out of popped zits. Each drop of breastmilk contains one million white blood cells. Your baby is drinking your blood.
I am not the first person to draw this conclusion. In 1993, lactation scholars Jan Riordan and Kathleen Auerbach dubbed breastmilk “white blood” because of its ability to, like blood, deliver nutrients and immunity to babies. The connection between blood and milk is also something that pre-modern scientists postulated. Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 BCE) argued that human milk derived from menstrual blood, a truly bizarre notion considering the fact that a newly lactating women hasn’t had a period in at least nine months. Somehow that strange idea endured until the 17th century, about a century after anatomists learned from dissecting cadavers that breasts contain glands—which, they correctly presumed, convert blood into milk.
Perhaps it is not a coincidence, then, that the myth of the vampire arose in the 17th century, following the discovery that human milk is made of blood. Joan Acocella, in a New Yorker piece called “In the Blood,” draws the connection tighter, noting that Bram Stocker’s novel Dracula figures the victim, Mina, as “a nursing baby”—feeding at a vampire’s breast in order to become a vampire herself.
Besides the fact that babies drink the blood, there are other signs of their vampireness.
Babies are averse to the sun, for it burns their delicate skin.
Babies are born with long, sharp nails. Guides on what to pack in a hospital bag for delivery generally include nail clippers. My baby’s nails were at least a half an inch long when she was born. Now they grow so quickly that we have to trim them at least once a week, so she doesn’t open a third wound on my chest.
Newborns sleep during the day and feed at night. During the first week of my baby’s life, she slept in four-hour increments during the day and 30-minute increments at night. She spent her nights sucking my nipple so viscously that she cracked it. I continued to nurse on the cracked nipple, which sent stabbing pain down my spine. The little devil seemed to enjoy something that felt to me like pure torture.
Most babies sleep in wooden, rectangular boxes: our greatest fear as mothers is that the crib will become the coffin it can resemble. Sometimes, my baby, so fond of the midnight drink, insists on sleeping in my bed to more easily access her feed. If newborns are held more than one foot from a mirror, the limit of their vision, they will not be able to see their reflections. It is only after a year that babies can even recognize themselves in mirrors. Is it a coincidence that this is also around the time that babies can live without white blood?
Babies captivate their victims with hypnotic stares, their cuteness making you babble, turning you into one of them. Their charm is the exact thing that convinces their victims to willingly open and re-open the wounds in their chest. In the first two months of her life, my baby would nurse for 45 minutes on each side, then fall asleep on my lap for an hour, and then start that process again, draining me even as I got hungrier and thirstier.
The vampire, academics posit, manifests the anxiety of colonization; the villain represents the bloodsuck of white territorial oppression. Babies, too, are invaders. The day after we brought our little vamp home, her dresser, diaper pail, changing station, and bed had all found their way into the master bedroom. She locked me to the couch for days at a time and drained me of all of my resources. I quit work. Confined to my house, I died slowly each day at the mouth of my captor.
But, as with vampires, it doesn’t take long for seduction to set in. As she suckled on my breast in the early months, I felt the sweet, warm release of pressure. Milk drunk, white blood spilling out of her grinning lips, her eyes would roll back, and I would swoon.
Update: a descriptor of baby’s skin as “white” has been changed.
D.R. Marks is a writer, editor, and writing tutor based in New Orleans. She has a Ph.D. in English and a nine month-old vampire.
Illustration by Jim Cooke