“M” is for . . .

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Growing up in Northwest Indiana in what now seems a long time ago, I heard a song that eventually became a staple of every young boy’s life. The good sisters who taught me saw to that. Along with the Notre Dame Fight Song and Prepositions Everyone it was one of the few secular songs we committed to memory. I refer, of course,  to Mother, A Word That Means The World To Me.

Mother, started out as a poem by a Mr. Howard Johnson (no, not that Howard Johnson) and was transformed into a song in 1915 when Johnson collaborated with composer Theodore F. Morse. Changes we made and eventually it became the song I memorized, at least in part.

The original poem went like this:

A poem for MOTHER

M is for the many things she gave me

O means only that she’s growing old

T is for the tears she shed to save me

H is for her heart of purest gold

E is for her eyes, with love-light shining

R means right, and right she’ll always be

Put them all together, they spell “mother”

a word that means the world to me

Then the whole Tin Pan alley thing took over the country and a hue and cry went up for more music, more lyrics and, well, what could be better than a sweet song about mothers and motherhood. Thus, Mother the poem soon became Mother the song and it changed into this:

I’ve been around the world, you bet, But never went to school, Hard knocks are all I seem to get, Perhaps I’ve been a fool, But still, some educated fool, Supposed to be so swell, Would fail, if they were called upon a simple word to spell, Now if you’d like to put me to a test, There’s one dear name I can spell the best.

“M” is for the million things she gave me, “O” means only that she’s growing old, “T” is for the tears were shed to save me, “H” is for her heart of purest gold, “E” is for her eyes, with love-light shining, “R” means right, and right she’ll always be, Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER”, a word that means the world to me.

When I was but a baby, Long before I learned to walk, While lying in my cradle, I would try my best to talk, It wasn’t long, before I spoke, and all the neighbors heard, My folks were very proud of me for “Mother” was the word, Although I’ll never lay a claim to fame, I’m satisfied that I can spell this name.

“M” is for the mercy she possesses, “O” means that I owe her all I own, “T” is for her tender sweet caresses, “H” is for her hands that made a home, “E” means everything she’s done to help me, “R” means real and regular, you see, Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER”, a word that means the world to me.

Now, if you are of a certain age just reading the lyrics will bring back the melody. It’s a song that stays with you, especially if the nuns had a hand in it! And it’s a lovely song that still tugs at the heartstrings of mothers and husband and sweet little girls and delinquent boys.

By the way, Howard Johnson is also famous for two songs which, if “Mother” was a familiar tune to you, you will also recognize:  “When The Moon Comes Over The Mountain,” and the ever popular, “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Ice Cream.”

But I don’t want to just reminisce about old songs, I would like to talk about Motherhood and the gifts are mothers bring us. And guess what, in my version of the song “M” stands for “Mom’s Microbes!”

That’s right, our mothers provide us with the gut bacteria that is so essential to our very survival! Think about that! Survival!!! While in our mother’s womb and then during delivery and then in contact with her skin then during nursing our mothers are providing us with the bugs—the “M”icrobes—that will allow us to survive through digestion and by warding off pathogens with an young immune system that is mostly just “mom’s” immune system.

Contact with our mother’s bacteria is so very important that studies show Caesarian birth babies suffer a much higher ratio of auto-immune disease and are more susceptible to other maladies related to a compromised immune response. I know. My mother had five (as in FIVE) Caesarian deliveries. Two brothers died very early following childbirth and my sisters and I all have varying degrees of immune problems. At the age of two I was in an “iron lung” stricken with pneumonia. This was followed by “German measles.” My sisters had it worse. At this point in my life, I have to think that the lack of beneficial microbiota had a whole lot to do with what we suffered.

And let’s not forget mother’s milk, the very best food for babies and not something you have to point out to a mom. Breast feeding not only builds the emotional bond between mother and child but it also helps inoculate the baby with an ancient bond of bacteria. Let us not forget that microbes have been around about 3.5 BILLION years! It was microbial colonies that established the first living ecosystems on earth just as they still, today, establish microbiotic ecosystems in our guts.

Breast feeding isn’t always easy but it adds so much to our health. Even the aspect of mother’s milk that cannot be digested by the infant’s gastrointestinal tract has been found to be beneficial, coating the infant’s GI tract to provide it protection from undesirable pathogenic bacteria. And for those parents who have had to endure along with their babies a colicky stomach or baby diarrhea know how disconcerting that can be.

So, to repeat, “M” is for the million microbes that mom gives us . . .

And let’s not forget mother’s milk, the very elixir of life. It, too, is full of probiotic bacteria that not only nourishes us but helps build our infant immune system.

Mother’s milk is the very best food for babies, that fact is well known, but new research has shown it is even more beneficial to babies than suspected. A large part of mother’s milk cannot be digested and has a different benefit for baby than nourishment. That particular indigestible substance coats the baby’s intestines protecting it from certain harmful bacteria. The indigestible substance is composed of complex sugars derived from lactic bacteria. This is why formulas used to be so difficult for babies to digest, especially in the Third World. Contained in the lactose in a mother’s milk it was long overlooked as being essential to a baby’s health.

Researcher Bruce German has said, “We think mothers have evolved to let this stuff flush through the infant.” German sees mother’s milk as an astonishing product of evolution which has been shaped by natural selection. He said, “Everything in mother’s milk costs the mother. She is literally dissolving her own tissue to make it. From the infants prospective, it is born into a world of hostile microbes, with an untrained immune system and lacking the caustic stomach acid that in adults kills harmful bacteria. Any element in mother’s milk that protects the infant will be heavily favored by natural selection.”

Mom, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

For more, please read this great article from HealthMad.