Today is my youngest child’s birthday. As my mother used to tell me,
we always carry our children in our hearts. I know this is true
emotionally. Apparently it’s also true on the physical level.
Sometimes science is filled with transcendent meaning more beautiful
than any poem. To me, this new research shows the poetry packed in the
people all around us.
It’s now known that cells from a developing fetus cross the placenta,
allowing the baby’s DNA to become part of the mother’s body. These
fetal cells persist in a woman’s body into her old age. (If she has been
pregnant with a male child it’s likely she’ll have some Y-chromosomes
drifting around for a few decades too). This is true even if the baby
she carried didn’t live to be born. The cells of that child stay with
her, resonating in ways that mothers have known intuitively throughout
Fetal cells you contributed to your own mother may be found in her blood, bone marrow, skin, kidney, and liver. These fetal cells appear to “treat” her when she is ill or injured.
Researchers have noticed the presence of these cells in women
diagnosed with illnesses such as thyroid disease and hepatitis C. In one
case, a woman stopped treatment against medical advice. A liver biopsy
showed “thousands of male cells” determined to be from a pregnancy
terminated nearly 20 years earlier. These cells helped her body recover
just as fetal cells you gave your mother rush to help repair her from
within when she’s unwell.
Fetal cells may influence a woman’s autoimmunity, although it’s not
yet known if they are always beneficial. According to fascinating
accounts in Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy, the
more fetal cells there are in a woman’s body, the less likely she is to
have conditions such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
That’s not always the case. It’s thought that a mother’s body may battle
those cells, thus promoting her own autoimmune disorders. (Apparently
family dynamics are complicated even at the cellular level.)
Look around at your family. Any woman who has ever been pregnant,
even if she miscarried so early she never knew she was with child, is
likely to be a microchimera (a person who carries the cells of another
person). Fetal cells have the imprint of her child’s father and his
ancestry. Fetal cells can be shared from one pregnancy to another,
meaning the cells of older siblings may float within younger siblings.
These cells are another reminder of the ways we are connected in a holographic universe.
I’d like to think that my fetal cells helped my mother battle the
congestive heart failure that eventually took her life. I like to
imagine that I carry within me my older sister’s fierce intelligence and
that my talented younger brother benefits in some way from the cells of
both his sisters. Knowing that I carry the cells of my four living
children as well as babies I lost makes my heart ever more full on this
We heal our mothers and our children heal us. Again poetry takes a back seat to nature’s awesome secrets.