I’ve had my eye on one of those “mom” necklaces for a long time.
You know, the ones that have your kids’ birthdays engraved on them? They’re all over Etsy and Instagram; the ones that look like bars, stamped in gold and silver?
I love the look of them, and I love the idea of having a piece of my kids with me at all times, because even though my kids are still little, I pretty much have daily breakdowns thinking about them growing up and leaving me someday (sob).
But as it turns out, I don’t need a necklace to keep a piece of them with me — because they are already with me. Literally.
As in, our babies’ actual cells from when we carried them inside our wombs stay in our bodies, even after pregnancy is long over. The phenomenon is called fetal microchimerism, which originates from the Greek mythological creature composed of different animals. Except in this case, it’s not actually a myth.
But wait, there’s more —
These cells don’t just stay in our uteruses, they migrate throughout our entire bodies. Those leftover cells from our babies find new homes, settling in our brains, our guts, our livers, or our lungs and actually re-map our own cells, giving them back a new life of their own.
Unfortunately, our babies’ cells don’t always benefit our own, which I guess makes a lot of sense because some days I feel like my kids are sucking the life out of me, and it turns out, they actually are in more ways than one.
Studies have found that the presence of fetal cells are linked to autoimmune disorders in the mother and the actual cells themselves have been found to stick around in a mother’s body for up to 38 years after pregnancy. And even if the cells disappear, their effect does not.
Amy Body, a researcher at Arizona State University’s Department of Psychology and lead author of the new study, explained in a press release:
“Fetal cells can act as stem cells and develop into epithelial cells, specialized heart cells, liver cells and so forth. This shows that they are very dynamic and play a huge role in the maternal body. They can even migrate to the brain and differentiate into neurons. We are all chimeras.”
It appears that the fetal cells begin their migration out of the womb and into mom’s body during pregnancy, when they act like little cheerleaders, directing mom’s nutrients and life-giving abilities to the baby, just in case the rest of her body didn’t get the memo. After pregnancy, those cells live on and can benefit the mother by healing damaged tissue or aiding in repairing scar tissue.
But like all things children do, not all of the cells work for the greater good. Some cells may be mistaken as foreign objects by the mom’s immune system and mount an attack, prompting autoimmune disorders, such as thyroid disease. (Women, for instance, are 3 times more likely to have autoimmune disorders, which researchers speculate has a lot to do with the presence of fetal cells.)
And when you think about it, the fascinating thing is that we don’t really know the extent of how early the fetal cells migrate, so it could apply to even terminated or miscarried pregnancies or pregnancies we didn’t even know we were carrying.
Motherhood literally imprints our bodies.
I’ve always known that motherhood changes you forever, but I just didn’t know how much it changes us, even at our most basic cellular level.
So now, if someone could help me decide if this whole news story is incredibly cool or just plain creepy, that would be great.
*goes off to shop Etsy necklaces*More On