“the cells from her miscarriages . . . We carry them for a lifetime”

Not long after my miscarriage, I read a scientific article that said fetal cells remain in the mother’s body after pregnancy and pregnancy loss. There was much more to the article than that, but that’s the core idea that stuck with me all these years. It’s given me comfort knowing that my first baby will always be a part of me.

Recently, I read this poem by Heid Erdrich, and it all came back to me again. I hope reading this leaves you with a feeling of wonder and comfort, as it did me. (The poem also references pregnancy and babies.)

Microchimerism

I
Nub of human,
shell pink fingernail,
whether you live
or all unformed
leave her body
she will never
be without you.

This, scientists tell us, is literally true:
. . . the cells from her miscarriages, her stillborns,
and all of her children . . . We carry them
for a lifetime. But the cells actually go both ways.

Nub of human,
your cells migrate,
are found at sites
hurt in the maternal body,
and in successive siblings,
even those you never knew,
even those who never knew you.

II
Nub of human,
shell pink fingernail,
she will never be without you.
 
Vivid dreams in her bed echoed,
a wall away and you felt her,
knew her wakefulness
through the quiet she maintained.

She knew it too and tried
explaining, “It is like she is in me,
knows my brain, and wakes me up
before she wakes.”
 
Darkness so soft she feels its nap
cushion her movements,
still she reaches you
just as your cries begin,
then you two are one again.
 
Or more correctly,
you never left:
your cells and hers
flowed back and forth—
blood river once between you
went two ways, scientists say:
 
The waves of fetal microchimerism
are just beginning to break
along the scientific shore.

Even in her milk,
her milk for you—your milk,
a million messages, recipes, connections.
 
This month you demand
brain grease, complex fats;
next month another mix
produced especially for you.
 
She should have known
when she craved avocado, salmon, sesame,
and cursed the invective against sushi.

III
Nub of human,
shell pink fingernail—

Who left cells in your mother
that she gave to you?

A million unknown others.
 
What makes us
our own sole and sovereign selves
is only partially us.

The search for God can be called off.

Now we know:
masses of genetic material not our own
inside us, always with us, like the soul.

I should not
have said that about God.
Forgive me, I
am not
myself.

Italicized lines from Dr. Judith G. Hall, 2002, and from Bruce Morgan’s profile of Dr. Diana Bianchi in Tufts Medicine, 2005.

 

From Cell Traffic by Heid E. Erdrich. © 2012 Heid E. Erdrich. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

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