I'm working my way through Abigail Tucker's book, Mom Genes, which I plan to give a glowing review when I finish it, and I came across a phenomenon so cool that I had to do some extra research and talk about it in this week's article.
What is it?
Fetal Microchimerism is a medical term to describe the few baby cells that remain in mom's blood and tissues during and after pregnancy. The mind-blowing thing is, not only can your baby's cells play a role in healing wounds after labour and delivery (one study found that fetal cells were found in mom's C-section scars suggesting they migrate to the site of damage and play a role in healing), but their healing power can remain in mom's body for decades!
How Does it Happen?
When a woman is pregnant, all types of fetal cells cross the placenta and enter mom's bloodstream. After your pregnancy, these fetal cells turn into microchimeric cells (cells that are different from the host they reside in) and remain in marrow and other organs. As Tucker puts it in her book, "a mother's body is like her living room, strewn with kids’ castoffs and debris."
Why is it so cool?
Often these fetal cells stay forever. Scientists have found these "rogue fetal cells" in the cadavers of old women whose children are full grown with children of their own. What seems to be as part of an evolutionary adaptation to help keep moms alive to care for their babes, sometimes these cells will target injury in mom's body and work to heal it.
Tucker talks about an interesting case of a woman whose baby's fetal cells remained in her body after pregnancy and helped rebuild a lobe of her liver years later. What was remarkable about this particular case was that this woman never actually carried her baby to term. Because these fetal cells can cross over to mom's bloodstream as soon as the placenta forms, they were able to remain and benefit her despite the outcome of her pregnancy.
These cells can also transform into any cell the mother needs, including brain cells, heart cells, and even cells various cells in the immune system. And if you have more than one kid, your first child's cells sometimes cross back across the placenta into their future siblings in utero. Just reading about this makes me feel like I have superhuman mom powers.
Our babies are always with us (literally)
The research into this phenomenon is relatively new, and scientists are still debating theories around the reasoning and benefits behind it. One prominent theory suggests that, knowing a healthy mother is key for a baby's survival, these helpful rogue fetal cells are an evolutionary adaptation to give baby (and their moms) their best chance.
What is certain though is that it seems that we carry a piece of our babies, even those we don't get to watch grow up, for many years following our pregnancies. And I think that's pretty nifty.
A.M. Cullen lives and writes in Fort St. John. Are you parenting in the Peace? Send in your questions, topics, or suggestions for #MomLife to cover at firstname.lastname@example.org.