Last night I started randomly receiving a series of text messages from daughter Ashley. At first, I thought she was sending me silly things my grandsons say. Just recently she sent me a note saying that Sullivan had asked if she could go get his “Granny baby” for him. Sullivan comes up with the most outrageous sayings. I think he’s in training for Comedy Central, but these texts were sent well past Sullivan’s bedtime.
I realized it was poetry Ashley was sending. Ridiculously bad poetry: “You are the bubble in my bath. The plush in my towel. The vanilla in my candle.”
You get the idea.
After she sent a few of these, she asked: Remember when you wrote these? I saved them.
I did not remember. I had long forgotten them. But she had held onto them, carved out a space in her crowded life for them. I do sometimes think about what words to hang onto for my children. I keep the pictures they drew me, the letters they wrote to me in elementary school. I hang on to newspaper stories I ought to toss for the hope that they or their children will unearth them one day and smile at the memory of the mother long gone. I keep extra copies of my books on hand for the same reasons. But of all the words I’ve held onto, it’s the blithe poetry badly-written that my daughter keeps.
She sent it to me last night to lift my spirits which have been troubled for reasons I am not willing to share in the public square yet. Last night was particularly difficult until Sister Tater prayed with me and Ashley sent those text messages. Poetry has the power to do that, of course, which is why so many disturbed souls often turn to it: soldiers contemplating the futility of war, farmers contemplating the capriciousness of crops, drug addicts contemplating cycles of abuse, lovers contemplating the fickleness of love.
But last night instead of contemplating my poorly-crafted poetry, I thought about microchimeric cells. Anyone who has had a child understands the role of the life-giving placenta. During pregnancy, cells migrate through the placenta between the mother and the fetus. These mixed cells of mother and child can, and often do, inhabit many organs of the body. These cells have a broad range of function, and even after a child is born, a part of that child – these cells – remain within the mother.
As mothers, we very literally carry the remnants of our children within us.
As the journal of Scientific American notes: “Microchimerism is the persistent presence of a few genetically distinct cells in an organism. This was first noticed in humans many years ago when cells containing the male “Y” chromosome were found circulating in the blood of women after pregnancy. Since these cells are genetically male, they could not have been the women’s own, but most likely came from their babies during gestation.”
These cells of our children live not only in our liver and our kidneys, but inside our hearts and brains as well, just as a part of us always remained within the hearts and brains of our own mothers.
Is it any wonder then that when our mothers pass, we often say that a piece of us had died?
Researchers have found that in some ways these microchesmic cells become like stem cells. They have an ability to heal. Consider this report noted in the Scientific American: “One research group investigating this possibility followed the activity of fetal microchimeric cells in a mother rat after the maternal heart was injured: they discovered that the fetal cells migrated to the maternal heart and differentiated into heart cells helping to repair the damage.”
The fetal cells migrated to the heart to help heal it. There is evidence, too, that these fetal cells act as immune boosters for mothers.
In very real and scientific ways, our children help heal the wounded places deep within us in ways that nobody else can.
In light of the power of all that, I suppose mothers everywhere can be forgiven the poorly-constructed poetry we craft, heh?
You are my sweetie pie
The moon that lights my path
The dew on my morning glory
The chip in my cookie
The whipped topping on my mocha
I love you
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy (Mercer University Press).