The saying “a moment in our arms, a lifetime in our hearts” is actually true, literally!
“In pregnancy, women are shape-shifters, their bellies waxing like the moon. After delivery, they hold another kind of magic: microchimerism, a condition in which women harbor cells that originated in their children even decades after birth.” (Source: The Atlantic)
“Just what microchimerism foretells still isn’t clear, but a recent study in the International Journal of Epidemiology suggests that these cells may substantially improve the health of the women who house them.” (Source)
These fetal cells migrate all over a mother’s body, becoming part of the heart, the brain, and blood, writes Vanessa Hua.
They become part of us, often staying with us for decades upon decades. This is true even if baby we carried didn’t live to be born, writes Laura Weldon.
Microchimerism also has implications here for women who have lost pregnancies, an extremely common situation hidden by the taboo of talking about miscarriages. Fetal cells seem to migrate early in pregnancy, meaning that even brief pregnancies may leave a cellular mark on a woman. (Source: Science News)
Kamper-Jørgensen said. “Having kids protects you from breast cancer, but we don’t really know why. If you have kids, you live longer, but we don’t really know why. Women live longer than men, but we don’t know why. This phenomenon, this may be it.” (Source)
“Perhaps these fetal cells, which may possess the ability to turn into lots of different kinds of cells, can help repair a damaged heart, liver or thyroid, as some studies have hinted.” (Source: Science News)
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. (Source)
Perhaps this is a way for the child to give back to the mother after pregnancy; The mother gives so much of herself to create a life so it makes sense that something beneficial could be left behind.
However, there are some studies that show that these cells can also cause mischief. The presence of these cells could also provide “a potential explanation for the increased prevalence of autoimmune disorders in adult women following their childbearing years.” (Source).
Discovering this information is so exciting and I can’t wait to find out more as scientists continue to study the effects of pregnancy on a woman’s body, years after giving birth.
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