I haven’t breastfed in almost a year, but a few weeks ago I lactated. My daughter had a stomach bug. She was sitting on the brown wooden step stool in our bathroom, her rainbow striped pyjamas hugging the sides of the porcelain, as her little hands floated above the toilet seat – as if some hesitation and lack of commitment might help to make it stop. My heart ached, I felt powerless and I just wanted to be able to help. Soon after, I noticed my shirt was wet.
Although it’s been said many times, many ways, moms are straight up superheroes. We might not get our superpowers in the typical ways that most superheroes do – a freak lab accident, a mutation ability in our DNA, a prophecy or a magical serum – except that we do, and it’s called microchimerism.
If you’ve never heard of this term before, look it up, it’s pretty frickin cool. Basically, every time a woman gets pregnant – whether it goes to full term or not – there is an exchange of cells between mom and babe. This might be expected during pregnancy but these cells seem to hold a greater purpose; often lingering around after birth and at times settling in for life. This means, that for myself, I have genetically distinct cells from my mom, my daughter and my son inside me. Beyond that, I can also potentially have cells from my grandma, since she was present in my mom when my mom was pregnant with me…and my great grandma…and my great great grandma. Whoa.
Now, what I’m about tell you aren’t stone cold facts, since the function and purpose of these cells are still quite mysterious, but the theories and research out there are intriguing to say the least. The cells that the baby transfers to the mom, are there to benefit the baby. They can stimulate and increase our milk production, they can fire up our thyroids to enhance heat and they can shape our brains to encourage maternal attachment and bonding; that’s why we make ourselves insane, and stretch ourselves without limit – we can’t stop even if we wanted to! But they are also on a mission to protect and enhance our survival. They have been found in almost every tissue of our bodies and can impact longevity, promote health and aid in repair and healing. How cool is that!?
The name – microchimerism – is born from Greek mythology and refers to the chimera; a fire breathing lioness, with the head of goat rising from its back and the tail of a serpent. Just like a mom, it’s a powerful creature and just like the cells that come form our babies, we are made up of distinctly different parts.
Turns out our physiology and DNA does change when we become moms, but it’s not from a freak accident or a prophecy. It’s not a mutation or a magical serum – although I would argue there is definitely a little magic sprinkled in there – but rather a very intentional evolutionary process that aims to care and protect. A process that has the potential to continue throughout a lifetime because the job of being a mom doesn’t stop.
Moms are superheroes, this we know, but turns out our superpowers are a collection of many. It’s us, it’s our moms, it’s their moms and the moms before that. It is a force of generations, it is strength in numbers, but mostly importantly it is our kids. Whether we intentionally will something into action or we unexpectedly leak through our shirt when yearning to do more, the cells of our children have a definite purpose and intention. They are truly, in every aspect of the word, our superpowers.
One proud ass Mom