In the framed photo, a woman in profile—eyes smudged with dark circles, shoulder adorned with an epaulette of spit-up—hugs a newborn tight and high on her chest, resting her cheek on his head. The baby’s eyelids look like closed pistachios. His ears match the monkey’s on his swaddling blanket. Next to her, a laptop displays Google’s homepage.
● How to increase milk supply
● Fenugreek near me
● Fetal microchimerism*
● How to get baby to sleep in crib
● How to put sleeping baby down without waking
● How to sleep when baby sleeps
● How little sleep do adults need
*Examples of fetal microchimerism have been found in every type of placental mammal. Although the process is two-way—cells from a fetus transfer into the mother’s body via the placenta and vice versa—far more fetal cells persist in maternal blood and tissue than maternal cells in a fetus. Fetal cells seem to be both beneficial and deleterious to the mother. At times they act like stem cells and swarm C-section incision sites and other wounds. However, high levels of fetal cells are also associated with increased occurrence of many diseases such as Parkinson, Hashimoto, and Graves Disease.
In the photo shared online, a woman wears sensible shorts, shirt, and shoes–nothing flimsy or hard to wash. Behind her, park lawns stretch to a river frothing with spring melt. She grips the wrist of a toddler who wears soaking wet white-and-navy-blue train engineer overalls and matching cap. He carries a stuffed monkey and a Superman sneaker; the other sneaker pokes from the pocket of her water-stained shorts. The woman stares into the distance with an expression of resolution. The boy’s limbs are blurry.
● Hey Siri, how do I unlock a door?
● How do I unlock a door from outside?
● How do I unlock a bathroom door from outside?
● Where can I find eyeglass screwdrivers near me?
● Can a toddler drown in a toilet?
● Call the local fire department
● How do I make a whiskey old fashioned?
Fetal microchimerism may play a role in the resource conflict between mother and child. Fetal cells may concentrate in those areas of the mother’s body that best aid the child postpartum in order to manipulate her into providing more resources to the infant than is in her best interest or the interests of her other children, current or future. Those areas are the thyroid (which regulates body temperature), the breast (which regulates lactation), and the brain (which controls emotional attachment).
The live photo is one second long. A boy in front of a red brick elementary school wears sensible shorts, shirt, and shoes. He holds a slate that says “1st Day of Kindergarten.” His smile reveals a missing tooth. A woman’s tanned arm reaches into the photograph with a bedraggled stuffed monkey. We never see her body.
● Alexa, order a reusable lunch box
● Order a pencil case
● Order crayons
● Order all the school supplies
● Order How to Listen so Kids will Really Talk
● Play Time after Time
● Play If I Could Turn Back Time
Most fetal cells in the bloodstream are destroyed after birth by the mother’s immune system, although those embedded in tissue fare better. Fetal cells that survive the postpartum culling establish lines that persist for decades by becoming part of the organs that harbor them. Those in the brain become brain cells. Those in the lungs become lungs cells. Those in the heart become woven into the cardiac fibers, mingling with the mother’s own cells and even those from her mother, genetically distinct, pulsing in unison.
KATIE VENIT lives in Wisconsin. Her work has appeared in Volume One Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio’s Wisconsin Life, 365 Tomorrows, and Neutrons/Protons. She sits on the advisory board for the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild.
Image via Pixabay