08 May 2014

Microchimerism

A recent discovery is that naturally-acquired microchimerism is quite common in human beings. What is microchimerism, you ask?

Basically it is the presence of a small number of cells in one person that actually originated in a genetically different individual. Apparently, during pregnancy some cells travel from the mother to the baby, and also some cells move from the baby to the mother. What is surprising is that a small number of the mother’s cells persist in her children on into adult life, and a small number of cells from prior pregnancies are found in mothers many years later.

Although I don't even begin to understand it, this discovery has important ramifications in the study of autoimmune diseases, degenerative diseases, and cancer -- and I'm very glad for that. However, I find it interesting for other reasons.

This has to have an effect on our understanding of the bond between mother and child, and indeed, on our understanding of the Incarnation itself. Every mother understands the words of St. Simeon to the Blessed Virgin, when he told her, "a sword will pierce through your own soul also."

Microchimerism means that cells from every child conceived by a woman -- whether that child was given birth, whether that child was miscarried, whether that child was still-born, even if that child was aborted -- she continues to have in her own body a certain number of cells from every pregnancy.

We know from our understanding of the Incarnation that the physical and the spiritual are bound up together. I believe the discovery of microchimerism in human beings might help to explain why a mother can never forget her child, even if that child was aborted. She continues to carry something of her child within her. No matter how much this twisted world tells her that getting rid of the child was the "right choice," she can never completely "rid" herself of her baby.

I think it would be a comfort to the mother who has lost a child through miscarriage or still-birth, to know that the child's immortal soul is with God and that cells from the child's physical body remain within her. And I think the same thing contributes to the tragedy of abortion, that a mother retains within her some of the cells of the child that had been ripped from her womb.