In two days my son will be a month old. That is crazy to me. As much as I’ve been sick and had pain during pregnancy and since his birth, it was all worth it for this amazing child. Just look at him!
I have grown so close with this adorable little boy. First, obviously, from carrying him in my womb for 9 months, but now in the last month from all the bonding and love. My life has truly changed by having him as a part of it. I have changed.
I mean that I have changed emotionally, but it’s interesting to know that this is true scientifically as well. Through pregnancy, some of his cells have entered my body and will stay with me forever. This biologic marvel is called “fetomaternal microchimerism”. Yes, chimera…
I too thought of the monster from Greek mythology who was part lion, part goat, and part serpent. (thank you nerdy upbringing) In a less terrifying way but similar to the monster, chimerism in genetics is a single organism with cells of more than one distinct genotype.
In this situation:
- Cells are shared
- from the fetus to the mother (“fetomaternal”)
- in a small portion of her body, (“micro”)
- giving her cells from both herself and her child (“chimerism”)
The fetal cells are able to travel through the placental barrier into the mother’s blood stream where they travel to different organs throughout her body. These fetal cells have been found in the blood, bone marrow, skin, liver, and brain. It has been observed that these fetal cells target sites of injury and aid in healing. What a beautiful gift that the child gives to his mother, and these cells can be found for decades after the pregnancy, possibly for the rest of the life of the mother. The two of them are forever bonded, cellularly.
A few years ago when I learned this fascinating scientific insight, it changed my whole perspective on a mystery of the Catholic Church, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This Sunday we will celebrate that solemnity, a day celebrating when Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul. I have never had any issues in believing this teaching, but when I learned of the science of fetomaternal microchimerism, it added so much depth and beauty to it.
In carrying Jesus in her womb, Mary is said to be the Ark of the New Covenant. This Sunday’s readings allude to that, but let’s look at it a bit closer.
The original Ark of the Covenant held:
- Aaron’s rod which symbolized the true priesthood
- Manna, miraculous bread from heaven
- The Ten Commandments, the word of God on stone
Mary’s womb held Jesus which is
- The actual and eternal High Priest
- The bread of life come down from heaven
- The word of God in the flesh
This truth has been taught since the beginning of Christianity. Alexander of Athanasius (c. 296-373) wrote, “O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O [Ark of the] Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides.”
We’ve always known that Jesus resided in Mary’s womb for 9 months, now we know that some part of Him remained with her long after His birth. This knowledge brings new light to Psalm 16, “And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad; even my body shall rest in safety. For you will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your Holy One know decay.” This verse is understood to describe how Christ’s divine body did not undergo corruption. The knowledge of science shows why Mary had to be assumed into heaven too. If Christ’s body could not undergo corruption, that had to include those cells of His that remained with His mother. Mary was born a mortal, but once those cells of God became a part of her, her body would no longer be allowed earthly corruption.
Knowing how science can bring greater light to theological truths is one of my favorite things. This beautiful science of fetomaternal microchimerism gives me so much to pray with this week in preparation for the solemnity. Hopefully it does for you too.
First of all, I will be spending time thinking of the beauty of motherhood. It is so complex and changes our lives forever. This week I will thank God for the gift of motherhood, but I will also thank God for my mothers, my earthly one and Mary, mother of all. I will spend time thinking of God’s infinite wisdom in knowing all of the biological details of motherhood and writing His divine plan within them long before the rest of mankind was able to discover them. I hope that you will spend time praying with some of these things, and I hope that the beauty of these teachings brings you as much joy as they have brought me.