I Am Changed
Guest Post by Stephanie Cole
i carry her with me (i carry her in my heart)
(and in my veins)
(and in my thyroid)
here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the budand the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart) – e. e. cummings
E. E. Cummings’ words are everywhere in the bereaved community. On photo frames, jewelry, tattoos and Facebook posts galore. And rightly so. It is a sweet sentiment, soothing salve for the grieving mother’s battered soul, and a lovely little poem. It is a personal favorite of mine.
But sometimes, lovely is not enough for me. I am a girl who craves truth. I like science. I want hard data to point to. And so, I especially love this fact: We do, all of us, carry them with us. (we carry their cells.)
In 1979, researchers at Stanford University ascertained that the maternal-fetal barrier which prohibited cells from transferring from baby to mother was apparently not as effective as they had originally believed. This discovery was made when cells containing the Y chromosome were detected in a pregnant mother’s blood. Since women carry only X chromosomes, it was determined that the cells had come from the male child she was carrying in her womb. In 1996, Diana Bianchi, chief of genetics at the New England Medical Center in Boston, proved that mothers carry these fetal cells in their blood for decades. Decades. Scientists have uncovered fetal cells in mothers’ blood, spleens, brain cells, breast tissue, thyroid tissue, liver tissue… even in the cells that make up their mother’s heart.
It is a beautiful thought that someday, if I am lucky, I will be a ninety year old woman and I will sit on a bench by the ocean and look out over the vast grey-green-blue, cloudy with spray from the waves and cataracts and my life well lived, and she will still be with me. I’m sure I will hear Cummings’ words in my head and smile as the waters slide up and down the sand. But on difficult days, days when that poem is simply not balm enough for the burn of my only daughter’s death, I’ll close my eyes and quietly repeat my own:
blood from your body
has pulsed through my heart, my veins
of course I am changed.
I am changed was originally published in Cole’s poetry anthology to linger on hot coals: collected poetic works from grieving women writers, released in January 2014.
Stephanie Paige Cole has been writing ever since she learned how to spell, but never as ferociously as after the death of her firstborn child in January 2007. She is the author of to linger on hot coals: collected poetic works from grieving women writers and Still: a collection of honest artwork & writings from the heart of a grieving mother. Stephanie is also the founder of Sweet Pea Project, a nonprofit organization that offers comfort, support and gentle guidance to families who have experienced the death of a baby. www.sweetpeaproject.org