Kira Martin describes how irresistible she found the urge to protect her deeply troubled son in her compelling article called “What He Left Behind,” https://longreads.com/2019/01/24/what-he-left-behind/?fbclid=IwAR0S6s464ryMvtF2ac4BY7VbJlASN6g43fnlLv9cayzDDkFkf0mm2ZZguGs . She writes about the bond between mother and child in terms I’d never heard before:
“When a woman is pregnant, cells from her baby cross the placenta and enter her bloodstream. From there they sink into the tissue of her body where they live for decades, and perhaps for the rest of her life — they’ve been found in women in their 70s. If you were to capture one of these cells and sequence its DNA, it would be different from the mother’s. It would be half her and half the baby’s father, tangled and assorted in all the complex ways two people come together to make a new person.”
While not the focus of her essay, I found myself astounded by the idea that a woman who has had a baby is biologically no longer the person she was when she first married. She has been irrevocably changed at a biological level so that part of her children and her husband are in her. And this change happens with each child.
That would mean that a woman who has had one or more children has been two or more different people in her lifetime. Processing one’s identity in that circumstance would be immensely complicated. My wife, who has been through seven pregnancies, has been eight different people, which must be incredibly confusing.
Meanwhile, a man does not have this transformation and so, biologically, is a simpler kind of creature at the end of his life. True, he may have experienced crises that have altered his biology such as a stroke, a disease, or trauma. But these would be alterations of his fundamental self, not an addition to it.
Louise Runyon in her newest book of poetry, The Passion of Older Women, explores the disconnect between mature women and mature men. She wants to understand why so many mature men tend to seek the company of younger women, rather than women their own age. I believe Martin’s story sheds some light on this question.
If a mature man is simpler biologically and psychologically than a mature woman, it seems logical that he might find a younger woman who has not undergone this transformation to be a comfortable partner. While I can understand the appeal of such a match, I don’t think it’s necessarily a wise choice. While the match might work, abandoning an older partner for a younger one is a missed opportunity at the very least.
If this model of men and woman is in any way accurate, it suggests very different responsibilities for each gender. The woman would have no choice but to make sense of all the identities she’s made it through. She would be, by definition, a miraculous being trying to regain her sense of self.
The man, on the other hand, would have to choose to grow. It would be his responsibility to become the complex person that would be worthy of a mature woman, both to support her and to improve himself. No easy task, but worth a shot, and most likely rewarding.
There are many more questions than answers here, in terms of what we know versus what we don’t know about fetal cells, about human identity in general, and about gender in particular. Nevertheless, I find it a compelling train of thought, and a shot across my bow to continue to grow and develop. If my wife can go through all of that, then she deserves no less from me than my best efforts to at least respect who she has become, all eight of her.
News From a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books
This has been a huge week. You can read my newest interview: "On Playing the Long Game of Creativity" with Dr. Damiam Jacob Sendler. In addition, two of my books were selected in roundups of great Mystery Novels and great Dystopian Novels. Finally, Clavier Companion has published my article on counting while practicing in their January/February 2019 Print Edition.
Adam Cole is a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books. Fantasy author, music educator and performer, Adam chats weekly on the subject of listening, creativity and living your best life. To take a quiz on what kind of music warrior you are, please visit www.mymusicfriend.net