My Dead Mother and Me.

Grieving, healing, and changing the story I tell myself.

Mindy Stern
Published in
6 min readJan 10, 2024


Space_cat via I-Stock

Gloria died 29 years ago tomorrow, one day before my birthday. She couldn’t take one more year of that day. Such is the pain of relinquishing a child, of birthing a human and surrendering it to strangers.

Such is the pain of storing that secret so deep in your body, one day it becomes cancer and another day you are dead.

In her article in The Atlantic, “The Most Mysterious Cells in Our Bodies Don’t Belong To Us,” Katherine J. Wu writes about microchimerism, fetal cells that drift from the womb into the mother’s organs.

The tiny cells — so small they are almost undetectable — mould a mother’s health for her lifetime. Decades after giving birth, microchimerism can be found in a woman’s heart, liver, lung kidney, and brain.

And colon.

On January 11th, 1968 an Arctic freeze blanketed New York City in record breaking cold. Gloria Gerwin, 23, suffered alone in her swanky Manhattan apartment. When the agony — a stomach flu she thought — became too great to bear, she telephoned her best friend Alexa. When Alexa arrived, Gloria collapsed on the parquet wood floor.

“Don’t tell Tom,” she said, as the paramedics closed the ambulance doors. But of course Alexa called Tom. He was Gloria’s older brother, he had to know.

For hours, Alexa sat on a blue hard plastic chair in the emergency room, tapping her feet, kneading her hands, praying. Doctors only permitted Tom to stay with Gloria. When he finally emerged, Tom told Alexa that Gloria was fine.

“She’s having surgery to remove an intestinal blockage.”

Gloria didn’t know she was pregnant. Her brother made sure no one else did either.

Throughout a pregnancy, microchimerism go back and forth. Fetal cells drift from the womb into the mother, maternal cells drift into the developing fetus. Throughout our lives, these cells linger, grow and divide.

Scientists believe children carry the cells of their mothers, their aunts, uncles, and siblings born before them.