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SOAPBOX: What does this single cell remember?

On KJZZ's SOAPBOX, The Show  turns over the the mic to listeners. For the summer 2022, writers tackled the theme HOME.

There, I am. The possibility of me, in my grandmother’s womb. One of 5-7 million egg cells in the 20-week-old fetus of my mother.

In the early weeks of pregnancy, the amniotic fluid is mostly water, from the mother. After 20 weeks, it’s mostly the baby’s urine. Proverbs 5:15: "Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well."

As a 20-week fetus, my mother’s reproductive system is fully formed. It’s mid-December 1944. World War II is raging in Europe. As Germans drive into a wooded and serene region of Belgium, the Allies’ line appears as a bulge.

The Nazis surround thousands of American troops and cut them off from other allies. The Belgian townsfolk put away their Allied flags and bring out the swastika.

In 1944, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture responds to the apparent need for a dairy cookbook and publishes “Favorite Recipes from America’s Dairyland” featuring “nutritious and zestful” meals. Recipes are selected from over 17,000 entries from around Wisconsin, which are tested by women in various home economics departments.

According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the settlement of Wisconsin by European immigrants, including my Dutch and English ancestors, “was preceded and made possible by the coerced reduction of tribal lands and the forced removal of Indian populations” after the Black Hawk War of 1832. Pamphlets extolling the states’ virtues were published in German, Norwegian, Dutch, and English and distributed throughout Europe with ads in more than 900 newspapers. Bessie Bandsma marries Nick Kikkert in Trexel, Netherlands. Together, they immigrate to Wisconsin and beget Emma, my grandmother, in 1906. My Dutch grandfather, Fritz, immigrates to Wisconsin in 1929. The Battle of the Bulge is one of the bloodiest of World War II. Yet, the Allies advance into France. Hitler and his wife commit suicide in a bunker in April 1945. My mother is born in Wisconsin on June 2, 1945. At the time of her birth, she has 1-2 million egg cells in her ovaries.

In 1945, I am one egg cell, undeveloped and unfertilized — no ears, no eyes, no heart or lungs — yet — but a nucleus, the genetic material of my yet-to-be self. I am, in this cell state, a biological witness to my mother’s childhood and young adult life. She is my home.

But what does this single cell remember?

Survival.

To become a viable egg in a mother’s reproductive system, an egg cell must hold on through the absorption of thousands of egg cells into the mother’s body during her childhood and puberty. Eventually, these cells become 300 viable eggs over the course of her menstrual life.

Boys are not born with all their sperm cells. They produce them throughout their lifetime.

The cell memory of women is long — woven and braided into a textile that could smother injustice — but it’s also shamed. Women are taught to forget.

I am born on July 15, 1969. My cultural home was made in Wisconsin. In 1994, I left the roots of my family tree. I could no longer distinguish which scars in the bark were my grandmother’s, my mother’s, or mine. My home for the last 28 years has been this indigenous land now known as Phoenix. Here, I am — to be, not beget.

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