You’re every woman

Turns out the Chaka Khan classic was spot on, says Tanya Meeson
Woman&Home, May 2022

I may have been born in 1976, but I was created in 1949. Chances are, since you’re reading this, you were created sometime around then as well.

It was a strange time, wasn’t it?

The first atom bomb had been dropped and World War 2 had just ended. The world was reeling, trying to rebuild and negotiate a new vision of human rights while the beginnings of the Cold War and total global devastation loomed. South Africa had just legislated a crime against humanity, Big Band jazz was making way for doo-wop and rock and roll. It was still six years before McDonald’s would open…

But there I was – or, at least, the potential of me – strands of DNA in a teeny tiny egg, hidden in the folds of the teeny tiny ovaries in my small, unborn mother squirming against the walls of my grandmother’s belly. In truth, I was as much my grandmother’s child as my mother’s.

You could say the same for your genesis.

While you might’ve been birthed by your mother, the coding for you was created in your maternal grandmother’s womb, infused with the mitochondrial DNA inherited from her grandmother’s grandmother and her grandmother’s grandmother all the way back to the very beginning of humankind.

You are the inevitable expression of a million women who have come before you.

In fact, about the time that the possibility of you and me became possible, a new scientific field of research was emerging. Epigenetics is the study of how behaviours, food and environmental factors can alter the expression of your genes by flipping markers for this or that condition on and off.

Each of these a link between us, one to another, from the last of our line to the next, ad infinitum

For example, your DNA may be coded for Type 2 diabetes but unless you stress and eat yourself into it, those markers won’t necessarily be flipped on. The weird thing is, these flips start happening in utero and can be passed on from generation to generation in something called epigenetic inheritance or foetal programming.

What your grandmother ate, what she drank, if she smoked, if she was stressed out … every aspect of her life affected the cells of your mother’s body down to the very egg that would one day create you. The same could be said of your grandfather. Do you know that they’ve found a link between a man smoking in prepuberty and his granddaughter’s depression and weight management?

There’s something so remarkable about that. As if each body is a time capsule of everything that’s gone before and all that might come in the future – not just in DNA and those epigenetic markers and how we pass these on like a baton to our children and they to their children in this endlessly repeated relay race, but how these very physical building blocks of life represent our lived experience with all its emotional and spiritual nuances, each of these a link between us, one to another, from the last of our line to the next, ad infinitum.

I can’t help but feel that science is catching up with what artists and spiritual teachers have known for years: if it’s not dealt with, the past is something that happens today. A wound inflicted on your grandmother, if not healed, will become your mother’s tears, and then yours as you pay your exorbitant therapy bills.

Of course, all the good stuff is there as well.

I didn’t know my maternal grandmother or my mother. My grandmother died before I was born, and my mother when I was two. But my body knows them; knew them before my conscious mind could, was imprinted with their care, one to the other to me: my grandmother’s bold spirit, my mother’s tenderness, clear in old photos and letters, clear in the way I love.

As I write this, we are living yet again in our grandmother’s world. It seems the past, much like the future, just keeps happening. There is talk of a world war and the threat of nuclear devastation; we’ve just lived through a pandemic and climate change is at hand. It makes me wonder what generation of grandchildren mothers and fathers are creating today, what will be written in the bodies of our future from this wild time we’re in now.