I had a long list of things I meant to do before having my daughter almost three years ago. I meant to clean my bathroom. I meant to buy a nursing bra. I meant to inform my health insurance company about her imminent arrival, get a bassinet and shave my legs. I also meant to look into cord blood banking.
But then she came three weeks early.
I had gone in for a routine early morning OB appointment. Pretty soon, I found myself in a cab speeding to the hospital after my doctor determined that my water had broken and had probably been leaking for the past week. At the time, my thoughts were more on figuring out how to contact my sleeping boyfriend, whose phone I knew was turned off, than they were on dealing with all my unfinished business.
Thanks to a friend who had our keys, my boyfriend was roused and made it to the hospital before our baby did. And despite the urgency I had felt during my appointment, things didn’t move so speedily once there and we had plenty of time to kill. So in between watching bad TV and sneaking snacks, we perused the cord blood brochures lining the nurse’s station.
They looked a lot like the ones I had spent the last nine months ignoring in my doctor’s office. On the cover was a cute little tot with her T-shirt pulled up to reveal a cute little bellybutton. The promise of umbilical cord stem cells and amazing predictions for their use in curing everything from blood disorders to leukemia served as text. Rounding this out was a section dedicated to testimonials from parents of sick kids who were deeply grateful that they had banked.
Once I bothered to look at it, the pitch was pretty effective. Suddenly, the $2,000 collection fee and $250 a year storage cost didn’t seem so outrageous. I mean, this was our daughter’s future health we were talking about!
So we went for it.
A few months later I asked a midwife friend for her thoughts on cord blood banking. She scoffed, telling me that the reality of any child ever actually being cured of a disease due to her own cord blood was pretty miniscule. She hadn’t banked blood for either of her daughters and slept just fine at night. She also gently mentioned that some people viewed private banking as uncharitable and instead opted to donate cord blood to a public registry. This, she explained, was not only free, but was done for the greater good. Publicly banked blood could be used to treat medical conditions in anyone who was a match. Oh.
Now with my second baby due in a month, and despite the fact that my boyfriend is still on the fence about the issue, I am not inclined to bank privately again. Not only is the cost prohibitive, but the motives of these banks seem more driven by profit than science. Subsequent research alerted me to some things I hadn’t realized the first time around.
For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t support the practice of private cord blood banking and challenges the claims that doing so is a form of biological insurance. Calling the private storage of cord blood “unwise,” they explain that people can almost never be treated by their own cord blood, because those stem cells would likely be affected by the very condition you were hoping to cure!
On the flip side, a little more poking around the internet did teach me that the cord blood we stored for our daughter might not be totally worthless. There is a 25% chance that siblings will be a perfect match for each others’s cells. This means that the blood I banked for my older child might actually be beneficial for my younger one. I guess that’s less creepy than people who specifically have a baby in the hopes that its bone marrow could be used to treat a sick older sibling, yet it still seems weird.
A recent conversation with my father almost made me reconsider private banking. He was nervous when I mentioned that I was probably going to skip out on banking for the upcoming baby and put scary thoughts in my head. These weren’t about the medical risks I could avoid. Rather they were about the resentment and sibling rivalry I was already creating between the still gestating fetus and his big sister.
The cord blood we stored for our daughter might not be totally worthless. Still, it’s seeming more and more likely that if we bank again, we’ll go the public route. Of course, doing that requires a bit of planning. Finding a place to store blood privately turns out to be a lot more straightforward than tracking down a legitimate public bank and making sure the hospital where you’re delivering does cord blood collection at all. And in the grand scheme of things, researching this falls behind figuring out when I should go on maternity leave, locating a mohel who won’t balk at my kids’ non-Jewish dad, and coming up with a name for this upcoming baby.
Maybe one day cord blood banking will be a routine part of the post-birth experience. But since it currently isn’t, we’ll just try to do what makes the most sense in the moment.
Of course, both the idea of using my daughter’s blood for my next child, and the issue of banking blood just to be fair, might be moot. When my boyfriend and I started to talk about this the other night, he reminded me of something I’d forgotten. At some point in the last year we got a letter from the cord blood folks. The credit card we put the storage fee payments on had expired.
“Did you ever give them a new one?” he asked.
“Nope. You?” I said.
“Nope,” he told me.
So maybe our decision has already been made for us.