The Umbilical Cord Dilemma

There’s no end to the number of items being hawked in the hallways of the maternity ward, but none forces you into a moral and ethical dilemma like umbilical cord banking.

The pamphlets encourage storing the blood from the newborn’s umbilical cord “just in case” your child eventually faces a terrible disease, the only hope of a cure for which exists in the stem cells harvested from the cord blood. We recovering Tiger Moms can’t let a phrase like “just in case” just go by, and I agonized over what to do about this. This garden hose-like thing which gave life to my fetus could someday potentially be a life-giving source for the second time. If we don’t save it now, then they just medically dispose of it like old maternity clothes.

Indeed, the harvested stem cells from the leftover umbilical cord could provide the cure for the yet-diagnosed disease which your child — or someone else — may face in the next 100 years. The cord blood is sent to a bank where they freeze and store for it future use for a low monthly storage fee (plus shipping and handling). The catch is that you don’t actually bank it for yourself. It goes into a pool, in the same way that your ordinary donated blood goes to a blood bank — you don’t necessarily receive back your own donation should you ever need an infusion. I also didn’t catch the fine print about stored stem cells not necessarily working so well on the original donor. “Some experts are concerned that an ill baby who receives his or her own stem cells during a transplant would be prone to a repeat of the same disease,” the brochure explains.

While the Pitocin dripped into my IV, I tried to read the various literature about this issue. Mind you, my brain was getting blurry with each passing minute, so the message was getting all jumbled in my head. So, simply put, here’s what I understood:

1. I can have someone grab my umbilical cord immediately after giving birth and pay them to freeze and store it for me for years and years “just in case” and pay thousands of dollars for this service.

2. I can grab the cord myself after giving birth and put it in my own freezer back at home. I can whip it out when I need it and use it at that time.

Easy — I’ll go with door #2!

But the more I thought about this option, the more I was reminded of my episode with the top tier of my wedding cake. We had every intention of storing it until our first anniversary, at which time we could celebrate by eating that small cake. The sad reality, though, was that we moved twice during the first year of our marriage, so the cake thawed and refroze so many times that, by the time we reached our one-year anniversary, it was frost-bitten, dried out, and inedible.

I imagined that same disappointed looks on our faces when, in a dozen or so years, we stand ready with our newly-purchased portable centrifugal machine from Sharper Image in our kitchen ready to harvest our own stem cells, only to pull out a frost-bitten, mummified, and useless umbilical cord. What will we do then?

Before I could come to a conclusion about this dilemma, however, the timing window had passed. We were too busy celebrating the birth of our newborn and didn’t revisit this issue until we were about to be discharged. Oh yeah–stem cells!

“Ummm, about that umbilical cord,” I mentioned to the nurse. “Can I still have it? I have an empty Chinese takeout box to put it in.” Too late — medically disposed of by the staff.

A missed opportunity.  Have I doomed our children’s health forever?  Major parent fail?

Did you also miss the opportunity or did you grab it?  Does anyone actually still have the cord blood banked somewhere?  Go ahead — make me feel bad about myself.  Or good.

Parenting and Why We Go Broke

They say it costs a lot of money to raise a child.  I know the reason why: you go broke before you even leave the hospital.

The hospital corridors are teeming with vendors hoping to cash in on the sentimental value of giving birth.  The offerings are numerous and mind-boggling, but one of the first things they get you with is the newborn portrait.  You know the kind — they grab your baby within hours of birth, comb the wispy hair down to the side, bribe the baby to stay still for 30 seconds, put their finger tips together like an old professor giving a boring lecture, and get him or her to look right at the camera and say, “mmmm.”

“Your baby is a one day-old only once.  Why not capture the moment…if you are a decent human being and a caring parent AT ALL,” the brochure states (well, with a little embellishment on my part).  How could I refuse, indeed?  I opened up my wallet and purchased my baby’s very first portrait.  I don’t recall the price, but I’m sure it was not cheap.  I did have the presence of mind, however, to resist the accompanying calendar, key chain, t-shirt, mug, birth announcement, water bottle, and posters plastered with that same photo.

While proudly showing my son’s very first portrait to my parents at the hospital, I took a glance at a newborn portrait in another mom’s arms as they were preparing to be discharged.  Well, that photo looked exactly like my own!  The kid also had wispy hair combed to the side, skin that looked at once pasty and ruddy, and eyes which were still puffy and therefore thin and slanted.  And the kid wasn’t even Asian!

Then there was another one down the hall which also looked just like mine.  And another one.

Oh, I see what’s going on.  They ARE all the same photo!

Newborns change in appearance rapidly during the first 24 to 48 hours of their lives, so by the time they take the photo and bring the baby back 15 minutes later, the picture no longer resembles the newborn in your arms anyway, so what’s the difference?  I think they took one photo of a generic kid back in 1985, and they have been reusing the same photo for decades in hospitals all around the world!  All newborns look shriveled, and you can’t tell if the kid is a boy or girl, Asian or African-American, Hispanic or Caucasian, blond or brunette, awake or asleep.  Lighten or darken the hair a bit, add a bow for a girl and a blue hat for a boy and there you go!

Case in point: put black hair on this blonde girl, and you would have my son Joshua.

I hate to admit it, but this was the first of many portraits that come in those large, white envelopes with the crimply clear plastic front which I ended up purchasing.  I tell myself each time that this will be the last time I’ll buy my child’s official portrait, but I just can’t stop myself: nursery, preschool, kindergarten, baseball, recital, first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade…and so on. I always get suckered into that message that, as a good parent, you must not miss a single opportunity.  You will NEVER have a second chance.  You will do this if you are a decent parent, especially if you’re a Tiger Parent.

I will discuss in my next post some other items offered to me for purchase before leaving the hospital.  But before I go on, tell me about the various items you ended up paying for at the hospital or shortly thereafter for your own newborn.  Come on, you were suckered in too, weren’t you?  Feel free to comment here!