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.