Since I’m about halfway through my pregnancy, it’s starting to dawn on me that I’m probably going to actually give birth at some point.  This time around, I’m determined to donate my baby’s umbilical cord blood.

Cord blood is rich in stem cells, which have been used successfully for the last thirty years to treat various types of cancer, as well as blood, immune, and metabolic disorders.

Although it is harvested from a newborn’s umbilical cord and placenta, cord blood stem cells are classified by most as adult stem cells. They are safer for the recipient, and more versatile, than bone marrow transplants; and umbilical cord blood therapy neatly sidesteps the ethical horror that is embryonic stem cell research (which, by the way, has yielded nothing but medical disappointments, despite the popular hype).

The actual collection process couldn’t be easier for the mother donor, who is probably going to be otherwise occupied with laughing and crying and babbling, “Oh my gosh, it’s a BABY!” (or am I the only one who does that?).  But the preparation for donation can take some time—it’s something to ask your medical provider about in the second or third trimester, so arrangements can be made.  Some hospitals are equipped to take care of the process from start to finish; others will agree to collect the cord blood if the patient provides a kit from a cord blood bank.  Some doctors charge a fee (usually $100 or so) to perform the collection, but others do it for free.

You may, of course, store your baby’s cord blood for your own family’s use, especially if another family member has a disease which might be treated with stem cells—a family donor makes a match more likely.  Banking cord blood is expensive (usually over a thousand dollars for the initial process, and then hundreds of dollars per year for storage). 

Because of the high cost of testing and storage, public blood banks are still relatively few, and not all donors are eligible.  But the benefits are so great, it’s definitely worth looking into.  Here is an excellent resource for all sorts of information about donating and banking cord blood, including a list of participating hospitals and blood banks who will assist you if your local hospital is not on the list.

I absolutely love the idea of giving birth, and at the same time extending help and healing to a stranger somewhere else in the world.  I love the idea of life giving rise to more life—the notion that help is waiting everywhere, maybe hidden under layers of something that seems worthless.  A very G.M. Hopkins-esque idea, isn’t it?  Hopkins never imagined sterile bags and cryogenics labs, but the thought of finding life-giving cells in a used-up placenta kind of made me think:

. . . nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things

and though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Well, maybe that’s a little bit weird, but still—glory be to God, whose mercy is just as present in modern medical science as it is in the untouched natural world.  Praise Him.