Since I began writing about my experience with CReATe Cord Blood Bank, I've had many friends contact me to ask about the cord blood banking process and to get my thoughts on whether or not they should look into banking their own babies' cord blood. Though I'm by no means an expert, nor am I in the position to tell anyone what they should do when it comes to making this very personal decision, I can speak from my own experience having just given birth to my second daughter two months ago. I can now say that I feel really good knowing that Fiona's umbilical cord stem cells and Peristem cells have been harvested and are being safely stored in CReATe's state-of-the-art facility. While there are many misconceptions circulating about cord blood banking (including the incorrect belief that banked cells expire after a certain number of years or that a patient cannot be treated with his own cells) and many people are hesitant when they hear about the associated cost (about the same price as a high-end stroller) I can say with all honesty that if I had the chance to go back in time and bank my first daughter's cord blood as well, I most certainly would.
Probably because like investing in insurance, it's one of those things you pray you'll never need to use, but can sleep better at night knowing you have, just in case.
The cord blood and Peristem banking process was totally painless and involved no effort on my end. Because my labour was so fast, we ended up forgetting our banking kit in the car but didn't need to worry as CReATe is prepared for moments like this and proactively provides select hospitals with Emergency Collection Kits. The doctor handled the harvesting process, my husband packed up the kit and called for the medical courier and off it went. The harvesting of the cord blood and Peristem cells didn't interfere with my delivery in any way—in fact, I hardly knew it was happening. All in all, the experience was unmemorable—in a good way.
Since people are still asking my opinion on cord blood banking, I feel as though I should stay abreast of what's going on in the field. Through CReATe's Facebook page I'm alerted to new studies and advancements in stem cell therapy. And, it was through their Facebook page that I found out about their information evening/webcast that brought together a diverse panel of experts to speak about cord blood and tissue stem cells banking. The webcast is still available online and is worth watching if you're one of those parents in the process of considering the pros and cons of cord blood banking. July is also cord blood awareness month and CReATe encourages all expectant parents to explore more about the different options available to them. You can check out when their next information session is online.
For me, watching the webcast, it was great to hear of the advancements in medical science and the countless clinical trials that are examining the potential use of cord blood stem cells and Peristem cells for a variety of illnesses and maladies.
It was also quite interesting to see Dr. Frances Verter in person. I have been fascinated with her work since I stumbled upon her website: Parents Guide to Cord Blood Foundation. I wrote about her story in my first cord blood banking post, and I still think it's one of the most powerful testaments to why parents might consider cord blood banking. If you're feeling uncertain about cord blood banking or not sure where to find unbiased information, Dr. Verter's site is the perfect place to start. This is an example of the honest language she uses to discuss cord blood banking:
"Parents usually wish to bank cord blood for their family on the premise that many more uses for the cord blood are around the corner, and that is probably true, but it is not a certainty. For this reason, family cord blood banking is a form of "health insurance," where parents make an investment based on what is known now, as a hedge against future developments."
As part of her presentation to the audience brought together by CReATe on May 7, Dr. Verter spoke about "emerging therapies" or new applications of cord blood stem cells. She explained that there are a number of pediatric disorders for which children are currently being treated with their own cord blood in clinical trials.
"What is most notable about these emerging therapies is that they all treat conditions that are not rare, conditions that a child is much more likely to experience than a stem cell transplant. The second important difference is that, whereas stem cell transplants require large cord blood collections, the emerging therapies can be successful with small collections," Dr. Verter writes on her site.
As part of her presentation, she spoke about the regenerative potential of stem cells to treat conditions such as Cerebral Palsy, Traumatic Brain Injury, Autism, and Type 1 Diabetes.
Also worth noting was the presentation made by Professor John E. Davies, President and Founder of Tissue Regeneration Therapeutics Inc. (TRT). His company owns the patent for the extraction of the Peristem stem cells, scientifically referred to as Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), from the umbilical cord tissue. The process was developed in Dr. Davies' lab at the University of Toronto and is exclusively licensed, under patent, to CReATe—making them the only bank in Canada currently able to harvest these cells. When you bank with CReATe you're given the choice to bank just cord blood cells, or to harvest a portion of the actual umbilical cord for Peristem extraction. Having chosen to do both, I was interested in the future possibilities of these cells.
According to Prof. Davies, in 2004 the first clinical trial using MSC (extracted from bone marrow) was conducted. Just eight years later there were already over 250 clinical trials underway using these cells (including, by 2012, 27 using cells extracted from the umbilical cord as an alternative to bone marrow) as therapeutics for a vast range of diseases.
Because the cells are more easily accessible via the umbilical cord (as opposed to bone marrow) there is increased potential for their use in therapies across the board wherever tissue and organs are involved.
While much of what was being said at the CReATe presentation was highly scientific, the main message was easy to understand. The future of stem cell therapy is great and harvesting and banking these cells from the umbilical cord is regarded as one of the least controversial and most easily accessible means of doing so. While I'm not so into science and will likely need my husband to continue translating for me, I look forward to reading about the advancements in this area and relevant applications. While I pray I'll never need to see first-hand what Fiona's stem cells can do—it's reassuring to know they're being kept safely for us, just in case.
A few weeks ago my incredibly brave three-year-old took my mother by the hand and pulled her toward the Dragon Roller Coaster at Centreville, the amazing kid-friendly amusement park on Toronto's Centre Island.
My mom went with her because I refused to. I don't like roller coasters. Even if they don't go upside down.
After the ride, my daughter looked slightly terrified..but also extremely proud of herself. My mom said that as the ride began, she looked over at Willow and noticed a look of panic on her face. "Just close your eyes and scream," my mother told her. And so the two of them did just that.
Somehow this has come to be a perfect metaphor for life with a toddler. Despite the fact that I really really don't like roller coasters, it seems I'm riding one...on a daily basis. This past weekend was the most frightening.
Perhaps it was the full moon.
Or maybe the heat.
Or because her beloved daycare teacher announced she'd be leaving at the end of the week.
Or, maybe it was just because she's 3!
No matter the reason, the roller coaster ride began mid-week and continued through Saturday, culminating in the longest, loudest temper tantrum I've yet to experience.
What made this particular ride so terrifying, was how unpredictable it was. One minute our little girl was her usual, happy self...and the next...we were all running for cover.
How did I handle all of this?
Let's just say I wouldn't be called out by a Andrea Nair for my exemplary parenting skills.
As most roller coasters do, this one started out slowly. I braced myself. I tried to ignore the unreasonable protests. Tried to pretend I didn't hear the whines. I tried to divert her attention. And I asked her calmly what was bothering her.
But, the louder her screams got, the harder it became to ignore. She didn't want the new wagon we had just bought her. It was for the sand, not for the house. She didn't want to take a bath. She wasn't tired. She didn't need to eat something.
I wanted the ride to stop so I tried reasoning with her. "What's really making you so upset?" "Can you please stop yelling?" "Let's go do something fun." No such luck.
The louder she got, the more panicky I felt.
Get. Me. Off. This. Ride.
Every time the roller coaster seemed to be slowing down, I'd take a deep breath. But then it would start up again. I'm pretty sure I cried. I definitely said "I can't do this," about a hundred times. And finally, when I just couldn't take it anymore...
I took my mom's advice: I closed my eyes and screamed.
(Actually, my mom's advice is to read parenting books. I've bought them...just haven't read them yet.)
Thank god, Sunday morning the roller coaster came to a full stop. My little girl woke up smiling and remained in a good mood all day.
But the thing with the toddler roller coaster is...you never know when it will start up again.
Here I am almost three months into baby Fiona's life.
So far, I've managed to keep my freelance writing and editing business running, pay all of my monthly expenses (including daughter #1's daycare tuition) and maintain my sanity (more or less, depending who you ask).
But, there are days when Fiona wakes up and starts to cry...at the exact same moment I'm about to pick up the phone to dial a client for a conference call. When I quickly pop her into the swing, turn it on, and pray that the movement lulls her back to sleep...at least for 20 minutes. And then I make my call, struggling to keep that sleep-deprived fogginess at bay long enough to comprehend what's being said to me and respond in a lucid and intelligent way. On these days I start to feel a bit guilty...and a bit crazy. Am I am a bad mom for making my baby sleep so that I can work? Am I ignoring her too much during the day? I wonder, was I insane to not have planned better for this period in our lives so I didn't have to work when she was so new?
The thing is, I didn't really want to take an official 'mat leave.' I've been working since Willow started daycare to build up the momentum of my business so I don't have to actively seek out new work every few weeks. And with a new baby on the way, I wasn't keen on letting the momentum wane, only to have to ramp it back up again when Fiona turns one. Those who run their own businesses surely can relate. Plus, while I'm being completely honest, although I do love being a mom, it's not enough to keep me stimulated every day. I don't actually know what I'd do with myself if I were to take the whole year "off." (I know, mat leave isn't really a year off at all, in many ways it's more "on" than working in an office every day.) The days I spend at my computer are much less exhausting than the days I'm on mom duty! If I wasn't working, I know I'd spend way too much money on toys, and clothes, lunches, and coffees (which, according to my husband, I'm still managing to do anyway). I'm the kind of person who needs to be busy. Who loves to have plans. And who can't sit still for more than a few hours without going stir crazy. And while it would be nice to spend the year socializing, I would most certainly be broke by the end of it. I enjoy my work (most of the time!) and having the flexibility to work from home means I should be able to do it ALL...right?!
I'm trying anyway...
I'm trying to keep my business running smoothly: to challenge myself and take on assignments that require me to stretch my mind (mommy brain be damned!) and to balance my more permanent clients with new business opportunities.
I'm trying to get enough sleep at night so that I can sit down at my computer for a few hours a day without falling asleep on my keyboard.
At the same time I'm working to give baby Fiona a good start in life. I'm trying to spend enough time staring into her beautiful brown eyes, listening to her coo, mirroring her adorable smile, and helping her reach new milestones every day.
I'm also trying to keep up my social life. To spend time with friends who are on mat leave (to commiserate about life with a new baby and a toddler), to keep in touch with friends who live in other cities, and to schedule play dates for ME.
I'm also committed to enjoying the sunny days (when we have them). To get outside in nature and get enough exercise that I'll eventually be able to fit into my pre-baby wardrobe.
And then there is the pile of books on my nightstand that I really want to read. A few parenting books (that I hope will make life with a toddler easier) and some novels, all bought with the anticipation of having more time to read once Fiona was born (ha!).
I also have 'thank you' cards to write, a baby book for Fiona that I pledged to keep updated, groceries to buy, vacuuming to do...oh and did I mention the thousands of pounds of laundry that require washing, drying and folding every single day.
At the end of the day, I want to have something left for Willow when she comes home after a busy day at school, tired, emotional, yet somehow still full of energy. I want to be able to play with her. To enjoy her company, rather than rushing her off to bed so I can finally put my feet up.
And, I want to be able to carry on a conversation with my husband, to maintain an adult relationship despite the fact that every time we start to talk with one another, someone seems to be hungry, or thirsty, or in need of attention...NOW!
Some days all of this seems totally manageable. I can do it ALL!!!!!
Yet on others...all I want to do is climb into bed and take a nap!
More on this later...the baby's waking up.