January is blood donor month, so here I give a huge THANK YOU to donors everywhere. In the first few months of life, blood donations became one of the best baby gifts my son received.
We never had a shower for him. He was born before 24 weeks, and for several months after his birth we still weren’t sure if he’d live. Having a very sick baby clouds the normal joy of childbirth. People aren’t sure what to do or say. My friends wanted to show their love and support, but they didn’t know how.
One friend, Faith, got that. Her twins had been born a decade earlier, and she still spoke of the NICU experience as if it were yesterday.
Maybe it was because she had been there, but she was able to think of an alternative to a shower, more perfect than I could have imagined.
She organized a blood drive in his honor.
When she told me her intentions, my son was a few months old. By that point I had learned first-hand what blood meant for babies, and I nearly cried. A shower for blood – a blood-drive shower – was the perfect gift. At birth my son’s body wasn’t yet ready to hold its own heat, his eyes remained fused shut, and he couldn’t keep up with the new environment’s demands for red blood cells. Blood draws and breathing became a normal part of his life four months before his due date. Within a few weeks, like many micro preemies, he developed anemia of prematurity and received blood. Surgeries further compromised his system and caused need for even more blood. In total, he received blood parts over half a dozen times.
At the blood drive, friends – even friends who had never mustered up the courage to give before – lined up to provide blood for babies (and others in need), all in my son’s honor. And it was beautiful.
My five year old was too young to give, but her outlook on blood changed that season. “People say blood is gross,” she said as we talked about the blood drive, “but we all have it, we all need it to live. It’s not gross, it’s cool.” Watching our son’s color and energy change after a blood transfusion, I gained my daughter’s perspective. Far from gross, blood was amazing, live-giving, and nearly magical.
At the blood drive we set a scrapbook on the recovery table, full of tiny baby pictures and a birth announcement. We put out a few special mementos from the NICU and set out a thank you note from our family. It didn’t look like your typical shower. The baby was already born, and the gifts given that day weren’t for him. Instead each gift meant the possibility of life for several babies like him. To me those gifts were better than any baby blanket or onsie could ever have been.
Maybe you’re like me and never thought much of blood. I started giving blood in high school because I wanted out of math class, and free cookies sounded nice. Some part of me figured it was also a good thing to do. I never pictured that my gift could mean the possibility of a long life for a small child.
Clearly my outlook on blood donations changed after having my son. Blood and premature babies are forever linked in my mind now. By the time he was three months old, he’d outgrown the need for blood, but during those first three months, blood transfusions became a very normal part of his care plan, and those transfusions saved his life.
As a parent, it may be shocking to hear that your child needs blood, but for premature babies, it is not uncommon. Anemia of prematurity happens in most infants born under 1 kg (2.2 lbs), and in many premature babies born at larger birth weights. Red blood cells from donors are a standard course of treatment.
To donors: thank you. You’ve saved my son’s life, and the lives of many like him.
And parents: if your friends desire to do something to help, suggest a blood drive. The blood won’t likely go to your child, but it may save another child’s life. In some states the mother is able to give as well, even if it is shortly after birth during the post-partum healing process, as long as that blood is going to her baby. Check with your doctors if you are interested.
Blood may not be fashionable, but it makes a great gift. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.