One day when my oldest two were little a woman ahead of us in line at the grocery store commented that I looked like I had my hands full. “What do you do for yourself?” She asked. Without thinking I told her I give blood.
She was more confused at that comment that I was hers. (My kids had been exceptionally well-behaved that day, and my daytime charge had already gone home. That trip to the store was a piece of cake. My hands did not feel full.)
I explained that when giving blood I had a block of time wherein no one could touch me and the only people who spoke to me did so to ask me how I felt. I usually brought something to read because napping is frowned upon during a donation. Reading is a luxury to a mother of young children. Therefore having “no touch” quiet time and some reading material fit all the criteria for me time.
My father donated blood regularly when I was a child. He told us it was for the free cookies, but we knew it was more than that. He didn’t make a big deal about it, he just did it. His example stuck with me. He is no longer eligible to donate and laments his free ride to cookies. But he is proud of me for following his path.
I saw very few blood drives while I was in college and none of them were convenient enough to make me get over the hurdle of the scary first time. Shortly after the birth of my first son our church held a blood drive. We had some friends who had recently lost a child to stillbirth. We were mute in our grief; there was nothing we could do to ease their pain. As the clipboard came around for the blood drive, however, I realized that while I couldn’t help my friends I could help someone. I could do so in honor of that sweet babe. I could help ease someone else’s burden. It would not be the only time I donated blood to help me process my grief.
I donated blood my very first time despite the objections of well-meaning church ladies who didn’t think a nursing mother should donate blood. (You cannot donate while pregnant but there is no such prohibition while nursing. If you prepare properly you can donate with no extra problems. I’ve donated blood several times as a nursing mother.) It was uneventful and easier than I expected.
It’s been thirteen years since my first blood donation and I’ve donated a couple dozen times since then. Each donation can save up to three lives. I like to try to think of the people whom I’m helping, and of their families. With my donation I want them to know that even though I don’t know them I care about them.
I donate most regularly with Red Cross but have donated with other local organizations and hospitals. The Red Cross blood donor app makes it easiest, however. Whenever I feel ready to donate I simply open the app and search for a blood drive near me that fits my schedule. With the Rapid Pass I can complete a large portion of the screening before I arrive in order to save time. I have a friend who has had multiple negative experiences donating blood. After a long conversation I made her promise that before she gave it up that she please come with me to a Red Cross blood drive. They have the nicest vampires, I told her. I also promised to never ask again. She gave Red Cross a try and had a positive experience!
Not everyone is eligible to donate, so I consider it a sacred responsibility as someone who is eligible to make an effort to donate whenever I can. I have a friend, a more frequent donor than I, who says “whenever I feel down I just look at my donor card and it reminds me: B Positive!” We like our corny blood jokes. I can’t use his, but I can urge my friends to give it a try. I know you’ve got it in you!
My tips for preparing for a good donation and a smooth recovery:
- drink extra water the day before, and eat healthy meals
- seriously drink more water
- drink more water right before your appointment
- have another cup of water just for good measure. You have to go to the bathroom? Good.
- read something during the donation, especially if you are anxious about the needle
- drink a full water bottle as soon as you are done before you have any of the provided snacks
- take another water bottle to drink in the car on your way home
- take a nap
- eat hearty, healthy meals the rest of the day
- you gave life, now you have to take it easy
- I usually feel a pint low for 24-36 hours