I’ve always found the idea of adoption intriguing. At 17, I had an adventure in Africa with a group of friends and a teacher from school. We went on safari, spent some time climbing mountains, and then built some play equipment for the Light in Africa orphanage. When we weren’t building the play equipment, we played with the children. I remember Mama Lynn, the amazing lady who runs the orphanage, told me that there weren’t enough adopters and that she would need to expand the orphanage, which had just two sites at the time and has nine now in 2021 at the time of writing this blog. I looked in disbelief at the gorgeous, chuckling children having their tea in front of me and wondered how it could be possible that people weren’t fighting to be their parents.
Fast forward to 2015, I was pregnant with my daughter and discovered, through the standard pregnancy blood tests, that I have rhesus negative (RH-) blood. The midwife assured me that it would be fine. “There’s no risk to your first pregnancy, and you will be given injections during pregnancy to ensure that there is no risk to future pregnancies.”
Except that it wasn’t fine. And there was a risk. The midwife went on to say that I would need to go in for an extra injection within 48 hours if I had any accidents such as bumping my bump on a door handle, having to brake too hard in the car and feeling the seatbelt squash my bump, or falling over and landing on it. I panicked. I had slipped over the day before and only lightly squished my bump as I gracefully became acquainted with the floor. Suddenly the very gentle bump felt like it may be life-threatening to any future babies.
The midwife advised against looking it up on the internet, to avoid unnecessary stress during pregnancy, so obviously, as soon as I left the appointment, I looked it up on my phone. Good grief, that was a window into a world of paranoia that I did not wish to see. There are countless groups of conspiracy theorists who believe that people with RH- blood can shape-shift or that they are aliens. While I am normally fascinated by the conspiracy theories that other people believe in, the worry for my baby was more important, so I just found those websites unhelpful and irritating!
Eventually, I managed to find some informative websites that clarified it: if my daughter’s RH+ blood made its way into my RH- bloodstream, my blood would treat it as a virus, develop antibodies to it, then try to attack any future baby with RH+ blood. RH+ blood is the dominant blood type, so the internet estimated a 15% chance that future babies my husband and I created would have my blood type and be not at risk from my blood. I didn’t feel great about it, but had the jabs and all medical professionals assured me “there’s no risk to your first pregnancy.”
A few months and 3 very painful Anti-D injections later, my incredible daughter was born. Labour was horrible. Jon and I agreed during the 3 days of contractions that even if my antibody levels to his blood type were low, we would adopt any future babies. As it happened, the antibodies weren’t low. In fact, my body had developed antibodies and then they had gone back into Zoe’s bloodstream and were attacking her. Zoe needed medicine for 3 months to ensure that my blood didn’t damage her and cause health conditions to develop, such as brain damage, deafness and blindness.
The medicine worked well and my daughter never even showed any symptoms, but I still feel sick remembering how it felt waiting for her 3-weekly blood test results, to check that the medicine was working. To check that my body wasn’t destroying my baby. I have had a lot of health problems over the years, but I have never felt so betrayed by my own body.
Doctors told us that we could still have more children biologically, but that I would need to be monitored closely and may need blood transfusions into the womb. That thought filled us both with terror, so we considered other options. In theory, we could have used a sperm donor who had the same blood type as me, or a surrogate who didn’t have the same RH- problem, or we pondered briefly that maybe there was some clever doctor out there, who could select RH- embryos and implant those into my womb, which would still be a safe environment for an RH- baby. We just didn’t feel excited about any of those options. They felt medical, scientific, and stressful. I had a friend who had adopted 9 years previously. He warned me that it could be really, really tough. Somehow I didn’t feel put off, perhaps because despite his warning, I could see that he really loved his children, and they sounded awesome. I felt excited at the thought of adoption. It felt right.