3. Down’s Syndrome Tests: When “what if” comes very close to “most probably”: Amniocentesis

Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon by Robert Delaunay  This work is in the public domain in the European Union and non-EU countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years or less
Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon
by Robert Delaunay
This work is in the public domain in the European Union and non-EU countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years or less

On the day of the amnio, I got pretty selfish. Firstly, there was the fear of an amnio triggered miscarriage, something underlined, emphasized and highlighted everywhere I turned to for more information. On every page on the internet, whether scientific research or personal experience, the possibility of miscarriage differed from 1 in 200 to 1 in 1600. Moreover, the numbers apparently changed based on the hospital and doctor, a matter in which I did not have much of a choice.

As if all this was not confusing enough, the procedure itself was described as being very painful to a tiny pinch on the tummy. I am pretty scared of pain and needles so the idea of having a huge needle piercing into my belly and fooling around in me, especially so close to the fetus was not a comforting idea.

Still, the morning of the amnio, husband and I were the people we usually are in nerve wrecking foreign situations: funny. This helped to deal with the anxiety of the inescapable and tasteless procedure I was to go through.

In the procedure room, the nice nurse did an ultrasound to see where the fetus was… This was the second time we were seeing it, a sneak peek into my womb, the tiny thing’s dwelling. At first it was asleep; in contrast to the last time, it was completely motionless with only the red and blue interchanging colors showing the heart beat. While the nurse poked around to determine the best spot to insert the needle, as far away for from the fetus as possible, it woke up and started moving around. That was a heart melting, lactation stimulating, hormone invigorating moment. The thing I haven’t yet met in person was reacting to physical contact like an ordinary human being.

Then she left to fetch the doctor who was busy with another patient. When they came back and had a look again, the fetus had moved. Something I found surprising, since both hubby and I like to remain stationary most of the time. It also made the fetus more human than ever, with all these attributes coming together to make up the first aspects of a personality.

Finally, the dreaded moment arrived and the needle was prepared for insertion in latex wrapped hands. I started singing a tune I heard a few minutes before I entered the room to calm my nerves. The husband was playing with my hair like I had asked him to the night before to help me relax.

And pinch! That was it, like having an ordinary blood test… But when the needle went through my womb into the amniotic fluid sac, then I felt a bit of a cramp, as the doctor had warned me. I thought it would affect my lower abdominal like menstrual pain but I felt it more in my vagina, which was unexpected.

Then, I looked at the ultrasound screen and saw my fetus, just below the needle moving around. Once inside, the doctor withdrew the needle and what was left was the tiny soft tube to extract the fluid. This was done because as I could see on the screen, the thing in my womb, the fetus seemed to be reaching out to the foreign object in its surroundings, and a sharp needle could have caused problems. For the first time in its lifetime, it was encountering something so strange. And as the doctor said, “babies are curious whether they are in the womb or out in the world”.

In a matter of seconds, enough fluid was collected and the tube was taken out of me. What I felt was definitely not pain but more of a new strange sensation. That was it. All in all, the procedure was fast, the nurse and doctor were nice and comforting, and it was painless.

Once I got home to rest for the day, much more relieved than I had been for the last few days, with no major cramps, discharge or fever indicating miscarriage or infection, I thought about the fetus movements I saw on the screen. Then I thought about how long it usually takes for a baby to actually realize what is going on around it, much less react to stimulants with conscious movements such as reaching out for an object. Thus, I decided what I saw on the screen just below the needle, was nothing but normal motions the fetus was going through on a regular day and any other meaning I wanted to attribute to it was the motherly affection I couldn’t retain easily with my hormones.

Now is that “fun” part where we wait for the test results… One more month, and I will find out whether I will become a mother or not. The emotional and intellectual debate we are having in us will have to continue for yet another month. I have to say, I can now understand much better anyone who might choose to carry on with their pregnancy in spite of a genetical problem a test shows. Yet, for us the choice is the opposite.

By the way, on the ultrasound, there was nothing protruding from the baby’s torso… Can it be a girl?

2. Down’s Syndrome Tests: When “what if” comes very close to “most probably”: Brooding and Dilemmas

Panic Attack or Anxiety PTSD by George Grie This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.
Panic Attack or Anxiety PTSD
by George Grie
This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.
This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

Normally, when it comes to such matters, I consider myself to be logical and ready to act based on scientific facts and numbers, but I still couldn’t help crying for a while before going back to work that day after the clinic. What if the fetus really does have down’s syndrome? How about the 1 in 400 risk of a miscarriage after an amnio? What if I lose the baby – I mean fetus – and a month later, the results are of a perfectly healthy baby? How does one cope with that?

At home that evening, I was surprised and also pleased to see the husband, for the first time in his life, doing research into the ethical side of the whole matter. The “what if” he had been asking himself for the last few hours was what would happen once we got the results of a defected chromosome fetus. We have seen the baby – ugh, fetus – on the ultrasound, we have lived with it for 4 months and we have been making future plans for 3 people and despite all our efforts to prevent it, we have established a bond with the tiny fragile life in me.

One month later, once we got the “positive” results as in positive for defected chromosome, after 5 months of living together, we were supposed to end the life that depended so much on us to survive. At this point, we realized, that was exactly why we had to choose to interfere in the pregnancy. There was no way of knowing how severely our child would be affected and there was a chance it might depend on us for the rest of its life. Even if we were ready to give up on the future life we had pictured for ourselves, what would happen to the child once we were gone? How would he/she live on? Who would be there to help? What kind of a life would await him/her without us around?

I ended feeling close to what Dawkins meant when he said it would be immoral to bring a child under such conditions when one has a choice.

Thus, we made up our minds to go for the amniocentesis the next day.

1.Down’s Syndrome Tests: When “what if” comes very close to “most probably”

Arlésiennes (Mistral) by Paul Gauguin  This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
Arlésiennes (Mistral)
by Paul Gauguin
This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.

On Tuesday September 23, on my birthday, I got a call from my obstetrician’s clinic. They had received my trisomy 21 results, the test showing the probability of me carrying a baby with down’s syndrome. I was expecting the results any second but I was not expecting a call… And definitely not an emergency appointment during a week when my own obstetrician was away on vacation and I would have to see another doctor.

Based on the manner the appointment was scheduled and the mere fact that I had gotten a call from the clinic, I could have worried myself to tears for the next two days but husband and I decided to see it as a standard procedure where they would be calling anyone whose results were ready in order to avoid any possible complaints from patients although I knew the likelihood to encounter otherwise was high.

And yes, on Thursday I did find out that the results were not so bright. The trisomy test gives you a certain percentage as to the possibility of your fetus having down’s syndrome. And this possibility rises with age, and of course your body’s age. I was 33 when I got pregnant and turned 34 this week. Normally, I try to eat well, though not a crazy sports fan exercise whenever I can, I don’t smoke and in fiercest weeks, I used to drink a glass of wine per day. So I was surprised that my blood test proved my body to be that of a 36 year old woman and that my possibility of carrying a fetus with down’s syndrome had risen from 1 in 500 before the trisomy tests to 1 in 200 afterwards. The threshold being 1 in 300, I was offered an amniocentesis.

While all this information was being poured on us, both the husband and I were trying to take notes on our notebooks like good little students but I was jotting numbers in a meaningless order because no matter how much I had prepared myself for the worst, I still hoped to hear “your numbers are just fine, and you do not have much reason to worry about anything”.

Waiting for that very sentence, staring blankly at the ob, trying to digest the info, relying heavily on husband’s skills with numbers and probability theory, I watched as the nice ob I was seeing for the first time in my life arrange an amniocentesis for the next day at the hospital giving us the option to not go if we chose to have the baby no matter what the chromosomes may show. Before doing so, she also added that couples who chose to have a baby with down’s syndrome after getting the amniocentesis results had a better chance of staying together in the future than those who refused the amnio only to have a down’s syndrome kid while expecting a perfectly normal one.

Numbers and words floating in our heads, we left the clinic and came the time to brood and fight with dilemmas…