We recently found out we’re having another boy.
It happened a little earlier than normal because I got a call from the genetic counselor. She said I needed to come in for a detailed ultrasound and possible amniocentesis: Our test results showed a higher-than-normal risk for Down Syndrome.
I had done the sequential screening test (they measure the thickness of the baby’s neck with ultrasound and then take blood samples from the mother at two different times to look at hormone levels). Our results showed a one-in-two-hundred chance of Down’s.
Half a percent? That sounded good to me. But apparently for someone my age (almost thirty) it should be one in 700.
I called my friend Dierdre who is pregnant with her third boy. Dierdre has done all the mid-pregnancy tests, and gotten all manner of results, and so far (knock on wood) everyone is healthy and happy. If Dierdre hasn’t gone through what you’re going through, she knows someone who has.
Dierdre’s first rule is don’t look on the Internet. So when my husband said, “Let’s look online,” I said, “NO WAY!”
Too much information. We’re awash in it, and our pregnancies are marked by blood draws, ultrasounds, amnios, hormone measurements… Don’t get me wrong, I think these are all wonderful tools. In fact, the high-risk clinic told us that because of all the additional screening that’s done, they’ve been able to actually cut in half the number of invasive procedures (like amnio) they perform during pregnancy.
But that’s the logical side. Then there’s the emotional side.
You worry during pregnancy. You worry before getting pregnant. For many people, pre-conception is one of the loneliest, most invasive, and most emotionally wrenching parts of building their families. We were lucky and got pregnant very quickly, but you still worry. My former boss said that pregnancy is the start of a lifetime of worry. It’s true, and I’m pretty laid back.
So anyway, when I heard that our odds of Down’s weren’t normal, that I needed to come in for extra testing, my logical side thought: everything will be fine; you’re already so blessed to have Mr. Pants and to be pregnant again with little fuss; our family can get through anything; the odds are so small anyhow.
But then I hung up with our friendly, neighborhood genetic counselor, and cried big cries.
I think others out there will empathize that after a call like that it feels like a really heavy, old, dusty theater curtain just dropped on top of you, and you’re waving your arms around, trying to get it off.
My midwife suggested reading the book Expecting Adam by Martha Beck, about the author’s very magically real experience of carrying Adam, her son with Down Syndrome. Granted, our odds were so small, but my emotions needed a deep tissue massage, and this book was perfect. I would highly recommend it.
A week later, I went in for the testing. We opted not to get the amnio. These are all very personal decisions and I am adamant that there’s no right way. Families may want the chance to choose to have the baby or not; they may want to know for sure what to expect and get prepared. The bottom line is that it’s up to you.
For us, the extra-detailed ultrasound showed no heart or palate abnormalities (about 50% of Down’s babies present physical symptoms in ultrasound), so the doctor said he could take the chances down to one-in-four-hundred. A half of a half of a percent.
Who knows what will happen, but my friend Dierdre would say that if you were a bookie, those would be pretty damn good betting odds. And we got one nice surprise out of all the stress: our ultrasound showed in extra detail that it’s another boy for the pack. That made us smile. We’ll be taking him however he arrives.