Here’s my story about when I had to undergo an amniocentesis test while pregnant. I was so desperate to find out more about it before I had it but didn’t find much at the time so I hope this helps somebody….
I will always remember the Valentine’s Day of 2013. It was a Wednesday and my husband and I had a six-o-clock dinner at Pizza Hut. Our table for two was surrounded by happy but noisy families while one child dipped his fingers in the dressings at the salad buffet. But none of this bothered either of us. We were almost oblivious to the occasion and had only stopped on the way home from work as neither of us had the energy or inclination to cook. The following day was going to be a big one.
It had started on the Monday morning. I’d not long been sat at my desk in the office when I had an unknown number call my mobile. It was a midwife at the hospital with my blood test results. I was 16 weeks pregnant and she asked me to come and visit her as soon as I could. We had agreed to all the screening tests available – after all, I’d assumed that they were all going to be clear so there was no harm in getting this confirmed.
We went to the hospital immediately. I physically shook as the midwife told me the results indicated the baby was at high risk of Down’s Syndrome. She went on to explain that there were actually three types of condition that the baby could develop; the first being Down’s Syndrome which we’re probably the most familiar with. The second was Edward’s Syndrome, a severe condition which disrupts a baby’s development and, in many cases, causes them to be miscarried or stillborn. Of those that do survive to birth, half die within two weeks. The third was Patau’s syndrome; a rare but usually fatal condition where the baby would die within days of being born. After hearing all of this, I could barely speak.
We had two options; the first was a test called amniocentesis – where a long needle is inserted through your abdomen, into the womb and to take a sample of amniotic fluid to test the baby’s DNA. This would allow doctors to give us definitive answers. The other option was to carry on with the pregnancy in ignorance and hope for the best. The problem with the amnio is that things can go wrong; inserting a foreign object into the womb isn’t natural. It can cause infection, there is a risk of the needle touching the foetus and, worst of all, there is a one in 100 chance that the procedure can cause a miscarriage.
The official advice is that if you’re not going to have an amnio, it is best not to take the initial screening test in the first place but as I mentioned, I was convinced everything would be perfect. But when it may not be, what do you do? Spend the next five months wondering and worrying or put yourself at a new risk and find out the truth? Unfortunately, I am a worrier. The not knowing would torment me and I would be able to think about nothing else. I needed to know. I kept replaying the reaction of family and friends if we called them up when the baby was born and there was a problem – hearing their joy turn to sadness and pity. I imagined the silence in response and the resounding ‘oh’ that would follow the news. It plagued me that the birth of our baby would be received in this way instead of with delight and excitement. In fact I couldn’t stand it. At least if there was a problem, we could prepare for it. Most of all I needed to be sure that the baby was going to survive. The midwife told me that women of some religions actually carry on with the whole pregnancy even if they know their baby will never live past birth because they don’t believe in ending life. I couldn’t imagine being pregnant for nine whole months and not being able to take my baby home with me.
We were booked in for the amnio on the Thursday of that week. And so the Valentine’s Day which fell the day prior meant nothing to us. It was just a day of waiting and hoping.
The amnio took place in the room next to where I’d had my 12 week scan. I was quickly ushered passed the couples who were expectantly waiting for theirs. Lying down on the bed, my stomach was cleaned before the ultrasound revealed our little baby on the screen. The medical team marked where they’d assessed to be the best place to insert the syringe. I lay deadly still as the needle pierced the skin and penetrated my body, I barely dared to breathe. I’d been told the procedure would be uncomfortable but it was painful – not that I cared as at this moment as the baby woke up and started to wriggle. The doctor quickly moved the needle up and down to avoid the baby – with success – before removing it completely. We had to wait until the baby was calmer. I think she knew something unnatural was happening and her home was being invaded. Second time around, things went smoothly. The sample of fluid was taken and the needle removed. Fortunately it was only at this time that I caught a glimpse of the large metal needle and the generous amount of transparent yellow fluid it had extracted.
The sonographer printed out a string of ultrasound pictures for us which we stared over as we waited to be discharged. At this moment, all the tension in my body released – I started shaking and almost fainted before vomiting.
Once home, I crawled under the duvet and snuggled into bed. I’d been signed off work for nearly a week and been advised not to overdo it. But some sort of preservation instinct took over me and I barely moved out of bed for nearly three days. All I wanted to do was protect my little baby. I knew I was being over cautious but I didn’t want to risk anything happening now that I had got this far. I prayed continuously through the weekend until, on the following Tuesday, my husband took the call. The midwife excitedly reassured us that the initial test results were clear. Within two weeks, we’d have the full results but that was more procedural than anything else.
We were overwhelmed with relief and knew how blessed we were. It was from then I felt that I was more than just pregnant – I felt like a mother. Whereas previously we’d discussed whether we’d like to have a little girl or boy, who they’d look like and who they’d become, it no longer mattered. The cliché of only wanting a happy healthy baby became our reality and that’s what we’d been blessed with.