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by Edenland

Why Would you be Doing an Amniocentesis?

Amniocentesis is a medical procedure performed on a pregnant woman to withdraw a small amount of amniotic fluid from the sac surrounding the foetus. By about the 16th week of pregnancy, the developing baby is suspended in around 130ml of amniotic fluid, which the baby constantly swallows and excretes. The goal of amniocentesis is to examine a tiny amount of this fluid to obtain information about the baby – including its sex – and to detect physical abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome or spina bifida. Amniocentesis is only performed on women thought to be at higher risk of delivering a child with a birth defect.

What You Can Expect

I got talked into having a nuchal test, when I was 12 weeks pregnant. I didn’t want to, but the midwife looked up at me and said, “If I were your age, I would do it.” I was thirty-frickin-five, but you’d think I was 90, the way she carried on. So I did it, and the initial scan looked fine. I thought nothing more of it.

I had done IVF/ICSI to get pregnant, due to my husband having a vasectomy after the birth of our first child. This was a long pined for, long awaited for, pregnancy. I had JUST started to get happy about it when the phone rang a few days after my nuchal …..

1 in 173 chance my baby had Downs Syndrome.

My bloodwork alone came back at 1 in 30 chance. I tried to not let it worry me, but it WORRIED ME. I had to wait a few weeks, to do an amnio. I knew I had to do an amnio, because I could not panic like this for the rest of my pregnancy. I was so so petrified of the actual procedure, the needle puncturing the sac. It was wrong. Sometimes, we have TOO many tests available to us. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

I took a friend down with me, to hold my hand. She had gone to the same doctor for her amnio a year before. Her baby was in the pram, and gave me hope that all might turn out ok. The doctor had a thick Scottish accent and called me “lass”, in such a tender way that it killed me. The doctor likened doing an amnio procedure to “trying to stab a fish in a bucket with a blunt stick”. I found this disturbing, until I realised he was trying to reassure me that it doesn’t hurt the baby … the needle won’t poke it.

It was awful, but over very quickly. It took two tries, as he had to get enough fluid for the test. Some women I spoke to beforehand didn’t bat an eye about doing an amnio, some had huge concerns, like me. The needlemark in the amniotic sac closes over and heals, we would have definitive results, and all shall be well in the world. I limped around, so scared of miscarrying until about a week afterwards.

I paid a couple of hundred bucks to get the results fast-tracked and the doctor rang me back the next day, telling me that everything was fine with the baby and there were no signs of Down’s Syndrome. As soon as he said this, I realised I had known this all along, but I had gone against my instincts and got a bit bullied into tests and procedures I didn’t really want to do. I was angry for a long time, which was useless really. The baby was fine and that was the most important thing.

I urge anyone to trust their own instincts. It’s hard to say if I would have my nuchal test over again. If anyone is reading this and facing their own decision about whether to have an amnio, only you can decide. It was a great feeling, to know that the baby was fine, but it caused me a lot of angst. If the baby had Down’s syndrome, I would want to know. I might have chosen to not go ahead with the pregnancy, I might not have. I’ll never know.

Personal Tips

Take someone with you during the procedure, as it’s not a good idea to drive afterwards. Talk to other women who have had an amnio. Try to go home and go straight to bed.

All the numbers and odds and statistics can be quite confusing. Remember that you – and your baby, are more than a number. Before the baby was born, my husband got diagnosed with cancer, a mass of extremely aggressive tumours were found in his stomach, courtesy of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He had to go through six months of intensive, soul-destroying chemotherapy. He is now in remission. His chances of the cancer coming back is 1 in 4. We think those odds are fantastic.


1 Karin Thayer { 10.31.10 at 5:37 am }

Hi Mel

I really appreciate your post about your Amnio. I’m 39 now, and about 18 weeks pregnant via sperm from a known donor (I’m a single mother by choice) — and have just had my Amniocentesis a few days ago. The results should be revealed to me later this week. However, almost 3 years ago I got pregnant naturally with my then partner, and was also talked into having first a Nucchal scan, and then, based on those results, a CVS. I was sure that the fetus was healthy and normal, but 3 days later we got the call that the fetus did in fact have Downs Syndrome (trisomy 21).

I was not in the position at the time to raise a Downs Syndrome child — we had neither the resourcees nor the support around us (I’m American, but living in the UK, and most family and close friends are in San Francisco). I’m in a similar position now — but single — and have to admit, I’m on pins and needles about getting the results.

This time, again, my instinct tells me that the fetus is healthy and fine — but I’ve been in this spot before, and was let down in the past.

At the time, we elected to medically terminate the fetus, that is to have a D&C. It remains one of the most traumatic experiences of my life in this lifetime.

I especially appreciate your above story because my doctor, too, is Scottish and has a thick Glaswegian accent. He, too, is perfectly lovely and well mannered and brilliant at his work — and, fatefully, he is the same doctor who performed my CVS almost 3 years ago!

We both acknowledged on Friday to each other what had occurred almost 3 years ago — and how transcendent it would be for this result to be healthy and normal. It would bring things full circle and also allow me to move beyond this particular cycle and move into a new realm — meaning, I’d be able to let myself totally trust this pregnancy, invest in it wholeheartedly with my mind-body-spirit — and move on.

Thanks for sharing your experience with us about this test, and what it meant for you.

Warmly, Karin

2 Karin Thayer { 11.01.10 at 9:11 am }

Hi Edenland,

Mel kindly pointed out to me that the above blog post is yours, not hers! Sorry for my oversight. I got confused because at the top of this page it says “by Lolipopgoldstein” and I think my attention went from that byline straight into the blog post.

Now that I’ve gone back to your post, I see that your byline is also listed, in a manner that clearly shows it’s your post, not Mel’s. And there’s even a link to your blog, which I’ve just looked at. Very nice — beautiful images — and your boy looks so sweet.

So the above comment is meant for you. Thanks very much for sharing your Amniocentesis experience with us.

Warmly, Karin

3 Sky { 12.02.10 at 9:55 pm }

The decision to have an amnio should really be made by understanding what you personally believe is the lesser of two evils.

There is, in fact, a risk of miscarriage with an amnio (no matter how small) and there is, in fact, a risk of having a chromosomal abnormality (no matter how small a risk is predicted by the NT and bloodwork ratios).

I asked myself this question. If I miscarried this baby at 16 weeks because I chose to have an amnio, could I live with that? Of course I’d be devastated – but could I forgive myself and move on?

If I didn’t have the amnio and had a baby with a chromosomal abnormality, could I live with that? Would I regret not having had the decision to terminate because life with a seriously ill child would be impossible for me?

When I looked at it in that context, it was an easier decision for me.

I have a friend who swore she would choose to terminate for a chromosomal abnormality but refused an amnio. I personally think that’s foolish because you’re risking an outcome you would never knowingly choose.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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