Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pre-Natal Testing: I'd Never Do It Again

The nurses at the doctors' offices I go to always ask me the date of my last menstrual period. I never remember, but I get my period with such frequency that I usually just say "Eh, about 2 weeks ago" and that suffices and is largely true. I'm almost 40...the date of my last period doesn't seem particularly riveting to me anymore. I'm in perimenopause and have not been able to conceive another child, even with the help of fertility drugs several years ago. I honestly could care less about my period, other than its alarming frequency, but I digress.

Flashback to Spring of 1999. I remember distinctly the date of a specific last period: April 22, 1999. I was about 3 months clean of narcotics, from which I'd withdrawn cold turkey (that's another colorful story for another day), and after suffering a miscarriage in August of '98, I felt healthy enough and ready to try and have a baby with my husband. We were shooting for the Millennium Baby: the December 31, 1999 or January 1, 2000 baby and we came damn close. Missed it by one cycle.

I hadn't gotten a period since April 22, 1999, and by mid-May, I was busily purchasing what had to be a dozen home pregnancy tests, all of which came out positive. Never one to believe my own hype, I finally broke down and called my OB/GYN at the time, Dr. Kismartoni, for a serum pregnancy test. Early in the morning, on May 19, 1999, the call came to the house that indeed, "Mrs. Bechtel, you are pregnant. Congratulations."

I awakened Craig, which is a lot like awakening Luke (read: impossible) to tell him the happy news. He roused enough to say "That's great..." and pat me on the head, and he went back to sleep while I called all my girlfriends and my mom. I think Craig had the day off, because the plan of the day was to see "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" on its release date. (A film that sucked donkey balls, by the way.) By the time Craig was conscious enough to process the pregnancy, he was beyond excited.

I was still smoking at the time, and drinking socially, both of which worried me. I'd had some cheap wine with my friend Stacey just the night before I found out I was pregnant, but the doctor's office told me not to worry about anything I had done before I found out I was pregnant (like the year and a half's worth of Hydrocodone and Demerol? That too?). I quit smoking cold turkey too, and didn't take up the habit again until I was going through my separation and divorce.

The pregnancy wasn't without its drama. Dr. Kismartoni couldn't hear the baby's heartbeat on the doppler at my 13 week checkup, by which time he should've been able to hear it, so I went for an ultrasound, only to find a healthy fetus who stared straight into the camera and looked like an alien on the printout. So all good. I was overweight when I got pregnant, which may have contributed to the difficulty in finding the baby's heartbeat.

Very early on in the pregnancy, I developed bilateral iritis, which caused everything I saw to be in a huge fog and I was super light-sensitive. That was the first time I got the "it's not too late to abort the pregnancy" talk, from a fucking opthalmologist of all people, who Rx'd steroid drops for my eyes and who told me the baby was a foreign body in my system, and my system was probably rejecting him. Uh, not true, sir.

Things pressed forward steadily until about the 15th-17th week, when I consented to the Triple Screen Test, which I could've opted out of, had I done more research on it. It tests for 3 specific hormone markers that predict, with a HIGH rate of false positives, whether or not your baby is at a greater risk of flying out of your uterus with any number of chromosomal abnormalities; specifically, Down's Syndrome. My Triple Screen Test, and I remember it clearly, put my baby at a 1/116 chance of having Down's Syndrome, when for my age bracket, the odds should've been more around 1/5,000. I was only 27 years old. Not wanting to be alarmed at the results, knowing the rate of high false positives, I was freaked out but not panicked, until the doctor referred us to genetic counselors at Lutheran General Hospital's Perinatal Specialists. Then I got scared.

Had another ultrasound at around 16 weeks, I think, and the baby was still growing just fine. The profile we saw on the ultrasound, in hindsight, looked JUST like Luke came out looking like. It was freaky. His little face, his form, was already developed, and he didn't look like an alien anymore. He looked like Luke. It was at this ultrasound that they were relatively certain that I was having a boy. Score!

This baby I'd been carrying for almost half a pregnancy...I sat there with Craig at the genetic counselors' office while they told me there was still time to abort the pregnancy, which was unthinkable. IF he had Down's Syndrome, Craig and I would've dealt with it. There was no way I was giving up this baby I'd been carrying for 20 weeks. At that point, I consented to an amniocentesis, which carries with it a heightened risk of miscarriage, not to mention has a needle the size of a mack truck and has results that take 2 weeks to come back.

I've been through some scary shit in my time, I'll tell you, but the amnio had to be the scariest. How Craig stood there and watched that needle go into my belly, I have NO idea. I had to close my eyes as the perinatologist punctured into my uterus to pull what looked like half a gallon of amniotic fluid out from my son's cozy cocoon. They watched the baby on ultrasound, so they wouldn't HIT HIM WITH THE NEEDLE, and told me again that it looked like I was having a boy. (I wanted a boy, what can I say? Though at that point, I'd be satisfied with any healthy child.) After the procedure, Craig took me for cheese fries at Portillo's and I went home to rest, sore and nervous.

In the 2 weeks we had to wait for the results, tensions were beyond high. And to top it off, we had to go to New Mexico for Craig's grandma's 90th birthday. All of Grandma Helen's friends and Craig's family were thrilled at the idea of Helen's first great-grandchild coming soon, and I was showing plentifully by this time, but the well wishes and congratulations were taken with a grain of panic behind them. Here we were in celebratory mode, not knowing if our baby was going to come out with any of a litany of chromosomal abnormalities.

When the results finally came in, we received a phone call from the Perinatologist. As we'd prayed for, there was absolutely nothing wrong with our baby, who, from the test, they confirmed, was a healthy XY chromosomal male fetus. "He's a healthy baby, but that's not to say the test doesn't show that something could be wrong with him down the line..." the doctor had to dampen my mood by saying. (Yes, like "Is he carrying the gene for addiction? Will he be bipolar?" Does he carry Craig's genetic mutation of Factor V Leiden, a serious blood clotting disorder? I now wonder.) Apart from exercise-induced asthma, seasonal allergies and a sassy mouth, my son is completely normal (well, as normal as half-a-Miklasz can be).

I guess my greater point is if you're pregnant, young and in otherwise healthy shape, consider the risks over the benefits of consenting to pre-natal testing that is probably going to give you more of a headache than you certainly deserve halfway through your pregnancy. If you're over 35 and have other risk factors during your pregnancy, have a detailed sit-down with your OB or perinatologist about elective genetic testing. It was, for my family, the most stressful period of our lives.

And for those of you who are expecting a baby and are bitching about how tiresome and stressful your pregnancy is? Just wait, folks. The real fun starts when you bring your precious peanut home..... :)

The tension of the waiting during those 2 weeks is something that was unnecessary, to which I never should've consented, and would urge pregnant women to reconsider when their OB's tell them it's time. The Triple Screen Test is elective. You don't HAVE to have it done. And do the research on it first--the high false positive rate should've been enough to make me think twice about it, but this was my first baby (and last, thank you Luke) and I didn't know any better.

Apart from being a double footling breech, with both feet stuck at zero station in the birth canal, and his head firmly planted in my ribs, with no escape route other than a c-section and coming into this world 2 weeks early, Luke was born a completely healthy, beautiful baby, weighing in at 6 lbs, 6.1 oz and 18 1/2" inches long, on January 16, 2000. (We were at the movies the day he was born too, just like the day we found out we were having him, this time seeing "Magnolia." I don't recommend drinking a 44 oz. pop and sitting through a 3 1/2 hour movie when you're in early labor and you really, really, really want one last social outing with your husband before you birth your child. NOT. WORTH. IT!)

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