Giant Needle in the Belly: The Amniocentesis

The genetic counsellor told us that the rate of miscarriage after an amnio was 1/400. To me, it could have been 1 in 1,000,000…any risk of miscarriage was too high for me. Experiencing a miscarriage is a type of grief that you cannot describe with words. I could not due justice to the feelings that come along with the loss of a child, but for everyone who has experienced this I know you are acutely aware of what I mean. I knew that if something happened I would never forgive myself so even though we had made our decision I was still worried.

An amnio is a diagnostic test used to investigate chromosome abnormalities and genetic disorders. The accuracy level of these tests is 98-99% so we went into the appointment confident that we would have our answers soon. The procedure is simple… they drape you in a surgical drape for sterility, then they take a huge needle and jam it through your abdominal wall and uterus to extract some of your amniotic fluid. Since the baby is shedding cells into the fluid, this gives them the ability to look directly at baby’s DNA. I know this is a really barbaric description, and it lacks some eloquence… however it is exactly what happens. They do the procedure with ultrasound so I could watch the needle going into my womb. It was almost like the baby knew what was going on and to be careful, because despite how active it was at the last appointment, it didn’t move a muscle while they were performing the test.

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It was painful, but I believe that is to be expected when something is piercing through your uterus…however, it was not so painful that I couldn’t do it again if I had to. I think I was mentally prepared for the physical pain, I was expecting it, and it made me better equipped to handle the procedure. What I was not ready for was the emotional effect the test would have on me. As soon as the doctor finished and left the room I broke down and started to cry. Maybe it was witnessing such an invasive test, maybe it was my fear of miscarriage, maybe it was insecurity at what the results would tell us, but I think a lot of it was a lack of control. I felt like I was being forced by life’s circumstances to have this procedure, and that feeling of powerlessness combined with putting my baby at risk for something as stupid as monetary considerations weighed heavily on me. They say “mom guilt” is something you inherently start to feel as soon as you have a child but I think it starts as soon as you try to conceive…guilt at not being pregnant quickly enough, guilt if you miscarry, guilt when you do become pregnant but don’t want to share it with someone close to you who is struggling to conceive, guilt that you’re too sick or tired in your first trimester to play with your toddler so you let them watch tv all day… guilt, guilt guilt…

Luckily, there were no complications from the amnio, and we were called into the office to discuss the results after about a week. The genetic counsellor said “Well it’s not Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida, or Cystic Fibrosis but there was an abnormality with baby’s chromosome 18”.  As a nurse this scared me, I knew that Trisomy 18 was a very serious medical condition but that was the extent of my knowledge on chromosome 18. She said it was something she hadn’t seen before… an inversion on a piece of the chromosome, and that without further testing we wouldn’t know what that meant clinically. Also, as a precaution we would have to do a fetal echo to look at the baby’s heart and make sure everything was developing normal. I was in disbelief, I thought that by going through with the whole procedure we would have our answers and know exactly what to expect… not more questions! Over the course of the next year I would realize that often more testing leads to more questions however, this was just the start for us and I was so upset. In the end we decided not to go through with any more testing, and that we would just take the rest of the pregnancy in stride…day by day, and hope for the best.

After what felt like endless deliberation we decided since we were dealing with a potentially life threatening situation, the only responsible decision for our family was for Ella and I to remain in Canada for the duration of the pregnancy in order to access the Canadian healthcare system. We had heard the horror stories about American medical bills and we weren’t willing to compromise the rest of our family life for 6 months together. But just because it was the right decision didn’t make it any easier…

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