The first milestone most women work towards in pregnancy is the 12-week mark – the end of the dreaded first trimester. It’s a key milestone for a number of reasons. Firstly, if you’ve had a kak first trimester and struggled with morning sickness, you generally start to feel better after 12 or 13 weeks. Secondly, it’s the point at which most people start sharing their good news more broadly, because the odds of losing the baby reduce quite significantly at this point. And finally, between 12 and 13 weeks is when the various down syndrome tests are performed.
The first test is a diagnostic ultrasound performed by a specialist – either a diagnostic radiologist or a specialist gynaecologist (the latter of which is substantially more expensive). During the scan, they measure about a million different things from skin folds to nose bones and the size of the little tummy.
The second test is a blood test that looks for certain markers, indicating the risk level of the pregnancy. The older you are, the higher your risk, regardless of any other factors. Throw IVF into the mix and – for whatever reason – you’re a higher risk.
The final test, which most doctors only opt for if you have markers on (either or both) the scan and the blood test, is the amniocentesis. An amnio is an invasive procedure that involves sticking a moerse needle through your tummy and into your uterus to draw up some of the fluid around the baby. Genetic testing is then performed on the fluid to ensure the correct chromosomal count. The procedure is relatively risky and has – in some cases – resulted in miscarriage.
Becs and I had discussed the tests at length and had decided to do the scan and then play it by ear. We’d heard so many horror stories about the blood tests returning a false positive, resulting in unnecessary amnios and unnecessary risk to mom and baby. So, we decided, if the scan came back “clear”, we wouldn’t do any of the other tests. And if the scan presented any concerning results? We would – as they say – cross that bridge if we came to it.
The whole point of all of this is to give parents the option of terminating the pregnancy if they discover the child is down syndrome. The idea of termination after we’d fought so hard to get here seemed completely ludicrous, but the idea of raising a down syndrome child was terrifying on so many levels. It’s these situations that really give meaning to phrases like “between a rock and a hard place” or “between the devil and deep blue sea”. We didn’t have a clue what we would do if the tests came back with markers – would we terminate? Would we push on? How would we afford the additional expenses that undoubtedly come with a down syndrome child? If we did terminate, how would we afford to do this again – we’d exhausted our savings and then some? Would we ever forgive ourselves either way?
Unfortunately, Becs couldn’t get off work, so I went for the scan on my own. It was daunting, but I kept reminding myself of the silly things we’d pinned our hopes on – the dream I’d had of him when I was 10-weeks in, blind faith, the gods…
In the consultation after the scan, the doctor unpacked the reasons he advocates the blood test and how the odds of correct diagnosis increase with each subsequent test. I told him about the false positive stories we’d heard and how we had decided to trust the results of the scan. He insisted I take the form for the blood tests anyway – just in case we changed our minds. I thanked him for his time and the form, and left his office.
I called Becs from the car to give her the good news and tell her that – although I had the form – I didn’t think we’d need the blood test. She agreed wholeheartedly and reiterated her confidence that everything would be fine.
That evening we shared our announcement video on social media. And the blood test form? That’s still stuck on the side of the fridge, all-but discarded.