Wednesday, January 6, 2010


For those not in the know, amniocentesis is a medical procedure they sometimes perform on mums-to-be to make sure that junior isn't chromosomally abnormal. The actual procedure is pretty simple - they stick a foot-long needle into your abdomen - hopefully puncturing your uterus and the amniotic sac within - and suck out a few millilitres of amniotic fluid. Okay .. maybe I exaggerated about the length of the needle. But not by much.

Typically, amnio isn't offered to women unless:

a) they're above a certain age where risks of foetal abnormality increase, or
b) they've had other scans (e.g. nuchal translucency) which shows that the probability of foetal abnormality is fairly high.

The reason for this is that the amnio itself isn't risk free. At worst, there's about a 1/200 chance that the procedure will result in miscarriage. So if you had gone and had a nuchal translucency and the risks of Down's Syndrome were 1/1000 - many medicos would refuse to carry on with an amnio (even if you wanted to be 100% sure), simply because the risk of a miscarriage as a result of the amnio was 5 times greater than the risk of having the Down's Syndrome baby at all.

BUT. Those are both probabilities of risk. What about consequence? If the 1/200 amnio miscarriage came up - that'd be nasty, and upsetting, and all manner of sad things. But if you're lucky, there's always the chance to have another go. If your 1/1000 (let's say) Down's Syndrome chance comes up, that's it. You have a child who will be cognitively impaired (to a greater or lesser extent), be more vulnerable to all sorts of nice little syndromes, cancers and other diseases, and will have a significantly shorter than normal life-expectancy. If severely cognitively impaired, then it's likely that your Down's Syndrome child will never grow up to be an independent, productive person in society.

Despite what it sounds like, I'm not a rabid communist, or madly in favour of eugenics. And I know I'm not in the minority when it comes to wanting to abort a foetus with significant chromosomal problems. If I'm going to bring someone into this world, I want it to be a little human being who has the best possible start in life ... no matter what comes later. After 4 years of trying, I don't make these decisions lightly.

So - I had the nuchal translucency (results as above), and then, yup, I went ahead and had the amnio. I'd wanted to go straight to the amnio, but I guess that the risk of miscarriage has all the doctors around here a bit jumpy, so they forced the nuchal on me anyway.

The amnio procedure wasn't as bad as I'd imagined - despite how it sounds, I'd rate it somewhat above a flu jab on the 'pain' scale, and probably below the needle stick you have when you're giving blood. Or about the same. Either way, nothing to write home about. After the operation was entirely another matter, however! I'll preface this with a disclaimer: I am not normally squeamish about medical goings-on. I've had quite a few things done over the course of my life - many of them pretty unpleasant - but at the end of them, I was generally just relieved it was all over, and ready to get the hell outta there! This time? Different story entirely. So fluid was collected, needle was out, all was looking A-OK, and I started feeling a little woozy. I closed my eyes - sometimes I get a little head-spinny, and can just ride it out with a few deep breaths. But that strategy didn't appear to be serving me well. Woozy graduated to dizzy, and dizzy upped the ante. I didn't actually pass out, but felt extremely hot, felt like the heart was hammering, and that I just couldn't get enough air. This all became pretty apparent to the hospital staff, because they tipped the bedhead down into a most uncomfortable U-shape (yes, yes, get the head down, I know), and clamped an oxygen mask on my face. And the weirdest thing - given how I felt - was apparently my pulse was very slow, and my skin was very cold and clammy. I love it when the body gives you 'opposite' signals (temperature goes up, you feel cold, etc). At about the point where they were exhorting me to breathe slowly (in through the nose, out through the mouth), I started feeling pretty darn queasy. Yup - I was gonna realise one of my big panics, and hurl in front of a large number of people, and I had nothing to vomit into. I warned them what was coming, and they almost got the mask away fast enough, but no buckets - so I was puking into my hand in an effort not to cover their expensive ultrasound equipment in partially digested berry smoothie. Had I also mentioned that my pants were around my knees for this whole incident? So much for standing on one's dignity. *sigh*

Anyway .. after the vomiting, I actually felt much better - woot! The first time ever that I've felt GOOD after puking!

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