A Deeper Look at Prenatal Tests

pregnant woman holding her tummy

A mother’s conversation with her Obstetrician about prenatal testing

Prenatal testing can sometimes have the effect of opening up Pandora’s box as one test leads to another. What should parents consider as they opt for prenatal tests?

When I was pregnant with my second child in 1990, I was meeting with my obstetrician for a routine prenatal visit. The topic of whether or not to have the AFP came up. Since I had a healthy 15 month old, I asked him if having a healthy child increases the likelihood of having another one.

He said no, it didn’t.

He then said to me, “Brenda, the bottom line is, would you consider terminating this pregnancy?”

“No,” I answered.

He replied, “Well, there is no reason to have the test then.”

He then added, “In fact, we have stopped recommending the AFP test based on something that has happened with one of our patients. She had a positive result on the AFP test. An amniocentesis was done to confirm the diagnosis.”

His face fell as he continued. “She miscarried a perfectly normal baby as a result of the amnio.”

He paused. “For that reason, our practice has decided to make the test available but we no longer recommend it.”

After all these years, remembering this conversation still causes me to ponder so many things.

Questions to Ask about Prenatal Testing

  • Is it helpful to know or even desire to know so much?
  • What does the effect of stress do to the baby and the parents?
  • What if parents are told there is a grave problem and based on that information, they have an induced abortion? What if it then turns out the baby was fine?
  • What if the baby is not “perfect” but the problems are not as serious as they appeared in all of the testing?
  • Even if the baby isn’t “normal”, are parents prepared to deal with the inevitable grief of ending their baby’s life?

There are so many questions and not so many answers. I wonder if prenatal testing is a bit like being able to glimpse into the future. Does it help us to know or worry about what is coming? Or are we trying to control things that we are not meant to control?

A Benefit to Finding out?

Some medical experts will tell you that it is important to have prenatal tests done even if you would not consider an abortion. You might hear that knowing about your baby’s problems will help in the event that your baby needs help after birth. I have found that in either case, whether problems are known or not, a baby that needs specific evaluation or surgery from a specialist is typically transferred to another facility since most community hospitals where babies are born do not treat specialized cases and rarely if ever do surgery on newborns.

My reason for writing this article is to tell parents that I have personally known many parents who have started down the road of multiple prenatal tests and with it, experienced months of anxiety, only to find out the baby was fine. Or like the obstetrician’s story above, a client of mine who shared with me that in her previous pregnancy, an amnio caused her to lose her baby due to an infection. I have only talked to parents who have regretted their decisions to have prenatal tests in the first place, not those who wished they would have had prenatal testing.

Prenatal tests give statistical results. They are never 100% accurate. They are always stressful. And they will typically result in either normal results or more invasive testing. Two questions to ask yourselves are:

  1. What information do we hope to get?
  2. Is the information we are getting worth the risk or the stress of having the test, regardless of the result?

Share your personal opinion about prenatal testing here.

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