During my trip through Albania I did a lot of thinking and research and eventually concluded that I wanted to have the amniocentesis test. This was not a decision I took without a great deal of thought, so in this post I have decided to share what I learnt in the hope that this can help anyone else who is faced with this very difficult decision.
- What is the amniocentesis, or amnio, test?
It is a test that you may be offered during pregnancy to check if your baby has a genetic or chromosomal condition, such as Down’s syndrome, Edwards’ syndrome or Patau’s syndrome.
Amniotic fluid surrounds the unborn baby during pregnancy and provides protection. The procedure involves the removal and testing of a small number of cells found in the amniotic fluid. It can also be used for infectious evaluations and removal of excess amniotic fluid (more on this below, unfortunately!).
2. Why did I need to have this test?
The hospital recommended that I have an amniocentesis to screen for a whole array of genetic and chromosomal conditions, on the basis that it is rare for a baby’s stomach to not develop without some other complications.
Later in my pregnancy I had two amnio-reductions (this is where excess amniotic fluid is removed to reduce maternal discomfort). I needed this procedure because I ended up with ‘polyhydramnios’, which increased the risk of preterm labour. In my case, this was a result of Mia not being able to swallow and process the amniotic fluid. In total I had over 4 litres of amniotic fluid removed.
3. When does an amniocentesis test usually get carried out?
A genetic amniocentesis is usually carried out between 15-20 weeks. The risk of complications is higher if it’s carried out before the 15th week of pregnancy, which is why the test is only done after this point. My amniocentesis test was carried out on 1st April 2019 when I was just over 22 weeks.
4. Did I have to have the procedure?
The simple answer to this question is no, it is always up to the individual whether they want to have a procedure or not. In my case the specialist consultant was very keen for me to have one. The idea of having the test was to arm both the doctors and myself with as much information as possible prior to my baby’s birth.
5. What are the risks of this procedure?
While it can help determine the viability of a pregnancy, the procedure can also jeopardize it. One of the main risks associated with amniocentesis is miscarriage; this is estimated to occur in up to 1 out of every 100 women who have the test and it is not known for certain why amniocentesis can lead to miscarriage. Most miscarriages occur within 3 days of the procedure, however in some cases it can occur up to 2 weeks later. There is also no evidence that you can do anything during this time to reduce your risk.
It was all this uncertainty and risk that quite frankly drove me a little potty. I found making the decision to have this test one of the worst bits of my pregnancy (and as you will discover over the next few weeks, there were some pretty dark days).
6. What actually happens during the procedure?
My amniocentesis was carried out by a foetal medicine consultant. She used an ultrasound scan to determine the position of the baby and located the best place to remove the sample of amniotic fluid. A long thin needle was then inserted through my abdominal wall and into my uterus so that she could remove the required amount of amniotic fluid via a syringe.
My sister accompanied me to the procedure, and we had decided beforehand that I would close my eyes and focus on my breathing whilst Sara would watch the ultrasound screen like a hawk and will Pink Peanut to stay away from the needle. This method worked well for us!
7. How long does the procedure take?
The amniocentesis test itself only took about 10 minutes; the whole consultation however lasted about 30 minutes. This allowed the consultant to explain the procedure, get my consent and set up the equipment. After the procedure I was monitored by a midwife on and off for about an hour in case the test had caused any side effects such as heavy bleeding. Sara took the opportunity at this time to go to Costa Coffee and get us both a well-earned bacon sandwich and cup of tea!
8. Did it hurt?
Before the needle was inserted into my abdomen the area was numbed a little with anaesthetic. The actual procedure hurt a bit however it was not for long and then I just felt uncomfortable for the next 12 hours, as though I had been punctured on one side of my bump!
9. What happens afterwards?
You are advised to have someone to drive you home and to avoid any strenuous activity for the rest of the day. I was certainly pleased to have followed this advice as I couldn’t have imagined going through the procedure alone. After Sara delivered me back home, I spent the rest of the day lying on the sofa with my feet up watching Netflix. Just what the doctor ordered!
10. Would you have another test again in the future?
I am 100% happy that I had this test and whilst recognising that it is totally a personal decision, I would say to anyone who has been recommended to have one to go ahead. I was extremely emotional before, during and after the actual procedure and I found the 12 days of waiting to find out the results absolutely horrendous. For me, however, it was all made worthwhile when I did eventually get the call to confirm the results. To say I was over the moon to hear the words ‘the results are back and they are normal’ is an understatement! Finding out that my baby was free from any accompanying genetic conditions and that I was ‘only’ facing my new-born baby needing surgery, suddenly felt a whole lot more manageable. At this point I started to once more allow myself to believe that I would actually become a mother.