Ann Sargent's first pregnancy was progressing just fine. At 16 weeks, the Peoria, Illinois, mom-to-be decided to pass on an amniocentesis because there were no problems on her ultrasound. Her doctor concurred, even though, at 39 years old, Sargent was considered "high-risk." But at 22 weeks, her doctors were suddenly concerned about the development of the baby's arteries and Sargent was referred to a pediatric cardiologist. While an amnio may not have picked up any heart abnormality, Sargent still felt that she hadn't done all she could to detect a problem as early as possible. "We had to wait eight long, stressful days for the appointment, not knowing exactly what was wrong," she recalls. After an echocardiogram of the baby's heart that lasted over an hour -- during which the technician didn't say a word -- they learned that the baby was fine. "To say it was stressful," says Sargent, "would be a huge understatement."
"Why is it so hard?" The mind-boggling array of medical procedures that can tell pregnant women if their baby will be born healthy should be a big plus, but it can also complicate what is supposed to be an exciting time in life. "Part of the problem is the medical culture of our nation: If a test is available, there's both social pressure and pressure from the medical community to have it, which really challenges a woman to make a decision based on her own values," notes Kelly Ormond, president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) and director of the graduate program in genetic counseling at Northwestern University in Chicago. What it ultimately comes down to is this: Some moms-to-be can't live without undergoing prenatal tests -- and others can't live with doing it. On which side of the fence will you stake your -- and your baby's -- future?
"The tests gave me peace of mind"
"I had amniocentesis (see cheat sheet at the end of this article) with all three of my children. I was 37, 39, and 41 when they were born, and I could not have gone through the entire pregnancy at my age wondering if my children were healthy. The risk of miscarriage with the test was much less than the risk to my mental health would have been without knowing," declares Denise Koster of Hugo, Colorado. "For me, these amnios were the peace of mind that allowed me to be prepared for my child. I would absolutely do it again."
Mia Musciano-Howard of Fayetteville, Georgia, also found the anxiety to be worth it. "My prenatal testing seemed to be never-ending. At week 16, I had two amnios since I was carrying twins in two separate sacs," she explains. "Nothing compares to the agonizing two weeks of waiting for those results." Musciano-Howard spent the time concentrating on the positive side and not the "what-if's." "We continued to talk about the nursery décor and registered for baby gifts," she notes. "Looking back, it was the right decision for us," says Musciano-Howard, now the mother of healthy twins.