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Womens Health

Fetal Testing: Is Ignorance Bliss?

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I never thought I'd be one to say that the time has passed quickly, but frankly, it has. I'm nearly ready to admit that we are likely going to be having this baby, although I still have my moments of doubt. At over 16 weeks, it shouldn't still shock me every time I hear the heartbeat in the doctor's office, yet I still have that second of dread before the doppler turns on.

Still, I'm heading into what I have always felt was the last real hurdle for me: the big anomaly scan. Many people think of it as the great moment of reveal, the time when you get to learn the sex of the baby. For me, I've been concentrating more on the fact that we will learn if the baby will definitely be viable and healthy.

But today there was a twist. Although we didn't do any testing after the miscarriage, my doctor has been working under the possibility that the loss could have been due to a chromosomal issue. That, combined with the fact that I'm only a few years from that magical fertility age of 35, has caused him to decide that we should do a quad screening this go around.

I was surprised by the decision, but it didn't take me long to agree. I know that the screening doesn't diagnose, it only tells me if there is an increased risk for birth defects. I also know that having had one miscarriage, I'm unwilling to do an amniocentesis to get more information, even though the chance of losing a baby after an amnio is fairly minimal. But if it comes back elevated risk, we know what to pay special attention to at the ultrasound, and if it comes back normal, we can rest that much easier that much sooner.

Many women I have talked to have considered and rejected the quad screen. Some of them had no intention of having the follow up amnio, or would not do anything differently with the pregnancy anyway, so to them, the test is an added stress, especially with the potentials for false positives. I completely understand and sympathize with them, but for me, if the opportunity is there, and there is no risk to the fetus, I really feel like I have to know. It's as if I can't have too much information on the potential son or daughter inside of me -- I have this endless desire to know him or her as well and as fully and as quickly as I can.

Which, of course, leads us to the sex question.  Is it better to know the sex of your child prior to birth?

My husband and I have gone back and forth on the matter. He is of the "we need to know" camp.  Having another girl lets us know what sort of preparations we need to do before the birth (luckily, very little). But if we are having a boy, there may be some minor adjustments that should be made.  I pretend I'm the ultimate free thinker, but I have to admit a secret desire to not put a little boy in my daughter's pink and brown flowered travel system. Not because I think it would be detrimental to his mental health or sense of self, but because I don't want to spend the first year of his life saying "No, he's a boy, not a girl," to every stranger I run into.

There is a part of me that sort of wants the surprise, though. I've had many people tell me that there is nothing like the moment when you finally meet your child face to face for the first time, and only then get to know who that baby is. But those who are on the "need to know" side argue that you can have that moment just as easily when you learn the sex from the technician, and without the added stress and exhaustion (and, of course, hormones) that come at birth.

And then, of course, there's the possibility of gender disappointment. Some women apparently do get so upset over the sex of their child that they experience something akin to depression. As one woman explained to me, it's more a matter of mourning the child she imagines they will never have rather than not appreciating the child they are giving birth to, especially knowing that this child will be their last.  With so much anticipation and joy happening on the day of birth, who would want that to potentially be marred by even an hint of disappointment?

So, we may discuss it some more between now and June 30th, but my guess is that we will probably ask them to tell us the sex. However, I must admit there is a small part of me that hopes that maybe the baby just won't show the goods. If that happens, my husband will just have to cope. 

Sometimes ignorance can be bliss.

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