A Worrisome Wait

A scary prenatal-test result forces this woman to think about possible decisions.

Laura Randolph 30, California Laura's tips for dealing with a potentially problematic pregnancy: •Talk to friends about your situation--they may have dealt with a similar dilemma. •If you're dealing with AFP test results, focus on the statistics that show a high number of false positives. •Try not to let your emotions get the best of you or to allow worries to spiral out of control.

The one thing no one told me was just how nerve-wracking pregnancy could be. Granted, I tend to be overly worrisome, but since the day I found out I was pregnant, I obsessed over each and every potential harm to my baby. So when a genetic counselor called to say the results of my recent blood test indicated my baby could have Down syndrome, I was beside myself.

The genetic counselor informed me that the results of my alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) test showed a 1 in 170 chance of giving birth to a baby with Down syndrome. While he calmly explained there were 169 very healthy babies in that equation, I felt as though all my irrational fears about the baby's health had just been confirmed.

Having overeducated myself about every aspect of pregnancy, I had read that the somewhat controversial AFP test could yield a very frightening false-positive result. And of those who do get a false-positive reading, only a very small number actually have babies with birth defects.

Yet I still felt as though my risk, however small, was the end of my world. My doctor explained that the next step (level-two ultrasound) catches only 50 percent of babies with Down syndrome. The only sure way to tell was through an amniocentesis, a procedure that, in itself, carries about a 1 in 200 to 400 chance of miscarriage. If an amnio was the only way to know for sure, that's what I had to do.

My worries suddenly tripled--I was scared about the amnio procedure, terrified of the risk of miscarriage, and deathly afraid of what I would do if the results confirmed a birth defect. I didn't breathe a word of what I was going through to anyone outside of my family. I just couldn't face it, much less admit it. As I lay on the doctor's table with the ultrasound device pressing on my belly and my husband, Bob, holding my hand, tears were streaming down my face. The little baby on the video screen was amazing--playing with its kneecap, moving its legs, turning around.

The amnio came next. While I can't say I saw any of it (I chose to cover my eyes), it was quicker than I expected. My belly was swabbed with disinfectant, the ultrasound showed the doctor a safe spot on my belly away from the baby, and the needle went into my uterus for less than a minute to collect the fluid needed for testing. It felt like an eternity and was not comfortable by any means, but the emotional strain was far greater than the physical discomfort.

While Bob and I waited the standard (and painfully long) 7 to 14 days for the results, the baby became a "she," my belly had a sudden growth spurt so I finally looked pregnant, and with my husband's hand on my belly, we felt her kick for the very first time. The idea of potentially giving up this baby was devastating, especially now that I was four months along.

I was blessed not to have to make a decision: Nine days after the amnio, I got the phone call that our baby was perfectly healthy. I could barely stop crying enough to thank the woman who'd just delivered the good news. Sydney Elle was born on April 29, 2005, at 8:20 a.m. Listening to Sydney breathe and staring into her eyes upon her arrival completely flushed away any lingering worries. She is an absolute blessing and has made my fearful experience a distant memory.