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9 Things I Wasn't Ready For When I Had An Amniocentesis

Even though I was healthy and my family didn’t have a history of significant genetic diseases, I chose to undergo genetic testing when I was pregnant. I grilled my doctor, read all the paperwork, scoured the internet for information, and made sure my husband and I knew everything possible about various procedures. Still, there were things I wasn’t ready for when I had an amniocentesis about halfway through my pregnancy. Reading about the procedure and actually experiencing it are vastly different things.

My doctor was indifferent about my decision to get amniocentesis. I was right on the cusp of being considered “advanced maternal age,” and amniocentesis was routinely advised for pregnant women over 35, when I was having my first kid about 10 years ago. I tried to read the room when I was asking him questions about the procedure. For example, was he hinting I should do it, or was he confident my fetus was not at risk for developing genetic abnormalities? Opting for genetic testing is an extremely personal choice, to be sure, and the Type A side of me needed to know everything there was to know about my future baby… except the gender. That I didn’t want to have preconceived notions about, but I did want to prepare, with as much time as possible, for the possibility that my future child might need extended and/or specific care.

Even with all the research on genetic testing I did, though, showing up on the actual day of my amniocentesis did not fill me with confidence. I was nervous. I had doubts about what I was trying to find out. I questioned my need to know everything, like I could possibly control it all. I couldn’t. It was just one of the many things I wasn’t ready for when I had amniocentesis. Here are some of the other things:

That My Insurance Wouldn’t Fully Cover It

Although I would be giving birth when I was 35, which meant that part of the gestational period would qualify as a “geriatric pregnancy,” I was still only 34 at the time of my amniocentesis. Because I didn’t reach the age requirement that the insurance company made a factor in deeming the testing necessary, they wouldn’t be covering as much of the cost. As hard as I tried to get the insurance company to do the math, I could not convince them that my age, at the time of childbirth, should qualify me for full coverage of the procedure. If only I had been four months earlier, I would have been $200 richer.

Having Second Thoughts About It

I always figured I’d have the procedure, since I was going to be of “advanced maternal age” at the time of my first baby’s birth. But earlier in my pregnancy I had done other prenatal testing with blood tests and a nuchal translucency exam. I began to doubt the necessity of amniocentesis, since there seemed to be no red flags about my child’s health based on the earlier testing. Was it really a good idea to get a needle stuck into my uterus, with the chance that it could hit and injure the fetus, all for the sake of getting a firm handle on the baby’s genetic development?

Having second thoughts was exhausting, as I spent mental energy weighing the pros and cons of amnio, and discussing ad nauseam, the benefits and risks with my doctor and partner. In the end, though, I wanted to have definitive knowledge about how my baby was doing and have not regretted getting amniocentesis with both of my pregnancies.

The Darkness Of The Room

When I think of medical procedures, I think of brightly lit operating rooms (like any rabid Grey’s Anatomy fan would, thank you very much). I didn't expect my amniocentesis to take place in the. dark. Although the dim lighting made sense, to better see the image on the monitor, which was how the doctor was able to safely guide that needle into my uterus, it still made me nervous.

The Size Of The Needle

I knew the needle would be bigger than what was used for my flu shot. But knowing it didn't totally prepare me for its significant size.

Bleeding Through My Shirt Afterwards

I was told this could happen. After all, my skin had been punctured. The band-aid they put on my stomach was itchy so I ripped it off, but when I looked down at my belly, there was a spot of blood on my shirt. Of course, I freaked out, but the spot was tiny and I wasn’t actively bleeding. Still, it’s disconcerting to look down and see blood, especially if it’s located where you’re growing a new person.

How Still I Really Had To Be During The Procedure

Again, I knew I had to be very still during the procedure, but in the moment of it happening, with the needle entering my body (or so I was told, because I couldn’t watch), I willed myself to stay frozen. I took the tiniest breaths so as to not cause any heaving of my midsection. Amniocentesis is a quick procedure, but when you’re taking in frequent, shallow breaths in an effort not to move, it can seem like an eternity.

Having To Hang Out In A La-Z-Boy For An Hour Afterwards

I was led to a recovery area after the procedure, which was really just a recliner curtained off from the rest of the waiting room. I was there for a good hour, restless and bored, while my husband kept busy unnecessarily holding a bottle of orange juice to my mouth for sips. When it got to be just too much to sit there, I called for one of the nurses, who sheepishly admitted they had forgotten about me. Nice.

All The Lying Down

The nurse, after remembering I was waiting to be discharged, advised me to take it easy and try to lie down for the rest of the day. Since I very rarely get a prescription of “do nothing,” I relished the opportunity to be prone on my comfy couch and read. And then watch garbage TV. And then try to nap. So that was about 45 minutes of my afternoon and I was utterly bored for the next three hours until it was time to eat.

How Nervous I’d Be Waiting For The Results

I consider myself a pretty calm person. Having grown up in New York City, I’m good at tuning out all the chaos and staying chill in hectic situations. But none of that urban training prepared me for the anxiety of waiting to hear about my unborn baby’s genetic test results.