Courtesy of Danielle Campoamor

What Is Chorionic Villus Sampling? I Had One, & This Is What It Was Like

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Most people — pregnant, parent, or otherwise — don't know what Chorionic Villus Sampling is. They're unaware of the procedure or what the technique entails, and I don’t blame them, because a little over a year ago, I was like most people. Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) is a procedure much like an amniocentesis, although it can be administered between three and five weeks earlier. The existence of this test was completely foreign to me until my partner and I were able to see our son via ultrasound for the first time. But our excitement and happiness quickly diminished when we saw the look on our doctor’s face as he entered our room. The look said this: Something is wrong, and that something required additional tests.

Our doctor told us our son’s neck was measuring too thick, a possible sign of Down Syndrome, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. On top of additional blood tests and an overview of our family histories and genetic predispositions, we were given the option of scheduling a CVS. When you’re told that your child may have a genetic mutation that can forever change his life (and your own), a specific kind of panic grips you. The plans you'd initially envisioned either shift or are put on hold entirely, and in that moment, all you want is as much time as possible to prepare yourself for the ways your future may change. It doesn’t mean the change in plans is bad, it just means you have to reset your assumptions and recalculate your vision. You have to let go of what you thought you knew and that can be painful and sad and terrifying.

Courtesy of Danielle Campoamor

As my partner and I made the appointment and then waited for that day to arrive, my mind was elsewhere; away from my body, looking at a future we no longer felt in control of. With just a look from my doctor, a future I'd never even fathomed became my new obsession. My body felt stuck in a limbo of possibilities, but my mind was already there, cloaked in fear and doubt and anxiety. So instead of waiting the extra weeks to schedule an amniocentesis and allowing my mind to run away from me — or avoiding any invasive tests altogether — we put our name down for the next available CVS, no more than a week away. We wanted to be prepared. We wanted to have every ounce of information humanly possible. We wanted to get it over with. More than anything, we wanted answers.

The entire process made me feel like I was underwater, holding my breath to the point that my body started panicking, tightening in pain and apprehension. I couldn't move, since I'd been told staying perfectly still was a vital part of the procedure (and the only part I felt in control of). If I were to move, the doctor could misplace the needle, and my son could have been forcibly miscarried.

On the day of our appointment, the room was cold, even though the nurses provided me with my fair share of warm blankets. I was nervous, so my partner made small talk and cracked lame jokes, my favorite anxiety-quelling combination. I was treated in a teaching hospital, so two doctors, one resident, an ultrasound tech, an ultrasound tech in training, and two nurses were in the room with us. There was barely enough room for the tray of tools, and I was close enough to the packaged needle to realize I was about to experience a Pulp Fiction-type situation.

The senior doctor explained the impending procedure in detail, a kindness I very much appreciated because I'm one of those people who needs all the information and needs to watch exactly what's happening, although the jury is out on whether or not that's actually the way to go. I held one nurse's hand and my partner’s in another, took a deep breath, and told them I was ready.

Courtesy of Danielle Campoamor

The procedure begins with an ultrasound. A tech needs to locate the baby being tested, so the doctor knows where to position the needle and extract the sample of chorionic villi from my placenta. While the technician explained how she locates the baby to her student, my partner and I caught a glimpse of our fidgeting, hiccuping son. Seeing his tiny body in black and white was calming, and a wave of unforeseen relaxation prepared me for the next step.

I was then “numbed,” which meant long and intimidating needles poked me with medicine so I wouldn't feel pain when they harvested the samples to send off for analysis. While it was pretty painful, it only lasts for a few moments. Then comes the actual "sample harvesting," where the doctor stuck a very large needle into my stomach and used the images from the ultrasound to move the needle close enough to procure a sample, but not too close as to danger or harm the baby. The needle is hollow, which allows a second doctor to insert the tube that holds the sample. The entire process made me feel like I was underwater, holding my breath to the point that my body started panicking, tightening in pain and apprehension. I couldn't move, since I'd been told staying perfectly still was a vital part of the procedure (and the only part I felt in control of). If I were to move, the doctor could misplace the needle, and my son could have been forcibly miscarried. I was drowning above water, holding my breath as if the air inside that tiny operating room could end a life.

In a week, our results came back, and as it turns out, our son's chromosomes were completely normal. In fact, as time propelled us forward, our son’s “thick neck” was nothing more than a misread ultrasound.

Once the sample is extracted, the doctor does a preliminary test in the room to make sure enough was harvested. If there isn’t enough in the test tube, the procedure must be repeated.

I’ll let you guess what happened with me.

Courtesy of Danielle Campoamor

After the second sampling, the doctors had enough to send off to the lab. Though we still had to wait for the results, it felt good to know the first part was finished and that we'd done what we felt was best for ourselves and for our son. Other parents might not have made the same decision we did, but we felt like the small risk of miscarriage was worth the knowledge we would gain. Not knowing was far worse than any invasive procedure. Including this one.

In a week, our results came back, and as it turns out, our son's chromosomes were completely normal. In fact, as time propelled us forward, our son’s “thick neck” was nothing more than a misread ultrasound.

Like almost every other parenting decision my partner and I have made since, the best we could do at the time was to take the information we had, search for additional facts to stay as informed as possible, and make the choice we felt was best in that moment.

Of course, we could've been angry and we could've voiced that anger (rather loudly) to whatever doctors and techs would listen, but when all was said and done, we were relieved. We realized there are other families who don't get the same news we did, and even though we went through a painful procedure, our child was healthy. That's all that mattered.

Courtesy of Danielle Campoamor

Hindsight being an unforgiving 20/20, it’s easy to say I wish I hadn’t put myself and my child through a procedure like a CVS since it turned out that we didn't have to. But like almost every other parenting decision my partner and I have made since, the best we could do at the time was to take the information we had, search for additional facts to stay as informed as possible, and make the choice we felt was best in that moment.

And every time I look at my stomach and see the small scar off to the right of my belly button, I remember that, when it comes to my son, there isn’t anything I won’t put myself through to know what I need to know so I can be the parent he deserves.