I was sitting in the waiting room at an ultrasound clinic a few weeks ago, steeling myself for a needle in the stomach that would tell me if my baby had Down Syndrome.
One of the routine blood tests that accompanied my (perfectly normal) 12-week scan was off the scale and, coupled with my ‘advanced maternal age’ had served to skew the calculation that gives you a ‘number’ on your chances of chromosonal abnormality.
Having been told my number was one in two a few days prior, you can imagine my frame of mind.
Opposite me was a lady I estimated to be in her late 60s, about the same age as my own mother. A woman emerged beaming from the consulting room and handed her a black and white image.
“Oh my,” the lady said, tearing up. “Isn’t it amazing what they can do these days?”
Just one generation on from when this woman was pregnant with her daughter, we have more information than our mothers could have dreamed of. Ultrasounds, blood tests, CVS, amniocentesis, and now a new blood test (available only privately at this stage) that can test for genetic abnormalities as early as 10 weeks and tell you the sex to boot.
My mother is frankly baffled by all this talk. In her day, she says, the doctor wouldn’t even let you make an appointment until you’d missed at least two periods. She thinks she might have had a miscarriage once at about seven weeks, but she’s not sure. When is a miscarriage a miscarriage and when is it a late period?, she reasons.
These days, if you’re trying to conceive, especially if you’re having fertility treatment, you know you’re pregnant at four weeks (and as we all know, that’s actually only two) leaving you 36 weeks to worry about what might go wrong.
A friend of mine had an early scan (a little under 6 weeks) after a small bleed and was told she had two gestational sacks but only one detectable heartbeat.
She was in a world of confusion, Had she lost a tiny twin? She felt simultaneously bereaved and elated that one heart was still pumping.
Later, she was slightly relieved not to be having twins, then overwhelmed with guilt that she could feel relief at all.
It’s not uncommon, apparently. Sonographers call it ‘the disappearing twin’ and in the majority of cases the women wouldn’t even be aware it had happened.
Certainly not a few years ago, anyway.
In the news this week is the story that Australian researchers have developed another new blood test for pregnant women that detects tell-tale leakage of oxygen.
And if it prevents even one of the 1,000 stillbirths in Australia each year that occur because the foetus is not getting enough oxygen, then it’s a reason to rejoice. But it’s also yet another test to fret over, and add to the ever growing list.
Meanwhile, back in the waiting room, the younger woman was wide-eyed. “Did you not have an ultrasound with me, mum?” Oh no, came the answer. There was nothing like that. Back then, you just loved what you got.
In my own case, my baby is fine. I would have loved her whatever.
Sara Mulcahy is a writer, editor and mother to a croc-obsessed toddler. She’s also the mumpreneur behind babyonholiday, a website that offers tips, blogs and products for the discerning traveller under two.
How much is too much for pregnant women to know?