Prenatal Testing - For You Or Not? A Wry Look

Prenatal testing -- is it for you or not? Once the medical experts have had their say, it's time for another kind of expert: a real mom. Abbi Perets is a journalist and the mother of two -- and she's here on Pregnancy & Baby to let you in on her advice about pregnancy, birth, parenting and more.
Abbi Perets

Needles, glucose and peeing on a stick
Pregnancy is exciting. Especially the first time, when you don't yet have a baby underfoot to keep you from noticing all the exciting things that are happening. When you have lots of time to sit around thinking about the fact that you're pregnant, life is good.

And the first time to you take off early from work to head to your caregiver's office for an appointment, you may be thinking that life doesn't really get any better than this. Sure, swollen ankles and really frequent bathroom breaks are a pain, but so what? You are growing an entire human being in your belly, and you are doing a lot of the work while you are sleeping. This is a fair indication of the talent women possess.

So everything is rosy, and you get to the appointment, and then the midwife (or doctor, for you more conventional types) gives you the list of prenatal tests you're scheduled for.

If you are like we are, and by that we mean: a Big Fat Scaredy-Cat, you will immediately begin multiplying the numbers of needles you think each test involves, remembering to carry the one for needle thickness, gauge, pressure, pi (which reminds us of pie and how long it's been since we've had any), and pretty soon you're hyperventilating in your paper gown. Not that that has ever happened to us.

Which brings us to the point, namely: there are more tests in pregnancy than in algebra, and they're about as much fun. (If you are good at math, we don't really want to hear about it. We know you carry a 3.14 x2 for pi; it was a joke.) And if you are not very good at taking tests, you may be panicking already. Well, consider us your little Cliff's Notes (abridged)/calculator/slide rule -- we'll help you cheat.

Are they really necessary?
Of course, we would like to stress that we are not doctors (our dad is a surgeon, though, so we feel fairly qualified to speak with great authority about nothing), and if you are seeing a doctor (professionally, we're not really all that concerned with what you do on your evenings out) for a chronic condition, you should do exactly what he or she says and not make trouble.

The big secret very few health care providers will tell you: You don't actually have to take all those tests. You can if you want to, but you have to think very carefully about if you want to. In general, we feel that tests that have a specific impact on your health are important. Tests that may indicate the possibility of a potential problem for your baby are farther down on the list.

If you are just an average Happening Mama with a Bun in the Oven, take a serious look at your life and beliefs. Are you the kind of person who will terminate a pregnancy if you find out about a potential problem? If you know yourself well enough to say that you would not choose to end a pregnancy, no matter what you found out, then you can safely eliminate a lot of the tests you might otherwise feel you need.

AFPs, amnios, glucose tests -- these all have their place. They are all perfectly valid tests in many situations. We would never presume to tell you that none of them are ever necessary. But we didn't have any of them with our second baby, because we were tired of needles and drinking strange substances.

In fact, when we were 35 weeks pregnant with our second baby, our midwife informed us that our stomach was shrinking. We had to go see an OB/GYN who wanted to scare us and told us that our baby had stopped growing and that we needed a level-3 ultrasound. We ignored him, because we knew that there wasn't anything to be done about it and we didn't want to spend an hour and a half in a car at 35 weeks. In case you're wondering, our second baby was over a pound a half bigger than our first. Our belly is just weird.

We think you should pee on a stick regularly to monitor whatever it is that monitors. The stick makes pretty colors, that's all we know. We think you should have your blood pressure checked at each appointment. And we think the Group B Strep test is also one that you should do. Beyond that, talk to your doctor. Do not go blindly charging after the nurse with the needles. Determine which tests you actually need and find out why you're having each one.

Follow up
Also, if you go to the trouble of having the test, follow up and get the results. This may seem simple, but far too many otherwise intelligent women walk around believing that if something is wrong, the doctor will call. This is a nice philosophy, but we would like to let you know that the doctor has other patients and life beyond you and your precious baby, crazy as it sounds. If you took a test, call and find out if you passed.

If you are going to be taking tests, by the way, we think it's a good idea to take several hours to prepare. This should be done on a comfortable couch, or better yet, a rocking chair with a footstool. Generous amounts of ice cream should be present, along with assorted chocolates. Tests are nothing to take lightly, and you should insist that your partner afford you the respect and peace you deserve and need.

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