Thursday 8 December 2016

This Life: Am I being naive to question the pre-natal test my wife wants and its potential risks?

Orla Barry

Published 04/04/2011 | 12:10

Here we go again: delighted eighth-time dad Rod Stewart (66) with wife Penny Lancaster
Here we go again: delighted eighth-time dad Rod Stewart (66) with wife Penny Lancaster

My wife is pregnant for the second time and we are both thrilled

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She had two miscarriages after our first child and we were starting to think we might not be able to have children.

As my wife is in her early 40s, there are obviously issues with her age. She recently suggested she get a test called anamniocentesis which I had never heard of before. She says the test will tell if all is okay with the foetus and if there is any possibility of Down syndrome. At first I was a little alarmed at the mention of the condition, then at the idea she wanted to know so early and now about the danger of the test itself.

I asked my wife what she would do if the test revealed something we didn’t want to hear and she hasn't answered me.I worry because her brother has serious mental and physical disabilities that she believes affected all the family's childhood badly. I really would prefer not to risk such a test and I’d rather deal with any bad news when the baby is born, not before.

My wife says I'm being naive and that the test will allow us to make preparations, but she hasn't said what these might be.

The miscarriages affected her badly so I don't want to upset her more than necessary.

YOU appear to be operating in a vacuum here. Your wife has suggested she get the test but not what she will do when the results are given. That sounds a little thoughtless. I can understand you may be walking on eggshells at the moment but a decision like this needs to be a mutual one.

Medical science has made amazing advances in the area of childbirth. Women who would have accepted a doctor's word on infertility a couple of decades ago are having multiple births thanks to new fertility treatments.

Vaccinations are eradicating diseases that would have crippled babies some years back and the rate of mortality among newborns has decreased.

All these developments mean that we have become accustomed to the idea of babies born free of mental or physical difficulties.

The images that dominate the media and cinema screens still remain those of babies and children free from disabilities. It is natural to want the perfect healthy child but I wonder if medical advancements are also having negative repercussions?

Age plays a big part in the possibility of birth complications. You mention your wife's age but not your own. Perhaps you are younger and it is not an issue but do bear in mind that a man's age also impacts on foetus health. It is frustrating that so many older men are widely featured with their young newborns, adding to the illusion that the male sperm does not deteriorate with age. Rod Stewart may be able to reproduce his eight offspring at 66 but doctors would advise against it.

Interestingly, the possibility of Down syndrome in a child does increase with the age of the parents and it has been said that the father's age, in particular, plays a part in this.

Risk

The first issue for you to tackle is the risk of taking the test. Today many women who are worried about their age or who've already had problem pregnancies now opt for it.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland estimates the risk of miscarriage from an amniocentesis to be about 0.5pc or less. Your best option is to talk to an obstetrician or GP about this.

The bigger question is the reason for taking the test. It is possible your wife wishes to be prepared for any future health problems. Giving birth is an emotional experience, as you know well, and it makes sense that she might want to be informed if there are going to be complications.

Realistically, it is hard to be prepared before the event but the knowledge of some of the facts would help. Parents who discover their child has Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis at birth often talk about the haze they wandered around in as they began to reassess their child's future.

Sometimes those who need more preparation are the relatives and friends who talk about the shock and disappointment when you are thinking about celebrating a new life. Hearing the news a few months before they do gives you a good innings to prepare your retort.

Your wife's ambiguous response needs to be tackled. Does she know you don't understand what her thoughts are on this? I wonder if you are treading so carefully that she has no idea of your concerns. Maybe you are right and the memory of her own childhood is affecting how she may view a child of her own with health complications. It may not be easy but the happiness of a household is dependent on the people who run it.

Services are surely better now for someone who has the condition her brother had. I have a friend whose brother created enormous problems during their youth because of his intellectual disabilities but now he is closer to their parents than ever.

There are plenty of families whose children are the cause of years of heartbreak whose own problems are selfishness and idiocy.

No one can predict what will happen into the future. Parents of a child with Down syndrome will talk about having to change their expectations for their child's future only to find they are enjoying just being in the present with their child more than anything.

Decisions on the future of your child need to be mutual. Despite your wife's reaction to her miscarriages, you are an equal partner in all this. Often men feel excluded from the grief of a miscarriage and guilty if they express their own loss. This shouldn’t be the case.

If she moves forward and has the test without your involvement or agreement, the resentment on your part will grow. Be careful that she is not trying to carry all this on her own. She may think after the miscarriages that she needs to face this alone but you need to remind her of your joint role here. Once you know each other’s fears, you can begin to inform yourselves of any challenges ahead.

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