Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Genetic Screening: Why I say "No Thanks"

It is my entirely unbiased opinion that I have the best OB in the world. ...and I mean no offense to my brother-in-law who also happens to be an OB.

When I saw her yesterday, for my 2-week-overdue 20 week appointment, she asked if we'd discussed genetic screening for this pregnancy. I said no we hadn't, but that I always pass. For the sake of full disclosure on her part, she mentioned that there's a new blood test that samples my blood, i.e., non-invasive for baby, that looks for chromosomal abnormalities in fetal cells in my bloodstream.

With zero risk to baby, some may say, "Sure, why not?" However, my knee-jerk reaction was to decline the test.

On my 25 minute drive home, I had a chance to examine that reaction and assess if I was sure I wanted to decline. After all, we always get the 20-week ultrasound (or in this case, the 22+ week ultrasound) which examines baby's whole body - was this blood test any different? My conclusion is that it is quite different and here's why...

The ultrasound looks for internal and external physical issues. While, new technology aside, these issues remain largely untreatable in the womb, they can provide guidance in directing care for mom and baby as birth approaches: medical interventions following birth, preparation for Mom and Dad in meeting a child who may appear different, or, tragically yet so beautifully, a chance to embrace what little time a family has with a baby who won't survive outside the safety of the womb.

In the right framework, these findings can be life-affirming, providing guidance, support and needed medical intervention for baby upon his or her arrival.

One can argue, not incorrectly, that a genetic screening test, particularly one with no risk to baby, can also be life-affirming, preparing the family for the arrival of a baby with specific condition. My concern lies in the blanket statement declared by such tests: the reduction of the supreme gift of a baby to a genetic condition.

Regardless of genetic perfection or imperfection, physical normality or abnormality, I am carrying a child. If there's no cause for medical concern that appears in the ultrasound, I would rather learn of genetic conditions when meeting the person who is my child - to affirm their personhood and bond with the gift of whoever they are, in all their unique glory, rather than spending months knowing them only as a labeled condition.

No doubt many will think me naive. After all, I've had four "perfect" babies - what do I know of any of this? But I've had glimpses here and there of what it could've been like: food allergies, for one. I am so grateful that I've first known my children as people, and not simply a list of what they wouldn't be able to eat...

So, while this is easily written from the safety of ignorance, I open my arms to whoever you are, baby, knowing that there is grace for today.

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