Feb 03 2012

Hey, What About MY Choice? Part 3

In the beginning post of this series, I told the story of how California doctors and medical providers just couldn’t get it through their heads that even though I was a 35 yr old soon-to-be-mom, I did NOT want amniocentesis, because of the risk of miscarriage and the fact that it could not reveal any information I would actually be able to use.  But the medical types were really determined.  In the second post of this series, I told of how a doctor threatened to withhold care from me, and a necessary examination, if I didn’t submit to his attempt to coerce me into “genetic counseling,”  at a minimum, with the obvious agenda of getting me to agree to amniocentesis.

How DARE the doctors make me defend my refusal to have a test that could have resulted in my child’s death!  Imagine the news if “just” one percent of school buses on a given day crashed.  Out of ten thousand school buses, that means that one hundred buses crashed.  Now, imagine the public’s reaction if every child on those hundred buses died.  It’s incomprehensible to imagine such a thing.  When a SINGLE bus crashes and ANY children are killed, the tragedy makes national news.  Yet the medical establishment displays a remarkably cavalier attitude toward the fact that given the prevalence of amniocentesis, undoubtedly many healthy, “wanted” children die every year or are born prematurely.

I have since come to understand another disturbing fact surrounding the aggressive push for prenatal testing: many parents demand these tests.  We live in an age where, as Mark Steyn has stated, parents often put off childbearing until later in life and then have “one designer baby.”  And only one.  As fertility invariably decreases with age, some turn to fertility drugs and/or in vitro fertilization, which can result in multiple fetuses.  No worries, though.  Through a process known as “selective reduction,” the mother can have the “extra” babies killed, leaving her with only one child.  And boy, that kid better be perfect.  If the child fails to meet the consumers’ (aka parents’) expectations, the doctor might well find himself slapped with a “wrongful birth” lawsuit.  The heart-breaking fact is that around 90% of children identified with Down syndrome are aborted.  (It’s worth noting, however, that amniocentesis is not completely accurate, which means that a number of “healthy” children are mistakenly thought to have a genetic defect and are then aborted.)  Given the fact that prenatal life is valued so little, I suppose it’s no wonder I was sometimes treated as a socially irresponsible freak for refusing genetic testing.

My next several visits to the obstetrician were uneventful, except that he kept looking at my chart and saying, “Oh, yeah.  You refused amnio.”  Was my choice really that unusual?  Perhaps so.   During that time, I ran into several women, mostly strangers, pregnant women who would say, “I had to have amniocentesis.”  One even said to me (both of us standing there, pregnant, in Burlington Coat Factory’s baby section), “I’m scheduled for amniocentesis tomorrow.  I really don’t want to do it, but I have to.”  How many women are made to feel that they have no choice?

About nine weeks shy of my due date, I began having painful contractions.  It didn’t appear to be labor, but with my doctor’s recommendation, I decided to take a break from my job as a special education teacher at a local junior high.  A short time later, I went into full-blown preterm labor.  My baby wasn’t handling my contractions very well, so the doctor said they were probably going to have to deliver her early.  Thankfully, labor was stopped by a combination of three different medications.  I was confined mostly to bed for the remainder of my pregnancy and continued taking medication.  Given this precarious situation, I couldn’t help but wonder if an earlier decision to have amniocentesis might have resulted in an extremely premature baby – or even a stillbirth.  I’ll never know, but I shudder when I consider the possibilities.

Finally, the day I had been longing for arrived, and I gave birth to a beautiful full-term baby girl.  Shortly before being discharged, a clerical worker from the hospital came to my room and asked me to sign a form.  By signing, I would be acknowledging that I had received certain types of care in the hospital, as well as during my pregnancy.  I noticed three number codes and asked that each be explained.  When she reached the third code, she said that its numbers stood for amniocentesis.   “I didn’t have amniocentesis,” I sighed.  She looked surprised and then asked, “Are you sure?”

Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh.