Why I Said No To Prenatal Testing

Why I Said No To Prenatal Testing

I read a story today about a woman whose child’s photo was used in an offensive corporate campaign. Christie’s beautiful daughter has Down’s syndrome, and she had a gorgeous photo of her on her blog. A cheapo Turkish stock photo site lifted the picture illegally, from where it was then used by a large Spanish company selling prenatal testing kits. “Tranquility,” the poster promises to those who buy their wares, as if a little girl with Down’s syndrome were a cautionary tale. (Read the article, and let it rouse your angry mama bear, too.)

It took me back to the sterile room I sat in nearly four years ago, clutching at the gaping edges of the medical gown draped across my growing belly. My final pregnancy was different to the first two: I was officially a “geriatric pregnancy”, or AMA (of Advanced Maternal Age), as they politely noted in my file. In other words, I would be 35 by the time of delivery. Out came the kid gloves and the red carpet treatment: we elderly mamas are delicate, you know.

I listened carefully to what the doctor said, trying to stifle my inner snort as I wondered what kind of treatment Sarah, a first time mom at age 80, would have received. What was different, the doctor explained, was that because of the increased risk of complications  due to my advanced maternal age, I was eligible for a whole battery of prenatal tests. Insurance would pay for it all: elaborately subsidized peace of mind was mine for the taking.

“No, thank you,” I said.

The doctor held my gaze. “You do know the risks are significantly higher for a woman of your age?” she queried.

“Yes, I do,” I confirmed.

“And having the tests could give you early information so you could be fully prepared,” she followed up, pushing now.

“Yes,” I snapped, “but no matter what you tell me from those tests, I will keep this baby. And if there is something of concern, the 20 week ultrasound usually picks those markers up, don’t they? So I don’t see the point of undergoing extra tests, which could even be invasive and increase the risks for my baby, when I’m going to keep it anyway.”

She stepped back. I could see the words on her face: Oh, you’re one of THOSE.

Yes, I’m one of those. One of those who feels that prenatal testing gives parents a choice they shouldn’t have to make: of whether to kill the life inside them, or “live and let live.” One of those who has read about the heightened rates of false positives on those early tests – meaning they sometimes flag problems when in fact there are none. For some, this means invasive extra testing, for others this means an early choice to terminate the pregnancy: for everyone, this means significant stress and heartache.

I’m one of those who believes in modern medicine and vaccinates my kids on schedule. I take my physician’s advice on a great many things. When we have questions, we call the advice nurse. But when it comes to prenatal testing, I draw a line.

If I’m committed to keeping the baby, honestly, I just don’t see the point. And Genoma, with its horrible and offensive ad campaign, promising that its test can keep you “tranquil” so you don’t land up with a baby with Down’s syndrome, don’t deserve a dime of that lavish health-insurance-approved spending.

I know what the word above that darling girl’s face should have read: JOY. And the more special needs kids I meet, the more I know this is true. Heaven forbid we rob the world of beauties such as these.

 

Photo credit: Carol Lara (Flickr Creative Commons)/edited by Bronwyn Lea

 

 

Let me tell you about Mini

I think it’s time to tell you a story. The story about Mini. It is not an easy story to tell, but it gets easier with each telling.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to pee as I was on that cold, December morning. We had started ‘trying’ just two months before, and I was a day ‘late’. We bought a pregnancy test and waited until the next day, having heard that first-thing-in-the-morning was the best time to test. I woke up before 5am, and bolted for the bathroom. The test said to wait three minutes for the result, but 45 seconds later I could already see a faint, second line developing on the stick – and with tears and squealing and oh-so-much-joy ran into the still-dark room to tell my husband the happy news that our two was now three. We named our expected one Mini. We called our parents and siblings, we went out to dinner, we dreamed of the future: the future of us-with-Mini.

Two weeks later we were at a conference in Missouri and I came down with a cold, and we delightedly fretted about whether taking airborne and extra vitamin C would be safe for our new baby. The kind medic at the Urbana missions conference assured us that taking vitamins was totally safe, and we walked out holding hands, smiling our secret to ourselves as we huddled with throngs of students.

Two weeks after that, the bleeding began. At first just a spot, then a little more. We called the doctor, who said something about ‘implantation bleeding’, and advised us to rest, wait and see. I rested. I waited. I bled. I prayed.

The bleeding continued and so we did what young, anxious parents of our generation do: we searched the internet, trawling for numbers to give us hope. As if the statistics and probabilities of others would reveal the future of our own. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, I read. Which means three in four don’t, I reasoned. But which also means one in four do.

Two days later, still bleeding, we called the doctor. She agreed to see us and scheduled an ultrasound. With a compassionate but matter-of-fact face, she took a look at the blobs on the screen and interpreted them for us: “this is not what we should be seeing with a healthy 8 week old foetus,” she said, “I’m sorry.” We went home silent, stony and crushed.

The worst part was not the waiting-to-see-if-something-was-wrong, nor the hearing-that-something-was. The worst part was coming home, knowing that our baby was lost, and yet still having to endure a few more days of losing Mini. I sat at home: weeping and bleeding and waiting for it all to pass. My best friend, four months pregnant and grieving for me even as she carried joy of her own, brought me tea and books and let me cry.

Returning to work was hard. Cheerful students and co-workers who didn’t know brought welcome distraction but also somehow intensified the ache. We hadn’t asked them to celebrate Mini’s life when we first found out, and so it seemed unfair and unnatural to ask them to grieve our baby’s death. We were lonely. We felt very grown up.

I remember taking a counseling class where the teacher posed the question: “what is the worst type of grief?” I remember scouring my mind, weighing up the imagined relative trauma of losing a spouse, of suffering great violence, of burying a parent. The lecturer’s words cut into my thoughts: “Your own,” he said. “The worst grief is your own.” His words came flooding back in the wake of losing Mini: maybe it was worse to lose a child already born, or a still-born child, or one later in the pregnancy… but those great griefs were not our own. We had lost Mini early on, but that grief was our own, and it was the worst.

A few moments stand out from that first month after our loss. The moment when a co-worker asked about my absence from the staff party: “Are you pregnant?” they asked. Stunned, I blurted out “I was”, and left them floundering in the parking lot as I ran into the building. The wedding we attended a week later, where more-than-a-few people asked us if we were planning to have kids any time soon. I don’t know how we made it through that night. In the photos from that day, my mouth is smiling and my eyes are glassy. Then, on retreat with our young adults group a few weeks later, a come-to-Jesus moment when I sat all alone in a snow-silent world, and cried all the tears I had stuffed in silence in the weeks before.

And I recall how, one by one, I slowly started to hear others say that the same thing had happened to them. “That happened to me too,” said the smiling Mom-of-five after church one Sunday. “We lost three,” said another. “I’m so sorry,” whispered yet another, “I remember how that felt.” And all of a sudden that one-in-four statistic wasn’t just about our odds for our baby, it was the story of at least one-in-four women that I knew and loved and saw often… but we had just never shared that part of the story before.

More than anything, it was comforting to know I was not alone.

I think perhaps we make a mistake when we keep pregnancies a secret until we’ve had an ultrasound to say that “everything’s okay”. A baby is a baby and a life to be celebrated long before an ultrasound says it is so. A life is a life before anyone has measured its spine or assessed its chances. Mini was a baby, and it was right to celebrate. And then we lost our little one, and it was right to mourn.

We found out we were expecting again a few weeks later, and our mourning for Mini became less intense, and less frequent. From time to time I would feel the loss acutely: standing in the snow, or hearing another’s story, or reading “Heaven is for real” all brought fresh tears for old sadness. But the tears were less, and the sadness more distant – especially as I heard the stories of more and more friends experiencing similar loss and became one of those offering a hug and whispering “that happened to me too.”

A few weeks ago, I told our eldest that there had been another baby before her. I told her there was a little one who had first made us a Mommy and Daddy, but we hadn’t had a chance to meet yet. I told her we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl, but that we would meet them one day and know for sure then. My daughter assured me it was a girl: the sister she had been longing for, but would one day meet. The next day she told a stranger at the park that she had an older sister in heaven. This is going to be awkward, I thought. But it wasn’t, and she didn’t mention it again.

Until this week. I was cleaning up after breakfast and came upon my daughter playing with her brothers in the living room. She was holding an arm full of stuffed animals, and introducing them to her admiring audience: “this is me, and you, and you”, she said as she gestured to three bears and to the three of them on the sofa. And then, holding up a tiny, fourth bear, she told her brothers “and this is Mini. She is our sister too, but she’s in heaven.”

tegandbears

There they are: my four children. Three in my arms, and one in Jesus’. Telling the story has made it easier. And now, hearing the story from the mouth-of-babes has brought a fresh wave of hope and joyful anticipation.

And so I’m telling you. Because maybe it’s a story you need to hear today. One-in-four, and all that, but for the one – it’s the worst grief of all.

Help, I’m newly married and pregnant

Yes, this is a photo of a stick with pee on it.

Yes, this is a photo of a stick with pee on it.

Dear Bronwyn,

I just found out that I am pregnant and have only been married 5 months! We were diligently taking birth control, I am in the middle of my graduate program & my husband makes very little money. How are we to handle such a big change that we did NOT plan on having for another 4 or 5 years?                                   – Not Ready

Dear Not Ready,

I well remember feeling so broke and afraid of getting pregnant when we first moved to the US. We were newly married, had no money and very little support and I couldn’t afford any health care at all. I think I would have collapsed on the floor weeping at first if that pregnancy test had two positive little lines.

It is a BIG surprise. And it means BIG changes for you. But this is one of those classic examples where we have to say that while man makes plans, The Lord ultimately directs our steps. And the things we know to be true about Him is that He is good. He loves you. And He calls us, just like Jesus said to the disciples in the boat in mark 6 when the waves were threatening to engulf them, to not be afraid, but to have faith.

Jesus will lead you through this.

I remember a few years into our marriage doing some reading and being convicted that I had had some very wrong thinking about marriage and kids. I realized I had been making pro and con lists about whether and when we should have kids. And then at some point it was as if God said to me: “Bronwyn, I have said that children are a BLESSING. By definition that means they are a PRO. why are you making pro and con lists when I already told you which it is?” It was hard to hear at first, but actually greatly freeing for me.

God has obviously decided that right now you get to be blessed with this pregnancy. He intends it for good. You are definitely old enough. You are married enough.

You are ten years older than Mary was when God chose her to be the mother of Jesus.
And you have more marital experience than she.
And you have better health care.
And you have the spirit of the living God jnside you.
You are going to do GREAT. Have faith: if God has called you to this, He will equip and provide!

As far as feeling ready or prepared for parenting…. Well, let me just say that I don’t think we are ever really READY to be parents. It’s a huge big surprising adventure in grace. God gives us pregnancy months not just to grow a baby, but also to grow us. By the time baby comes, we are as ready as we will ever be – and in God’s grace, it will be enough. We don’t get a second shot at anything in parenting: we are never ready for babies, or for the first time our kids sass us, or the first time they really hurt themselves, or for them to be teenagers. Parenting is all about living in the moment by Gods grace.

On a practical note: your ob-gyn may not see you for several weeks. A doctor may consider your home test sufficient proof and only schedule a first visit and ultrasound at around 10-12 weeks, so it is possible you will have a few weeks to wait. If so, here’s my advice:

  • Take pre natal vitamins. Start this TODAY and don’t delay. The big thing with prenatals is the folic acid which, in the first weeks of baby’s life, eradicate the possibility of spina biffida. If you get nauseous taking them, try taking them with food or at different times of the day. But do take them.
  • Even if you’re planning to keep this a secret for a while, tell a handful of people. The first trimester is sometimes easy going, but sometimes rough. It is exhausting physically, especially around weeks 8-11, and you may need help and grace from friends. Also, if something does happen with the baby, you will need support. Trust me on this: we had one miscarriage and I was glad I had told just a few people. I needed them.
  • Finally, look into state sponsored prenatal care, which may cover many (if not all) your prenatal costs, and possibly also your baby’s healthcare for the first year of their life. If you already have health care, state health care will pick up the co-pay/deductibles etc. In our case, we were only be able to apply after the first ultrasound as we had to take in the picture to prove your pregnancy, but it was totally worth the red tape and the wait. We were SO THANKFUL for it. The state support for young families made us all the more willing to pay tax dollars in the years that followed.

You are going to be okay! There is a community of older, godly women which God has prepared JUST FOR YOU to give you all the advice, help, nurture and encouragement you need. He will give you more mothers to bear you up as you set out on this new journey of being a mother yourself.

I hope this helps. You and your husband are starting out on a grand adventure. You may not be ready to hear this yet, but CONGRATULATIONS!

The pros and cons of having kids

Once upon a time we were a young, married couple.

Young, married couples in the 18th century knew that a decision to get married meant you were signing up for the marriage -> sex -> children package. The three came together.

But these days, the decision to get married, the decision to have sex and the decision to have kids seem to be regarded as three separate (and not necessarily related) decisions.

Being in the Christian camp, we knew that marriage and sex ought to go together. But what about whether to have kids?

And so this young, married couple did what we had been taught to do when making hard decisions: we made a pro and con list.

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The con list looked something like this:

* we haven’t been married for very long.

* we have almost no money.

* we know nothing about raising kids.

* what if I don’t LIKE my children?

* what if that means we won’t be able to do ‘ministry’ anymore?

It was a scary list of cons. Looking at the list, it seemed that perhaps all we had heard from other lets-wait-to-have-kids couples was right: to have children would be irresponsible and unwise.

But as we thought and prayed and thought and prayed, this one thing appeared in the list of “pros”: God says children are a blessing.

“Children are a blessing and a gift from the LORD.” – Psalm 127:3 (CEV)

I was undone.  Who was I to be making lists of pros and cons, when God had directly said they were a “pro”?

When I revisited my list of pros and cons, it began to look suspiciously like a “fear” and “faith” decision:

Cons (i.e. Fears):

* A fear that we would have less fun and miss out as a married couple (i.e. an underlying belief that children DETRACT from fun and fulfillment)

* A fear that we wouldn’t have enough and that God would not provide.

* A fear that we wouldn’t know what to do and that God would not give wisdom.

* A fear that ‘ministry’ as I saw and valued it, would be lost…

Pros (i.e. Faith):

* Children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord.

As I stared at my list again, Mark 4:40 came to mind:

“He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

We scrapped the list, took a deep breath, and threw away the birth control pills.

And you know what? Six years down the line we could fill that “pro” list up with 500 things and still keep counting. Children are a blessing. Indeed.

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Laugh in translation

I laughed out loud to discover that the verse in the New Living Translation (NLT) which reads:

You guided my conception
and formed me in the womb
.” (Job 10:10)…

… reads as follows in more literal translations:

Did you not pour me out like milk
and curdle me like cheese
?” (NIV)

Hilarious! 🙂

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** For those who are tempted to think that this is just another example of why the Bible is confusing and ridiculous, here’s a quick precis to explain a bit about the Bible translation process and how such apparent anomalies can exist 🙂

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek (with a teensy bit of Aramaic). We have a variety of translations in English. They are all pretty good, but the differences between them are marked. This is due to choices one has to make in translation. When translating anything from one language to another, you often must decide whether you’re going to translate the literal meaning or the word, or translate the implied meaning of the word. So as an example: if you were translating the sentence “I’m feeling blue” from English to another language – you could either opt for literally translating the word “blue” as a colour, or you could choose the word “sad” to convey the meaning of the English expression.

Literal” translations, such as the NASB and ESV, choose to translate the idiom word for word, if possible, and rely on our learning of Hebrew and Greek thought to interpret the meaning. Others, like the NLT, choose try to interpret the meaning of the idiom as faithfully as possible into English. The NIV is considered to be a bit of a “middle-road” translation between the two approaches. I wouldn’t have known it, but apparently “milk-pouring” and “cheese curdling” are Semitic idioms referring to procreation!