medical side effects

Not About Me
June 29th, 2011

When I was pregnant with IEP I quite specifically did not want to know if he was a boy or a girl.  Not typically prone to sixth senses about things, I had the strong sensation throughout that pregnancy that I was not supposed to know.  I felt that my job was to focus on keeping myself and my baby healthy – getting rest and exercise and maintaining a balanced diet – and that knowing the sex would just be a distraction.  GAP (who probably would have opted to find out the sex) graciously indulged my desire to remain in the dark.  And so it was that it was in my delivery room that we first heard the words, “It’s a boy” (in a decidedly uncelebratory tone…).

Because my first pregnancy was routine throughout, textbook even, I was able to make the decision not to find out my baby’s sex very much about me and my desires.  This time around, it all went down differently.

In mid-May I went in for my 16-week prenatal appointment during which blood was drawn for my Quad Screen.  Four days later I got a phone call informing me that my test results indicated the baby had an elevated risk for Downs Syndrome.  Three days after that GAP and I met with a genetic counselor.  I had a detailed ultrasound looking for physical markers of Downs, the results of which were encouraging, but inconclusive.  We ultimately decided to have an amniocentesis done to determine with certainty whether or not our baby was healthy.  The whole ordeal was overwhelming, and stressful, and frightening.

The great thing about an amnio is that it is extraordinarily accurate.  The bad thing about an amnio is that the results take days to determine.  Our initial results (which looked specifically for Downs) took five days.  The full panel of results took more than a week.  In the five days between the time the amnio was performed and the time the initial results were given to us we: drove three hours to spend Memorial Day weekend with GAPs family, smiled extensively for professional pictures of the entire family (19 of us including six kids aged three and under), cried as we left IEP with his grandparents and drove three hours back home to leave for vacation, caught a delayed flight to Chicago, missed our connection to Dublin, spent 24 unplanned hours in Chicago waiting for the next Aer Lingus flight to Dublin, flew to Dublin, and drove to Belfast.  It was not exactly an easy few days.  And that is how it came to pass that we were standing on a street corner in Belfast when we got the genetic counselor’s phone call telling us that our baby is healthy.

We ducked into a mostly-empty bar to call our parents with the news.  GAP drank a pint of Smithwick’s and I drank a Coke.  We breathed a great sigh of relief, and continued our sightseeing knowing our baby was fine.

At this point we still didn’t know the sex.

Until my Quad Screen results came back, I had assumed that we would take the same approach to finding out the baby’s sex as we had the first time around.  I contemplated finding out for IEP’s sake, thinking that something as abstract as a pregnancy would be easier for a two-year-old to grasp if he knew whether he was getting a brother or a sister.  But since IEP is only beginning to understand that he himself is a boy I eventually settled back into my original philosophy – focus on having a healthy pregnancy.  The Downs Syndrome fears, however, changed my whole paradigm.

The decision which was once all about me and my idiosyncracies (again, because GAP had always left it up to me) was no longer about me, and all about the baby.  I decided that if the amnio results came back positive for Downs we would find out the sex; that in that situation I wouldn’t comfortable leaving any unknown hanging in the balance.  As I waited to have the amnio done and then waited again for the results this approach – this “I should find out everything I can about this baby” approach – seeped deep into every thought I had about the pregnancy.

Later that evening in Belfast we sat in a pub waiting to order dinner.  It was only 1:00pm at home.  A single phone call back to our genetic counselor was all it would take to find out the sex if we wanted to.  After days of hoping for the best but bracing for the worst most of my convictions about waiting to find out the baby’s sex had crumbled.  So when GAP said, “Oh let’s find out,” that was all it took for me to pick up the phone and call.

We are having another boy, and I couldn’t be happier.

As for my thoughts on finding out the sex, well, they are quite varied at this point.  Most of all, it feels weird knowing.  When you don’t find out the sex you’re always explaining yourself.  “Is it a boy or a girl?” people would ask.  “Oh, we didn’t find out.”  Then there was always an awkward pause where I was presumably supposed to justify that decision.  There is something about knowing the sex that makes conversations with people (especially strangers) much easier.

But beyond that bit of prenatal culture shock my dominant thought is that my opinions on the matter carry no weight outside of my own family.  I did what was right for me both times, and made a different decision each time.  If my own circumstances can sway my decision from one pregnancy to the next, who am I to weigh the merits of finding out for somebody else?  It is a highly personal decision, and unless it’s my own pregnancy it has nothing to do with me.  Thankfully, most of the time it is a fun decision that is not riddled with health concerns.  But rarely do we know the full story of another person’s pregnancy.  We don’t know what factors influenced her decision.  And frankly it’s none of our business.

My baby is healthy.  And truly, that is the only thing that matters.

14 Responses to “Not About Me”

  1. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    I am so happy for you and your family and think it is amazing that you chose to share your ordeal and ultimate relief with all of us. Life isn’t easy, but sometimes it can be downright glorious :) Now you just need to teach me how to make boys and maybe just maybe I can convince Husband about #4!


  2. Gale Says:

    Aidan – Thank you! Yes, the past month has been a bit of a roller coaster and I’m now enjoying being back in an uneventful pregnancy. As for making boys, I have bad news for Husband… he’s the one that keeps making your girls, not you. :) GAP claims that we have boys because God knows he couldn’t handle girls. I think he’d be great with girls, but I’m happy having boys all the same.

  3. Jenny Says:

    Gale, what fabulous news! I am thrilled to hear that you will be adding a bouncing baby boy to your household but more importantly, I am over the moon for you that he is going to be a healthy one! IEP will loveeee having a brother!
    I am sure the minutes of waiting felt like days. In a very different way, I can relate. One can deal with anything…its just the unknown that is so difficult. I pray that your pregnancy continues along the road of normalcy and that the birth goes off without a hitch!
    So happy for you!
    Lots of love and hugs, JPL

  4. Gale Says:

    Jenny – Thanks so much for your kind wishes. IEP does seem excited about the baby, although it’s still pretty intangible to him. He’ll meet his new baby cousin in August, so I’m hoping that will help him wrap his little head around it. After growing up as one of two girls I never imagined myself with all boys, but I not-so-secretly love it!

  5. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Oh Gale – what an ordeal. I am so sorry you had to go through this, and it really reminds us that having a healthy baby is a privilege not to be taken lightly.

    As an older mother when I was pregnant with my first (35), amnio was a “requirement.” I nonetheless refused it, but there were no markers to indicate a need to do otherwise. My action was, nonetheless, a surprise to the physicians. A very personal decision, for personal reasons, yet I was delighted when through sonograms they informed me I was having a boy. (I already sensed it, as I did with my second).

    And with my 2nd pregnancy (even older, obviously), I did the same – opting to know the gender, but not for an amnio. How strange and intimate some of these choices are – in ways we cannot imagine before we live them.

    And I thank my cosmic forces daily for the good fortune of two healthy sons. Kids are the greatest gift – and I’m glad you’ll soon be having your second!

  6. Gale Says:

    BLW – Thanks for your note. I certainly wouldn’t wish these kinds of scares on anyone, but they certainly do put things into perspective.

    Modern medicine can be such a blessing and a curse. When results come back clean it can really put your mind at ease. But the rate of false positives in prenatal testing is surprisingly high and can send you through the emotional wringer unnecessarily. From the time that my Quad Screen results came back the chance of a positive result for Downs was only 1 in 144, (and as GAP said many times “I’ll take those odds any day”) but as a parent you know that someone has to be the 1, and you just pray that it isn’t you. How thankful we are to know that our baby is fine.

    I’m sure I will be coming to you for guidance on life with two boys. I know your boys are practically men these days, but I trust you’ll have lots of good advice still tucked away from their younger years. Thanks again for the kind wishes.

  7. Cathy Says:

    I am so happy that you received good news, although I’m sure you could have handled it no matter what. I had a scare with baby #3. I didn’t have to go through an amnio but I did get a 3D ultrasound. That was such an incredible experience. My third in utero looked exactly like #2. Exactly.

    I am the mom of three boys and I love it. I sometimes miss a girl in my life, but that’s what my niece is for! For me, I had to find out with my first. I think part of it was because I was young, the pregnancy was unreal, the baby unreal until I had a gender. Then it became very real. I chose not to find out with baby #2, but I knew in my heart it was another boy. When #3 came along, because there was so much time difference and I basically had to start over (new stroller, car seat, clothes, baby blankets, etc…) I wanted to know and chose to find out. I think you are right that it seems to make conversation with strangers a bit easier when you can keep the response simple.

    Again – so happy for you.

  8. Gale Says:

    Cathy – Your story here underscores my point perfectly. The decision to find out boy vs. girl is specific not just to each person, but to each pregnancy. We all have our reasons for the decision we make and have to honor those reasons.

    We don’t plan to stop with two kids, so I could still end up with a girl. But I already have three nieces, so even if I am in a family of boys I’ll still get to do some girl spoiling from time to time.

    Thanks so much for your note.

  9. Laura H. Says:


    So sorry you had to go through that! Unfortunately I have heard your story many times about that darn quad screen. So heartwrenching to go through.

    Yes modern medicine has its blessings and curses, and BLW’s post reminded me that not all doctors understand or respect how we use modern medicine. I encourage all pregnant women to find doctors that willingly present risks and benefits of all choices, empowering women to make informed choices. (Not that you needed any informing about risks and benefits about finding out the gender – that one is totally personal. And either way, I think it’s a fun part of pregnancy…you either know and get to pick out a bunch of girly/boy clothes, bedding, etc. in advance, or you don’t know and you get that exciting “It’s a…” moment in the delivery room.)

    As I reach age 35 this year, and we contemplate whether or not we are “done” having children, I am keenly aware that in the event we choose to have another my personal decision about testing (at my advanced age) may be different. I am grateful to have an OBGYN (and a best friend who is an OBGYN) who will give me all the information I need to make that informed personal decision.

    Congrats on another boy! I love little boys. I especially love that my little boy recently responded to a shoe salesperson who had asked him if he has a girlfriend, “No; I’m going to marry my mommy.” So sweet (at least for now while he’s only 4).

  10. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Oh, Gale, what a relief. I am so glad that all of your test results came back the way you had hoped.

    I really appreciate this line in your piece – “But rarely do we know the full story of another person’s pregnancy. We don’t know what factors influenced her decision. And frankly it’s none of our business” – and wish we could apply it to all elements of pregnancy and parenting in general. I am musing over a post on birth choices that touches some of the same ground and it never ceases to amaze me how much judgment we women are willing to cast on our fellow mothers’ decisions. (And how little we consider the fact that not all choices are in our own hands.)

    In this case – when to find out the gender of your baby – I can’t see a good argument for any way being the best way. We waited until our kids were born to find out their genders, but I was often tempted to find out earlier. My husband and I just went with our guts. Good for you for following yours in both of your pregnancies.

  11. Gale Says:

    Laura – Thank you! If IEP ever says that he wants to marry me, I might just melt! (Provided, of course that he’s still under the age of 6…) As for doctors’ responses to our individual medical decision, I completely agree with you. So often they seem to get into the rut of believing that there’s only one way to approach any medical condition and that their knowledge and understanding supercedes any personal considerations that we might factor in. It can be very difficult as a patient to make your own decision that is informed, but not dictated, by your physician’s opinions.

    Kristen – It’s true, we rarely know the full story. Getting pregnant (by any means) is highly personal and even when we think we know the details we may not. It’s a good thing that we all still have the latitude to make the decision that is right for us, and that – at least in this situation – we are not shoehorned into any one approach. Thanks for your kind words!

  12. anne Says:

    I can’t wait to meet my new nephew. I’m so grateful he’s healthy. Finding out the gender is, indeed, an intensely personal decision. For me, it just wasn’t a hard one at all. I knew I wanted to know, because I was nervous as hell about giving birth. It was kind of like, “For such an unpredictable process, at least we’ll know THAT.” But for someone else, it just doesn’t make sense to find out early. Thanks for reminding us not to judge, and to just greet every baby with joy.

  13. Gale Says:

    Anne – Greeting every baby with joy. I love that idea. No matter the circumstances of the pregnancy or birth, every baby deserves a joyful arrival.

  14. Ana Says:

    Thank you for sharing this Gale. I can only imagine how heart-wrenching the experience was, and so happy to hear the outcome! We had “borderline” results with the quad screen during this pregnancy and opted to forego the amnio. (I was “borderline” 35 at the time, now I’m fully there!) I think it’s really important to remember that pregnancy–from conception through delivery–involves many unknowns and risks; we love to celebrate new life and inundate pregnant women with questions and advice, but as you say, we may not know the whole story, and we should be sensitive to that.
    As for finding out the sex…I did, both times so far. Mainly because I am so miserable that it’s nice to have something to anticipate and celebrate midway. It somehow makes the whole process more “real” when I can better imagine the outcome. I also grew up as one of two sisters so I’m a little bewildered (but delighted) that I’m soon going to have 2 boys. Congrats to you and your family!!!