This is what having an amniocentesis really feels like

An amniocentesis is a screen for chromosomal abnormalities in a foetus.
An amniocentesis is a screen for chromosomal abnormalities in a foetus.

“Your baby has been flagged as ‘high risk’ for chromosomal abnormalities” – the words no pregnant women ever wants to hear.

I always thought that falling pregnant was supposed to be this exciting time that leaves you literally ‘glowing … and for a vast majority of women it really is. For others like myself who suddenly find themselves thrown into the "high risk" category, it can be a real nightmare riddled with stress, uncertainty and many scary prenatal tests.

And when it comes to those tests, I bet you a million bucks that there isn’t a single pregnant woman out there who is excited by the prospect of having to run the gauntlet of needles. I know I wasn’t thrilled. In fact, I was absolutely terrified.

The test I was dreading the most? An amniocentesis…

So, what exactly is an amnio?

An amniocentesis is essentially a medical procedure in which a large, hollow needle is inserted through a pregnant woman’s abdomen into her uterus. A small amount of amniotic fluid (about 10ml) containing foetal tissue is then extracted so that it can be screened for chromosomal abnormalities like Trisomy 13, 18, and 21.

This fluid is sent away to a lab where they grow the extracted cells in a culture. The baby’s chromosomes are then examined under a microscope. It takes about two weeks to get the results for a full karyotype and a few days if it’s run as a FISH test (a faster testing method). As this is a diagnostic test, the results of an amnio are accurate and definite: either your baby has abnormalities or not.

Yup, sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

In my case, I was flagged as "high risk" for Trisomy 18 (a chromosomal abnormality called Edwards Syndrome) at my 12 week scan. Following that appointment I chose to have a non-invasive genetic test in the hope that it would to rule out a positive diagnosis for Trisomy 18, but it came back as inconclusive. In order to get a definitive diagnosis (because I had to know if my baby was OK) my doctors advised that I proceed with an amniocentesis.

Read more: 10 things I wish someone had told me about the 1st trimester

Are there risks?

Well, a needle is being inserted into your amniotic sack right next to your baby so yes, there are risks involved. The procedure should be performed between 16–18 weeks gestation with the aid of ultrasound-guidance so that the needle is inserted in an area away from the baby. If the procedure is performed incorrectly it can cause a miscarriage, infection or birth defects. Invasive testing caries a generalised miscarriage risk of 1:200 according to the South African Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (SASOG), and about one in every 150 to 200 women who have an amniocentesis will miscarry as a result of it, according to Lancet Labs.

Does it hurt?

I don’t know how you feel about needles, but personally I’m not a massive fan. I always find them painful. So to say I was a "nervous wreck" for the two weeks leading up to the procedure would be an understatement. My palms would literally sweat when I thought about my baby being accidentally poked. However when I arrived at the Fetal Assessment Centre for my amnio I was remarkably calm … like weirdly Zen.

Before whipping out that monster of a needle for the procedure, the doctor did a full scan of my baby and explained what she was going to do to me. She wiped down my abdomen with antiseptic (yes, no anaesthesia), held the ultrasound to keep an eye on the baby and told me to take a deep breath. I closed my eyes and grimaced while she inserted the needle. Literally a minute later it was all over.

I somehow managed to keep my nerve, mainly because my doctor was wonderful and my husband was incredibly calm on the outside.

So, did it hurt? I can honestly say that I felt zero pain. It feels more like ‘pressure’ … as if someone is pressing on your abdomen from the inside. That’s the best way I can describe it.

After patching me up with a plaster, a cup of tea and a little 20-minute lie down I was ready to head home to rest in bed.

The next day my abdominal area was a tad tender and I experienced mild cramping (similar to light period cramps), but that was it.

Read more: 6 prepregnancy tests every woman should consider

How much does it cost?

It depends where you have your procedure done, which medical scheme you’re with and whether the sample is being run for a full Karyotype or as a FISH test, but the cost can range between R5 000 and R9 000 (this was the price range quoted for my case). If you’re having an amnio as a "high risk" patient, your medical scheme might cover the full cost of the procedure.

Should you do invasive testing?

If you screen as "high risk" for one of the chromosomal abnormalities your doctor might suggest you consult with a genetic counsellor or advise you on doing further testing. At the end of the day invasive testing is a personal decision, and you ultimately need to decide what is best for you and your baby.

Looking back at my personal experience, I now know that I if I were to fall pregnant again and was advised to have an amnio for a second time, I’d be able to handle it.

To be honest, waiting for my amnio results was way more stressful and far more agonising than having that needle inserted into my stomach. Hindsight, right?

Image credit: iStock

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