When I was a pregnant 28-year old, I didn't hesitate as my doctor offered a screening test for various genetic conditions. I figured it couldn't hurt me or my baby, and that the information the test provided would most likely allow me to check a box off my mental list. I was hoping for reassurance that my child was and would be healthy, happy, and who I expected. As it happens, despite the fact that the prenatal tests suggested otherwise, our daughter was diagnosed with Down syndrome two hours after birth. Since that moment, I've spent a lot of time thinking about sticking out my arm for a blood draw eight years ago. In retrospect, I wish I had known how problematic my assumptions about prenatal testing were, so my hope now is to offer other women a chance to confront some myths surrounding prenatal testing:
Myth #1: Your doctor can tell you everything you need to know about prenatal testing.
Two hours after Penny was born, a pediatrician and a neonatologist told us that they suspected she had Down syndrome. I hardly heard their words, but later we received a packet of information that listed medical concerns for children with Down syndrome, and I read about her likelihood of developing celiac disease, childhood leukemia, intellectual delays, vision and hearing impairments. But the doctors couldn't tell me much about what has proved to be far more important to our life as a family—Penny's personality, the way she would fidget like her father and jump up and down when receiving a new book, just as I did when I was little. Doctors can provide medical information about the conditions that might be diagnosed through prenatal testing, but most doctors are unable to provide information about the social and emotional context for children with disabilities.
A study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics demonstrated that doctors and genetic counselors value clinical information most when presenting a prenatal diagnosis, even though parents report valuing information that details the social context for Down syndrome. As numerous studies attest, what parents want and what doctors and counselors provide often differ. Expectant parents need more than medical knowledge when making decisions about their families.
Myth #2: The best thing for every pregnant woman is to pursue prenatal screening.