Image from Pretty Felt Things – Etsy
One of the advantages of having an NIPT is that you have the option of finding out the gender of your baby. We considered keeping the gender a surprise but, on reflection, decided that knowing what you are having helps with the planning but also, in the euphoria of giving birth, would finding out the gender of your baby on the day really add anything extra? For me, I didn’t think so. And I’m an impatient person. So we ticked the box on the form & asked the company who did our test to phone with the results of the genetic tests but to email us the full report so we could find out the gender while sat together.
I was convinced we were having a boy. I also went for some acupuncture in the early stages of pregnancy and my acupuncturist asked if I wanted to try out the ancient Chinese way of predicting gender, just for a bit of fun. She took my pulse in both wrists to feel which was stronger. It was stronger on my right which apparently meant I was having a boy. I, of course, went home and Googled Chinese gender predictions and it said that a stronger pulse on my right hand meant a girl. Confused.com.
I was quite happy with the prospect of a boy and, with a donor egg, I figured it could mean more genes from Mike. But on the day the test results were due I woke up with an overwhelming urge for a girl. I calmed myself with the words of a friend who said she had also been desperate for a girl but finding out she was having a boy gave her the rest of her pregnancy to adjust to the idea and, of course, she adores her boy.
So Mike and I sat next to each other on the settee in the conservatory. IPad in hand and I pulled up the email and opened the attachment and we slowly scrolled down until we came to the bit that said:
Fetal sex: FEMALE
And I burst into tears.
Reading through the various forums, I heard about tests called Harmony, NIFTY and Serenity that some women were using as a more accurate way of finding out if their baby has Down’s Syndrome. I had never heard of these types of tests before so decided to do some research, which turned into a lot of research!
It seems these are all brand names for blood tests that are grouped under the umbrella term NIPT/Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing. They all work in a similar way ie. taking a sample of the mother’s blood, isolate from it the baby’s DNA which can then be analysed for Down’s Syndrome, Edwards’ Syndrome and Patau’s syndrome. The accuracy levels are really high, over 99% in most cases, which is much higher than the nuchal fold measurement/blood markers that the NHS currently use to assess risk. And unlike an amniocentesis or a CVS, which remain the only way to be 100% certain, there is no risk of miscarriage.
The downside of these tests is cost – they are between £320 – £500 and are currently only available privately (although watch this space as the NHS is considering offering a similar test to all pregnant women).
Mike and I had lots of discussions about what to do which inevitably ended up with long discussions about what we would do if the test showed our baby had Down’s Syndrome. And should we even be having the test in the first place? Would it be so bad if we did have a baby with Down’s Syndrome? Don’t people with Down’s Syndrome and other disabilities also have a contribution to make to the world? Would we really terminate our much longed for pregnancy? It’s all very well wanting to have a baby at 50yrs but how would we cope if that baby had Down’s Syndrome? Too many difficult and searching questions that we bounced around with for a good few days.
In the end we decided to go ahead which then led to even more research as there are so many tests on the market! The tests apparently do vary in the way they work but I couldn’t find a huge amount of information on this, and, even if I could, I probably wouldn’t be able to understand it. So I did a comparison based on cost, how easy it was to get the test done, accuracy levels, what they tested for and where the results are analysed. The most popular tests are analysed overseas but, when I phoned one of the providers, they suggested I consider Serenity, a test that was analysed in the UK so you get the results quicker and it was cheaper. They also offered an option where they sent me a kit in the post and I had the blood sample taken locally (thankfully my GP surgery were as helpful as ever) and posted it back to them.
Then came yet another nervous wait for a week or so before finally the results came back……completely clear of any abnormalities.
Another hurdle passed.
This feels like a real milestone of a scan. Pass this one and the risk of miscarriage drops to 1% and I felt I would finally be able to breathe again and possibly even start to believe in this pregnancy.
The sonographer, as ever, was brilliant. Friendly, informative and said immediately when she had found a heartbeat. I could have cried. At this point I was still having no symptoms, it’s still too early to feel movements so I was hanging on to every scan appointment and just hoping that nothing had gone wrong. But there was our baby, sleeping peacefully with a little heartbeat going ten to the dozen. What a wonderful sound.
We had agreed to the NHS test for Downs Syndrome and reassuringly, the sonographer mentioned there was no nuchal thickening which was a relief at the time. I looked at our notes later though and saw she had measured the nuchal fold as 2.2mm and I’d have preferred less than 2mm but we figured with a young donor, our risk should still be low. We’d just have to wait and see.
After completing the measurements she needed the sonographer had me turn on my side for a minute or so and then back and it did the trick. The baby was awake and did a little dance for us, such a beautiful sight, made us laugh and gave us images to remember. From then onwards s/he has been the “dancing baby”.
Following the scan, we saw a midwife who took a blood sample to complete the testing for Downs Syndrome and then we were on our way again, smiling and with images of our beautiful dancing baby in our minds. A great day.
So two weeks later, we were back at EPAU for another scan, Mike as calm as ever, me as nervous as ever and praying we would still have a heartbeat. And we did, just the one. Although the second sac was still there, it hadn’t grown, so we were confirmed as a single pregnancy with a lovely strong heartbeat and growing as expected. Such a relief.
We also found out our baby was now measuring 8 weeks and 6 days (we thought we were 9 weeks, 1 day so near enough) and is 21.3mm long, amazing that in 2 weeks s/he had grown 15mm!
We didn’t get a picture this time, though, apparently they are not really supposed to in the EPAU so we got lucky last time.
So we were on track now for the normal NHS process ie. a booking appointment and a 12 week scan. I just could not wait to get to that 12 week scan.
Oh my goodness, how nerve wracking are those first scans?! The early days are just so difficult as there is no way of knowing if you’re still pregnant, you just have to hope for the best. Yes, you can keep repeating pregnancy tests but the hormone HCG can remain in your body even if the pregnancy has failed so they’re only reassuring up to a point. All IVF ladies will have read stories of people turning up at those first scans only to find no heartbeat, even in cases when there was a heartbeat previously, so those early scans are both lifesavers and something to be feared.
My first scan was at around 7 weeks so the sonographer should be able to find a heartbeat. It was a real make or break appointment although something inside kept telling me all would be well. The EPAU (Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit) staff could not have been more helpful and, after a quick chat with a midwife, Mike and I were called through for the scan, another internal scan at this early stage.
The relief when the sonographer said I’ve found a heartbeat was immense and we could see it pulsating on the screen. Just the most incredible sight and the first sign that this pregnancy really was happening. I was just a little shocked by her next words, though. It seems that the embryo had split and there were two gestational sacs! The second one appeared to be empty but she wanted us back in a couple of weeks to double check we weren’t expecting twins. Now that was a shock. Although we knew it was possible a single embryo could split, we had hoped that, by having a single embryo transfer, we had minimised the chances of twins.
We had a chat on the way home and both thought the chances of the second sac developing were probably slim and, even if it did start to develop, I knew that most twin pregnancies were a singleton by the time the 12 weeks scan came around. But if it was to be twins then, so be it, we would just have to find a way to make it work.
In the meantime we would just celebrate the fact that we had a heartbeat – so far, so good.