Pregnancy Diary #2 Thoughts on scans and tests and if and how they might or might not benefit me
Imagine not knowing anything about your baby before it comes out? Not having a scanned due date, a nuchal fold scan i.e Downs syndrome scan and from that maybe an amniocentesis , a gender scan, not to talk about a private 3D scans to see what baby looks like, then an 18 weeks scan checking the vital organs and a growth scan to be sure your baby doesn’t look too big or too small? It is nearly impossible to imagine not to know all this, isn’t it?We are offered an enormous amount of medical tests these days. It seems every year there is another vitally important one that we simply can’t live without.
This is not a post about whether it is right or wrong to test and scan though. I am not really interested in that, but I think it is healthy that we talk about how and if it is really benefiting us at this level, as it has now become such routine that it is hardly questioned anymore. I am also wondering how many sick babies we are actually saving through all these scans, that wouldn’t otherwise have been picked up on and in return how much more anxiety we create?
This is my personal story and thoughts about whether I should get scanned and tested in this pregnancy.
I am 41 and so obviously we were faced with the question of scanning for Down’s syndrome particularly. On top of that there was the whole miscarriage thing and wondering if everything was ok. On the other hand every time I have had a scan in the past, something anxiety provoking has come up and has not been true. The last thing I wanted this time was to be unnecessarily anxious. I am working hard to stay calm and confident in the first place.
With my first baby I had an early scan, because of bleeding. This scan showed that I was possibly a week earlier than we thought ie my due date should have been a week later. At my 18 week scan it was a relief to know everything was fine, as I had had an early miscarriage before this pregnancy, but they didn’t confirm that later due date and as such the old due date was resumed. I then ended up with another two scans for being’ overdue’ later on and lots of negative comments from nurses about how I was putting my baby at risk.
With my second baby I decided not to have any scans along the way, but agreed to have scans when I again was very overdue. This was also partly to cover for my midwifes at the time, who was still supporting me for homebirth despite the overdue issue. I had two scans where the first one said fluid was on the small side and then next one said too much fluid? I probably had just the right amount. There was also a whole lot of panic because they couldn’t get a good heart trace. The ultrasound person left the room to get a more experienced person, leaving me rather bewildered. My baby was moving a lot, so I had trouble understanding that there could be panic and problems. It turned out that it was because my baby was moving so much that they couldn’t get the heartbeat trace for long enough. In my book if my baby is moving a lot it’s heart is probably beating quite well. But again no one was listening to my story and my intuition. Then it kept going because now my placenta was too big. And on and on it went.
When I started bleeding during the pregnancy that I Iost 2 years ago, I went in for a scan, because obviously there was now cause for concern. I was told that my baby was not alive and that the neck was protruding. See if my baby had been alive and I had been told that the neck was protruding, there would have been more tests and more anxiety. Possibly also tests that had high risks of spontaneous abortion too. My baby was totally normal looking when I birthed her. Little, not alive and alien like, but her neck was NOT protruding at all. I had a good look at her.
I don’t know if in this case, the ‘scanning’ man was trying to relieve my pain and grief by saying something was wrong with this baby and that was why it had died. I must admit though, I hear so many similar stories of scans revealing bellies too small, heads too big, etc etc, which turns out to be not true, but which results in more and more tests, caesareans and inductions for, in the end, no reason. And lots of anxiety throughout pregnancy for Mums.
When I was around 12 weeks pregnant this time around, I was in two minds about the scanning situation, as it would of course be nice to know that everything was ok. I did feel like everything was fine when I really tried to tune in behind the fear. On the other hand I really didn’t want to be told about fantom protruding necks or small for dates bellies. The third thing was also about due dates. I do not want to be in anyone’s records with a certain due date this time that will put me under under stress about going into labour again.I bake my babies longer for whatever reason and this time I would like to just birth without the added stress.
I decided to wait a couple more weeks before deciding, as those early scans needs to be done through the vagina, which exposes the baby to higher doses of ultra sound. When I came to the end of those two weeks I did get the midwife to listen in with the doppler and I heard a loud clear heat beat. I can’t tell you how wonderful that was. I was over the moon, but also felt a little silly for not having just trusting that instinct that everything was fine. And I now didn’t really feel like I needed a scan. The baby was alive.
The next day I was totally down though, I was sure something was now not right and I really needed to hear it again. I was sure that I had probably laid a bit too much on my belly and that back massage hubby had given me last night would surely have shaken the baby loose!!!!!
Next week we listened in with the doppler again, baby was lying really low and the sound was not quite as clear. The midwife was happy with what we heard, but I was not nearly as reassured and again the day after I really needed to hear it again.
I realised that every time I used this outside or external reassurance I lost my own sense of tuning in and my own intuition and trust. My baby is now moving heaps and the issue of baby being alive is so much smaller. Now the issue is more about whether baby is normal. I don’t feel like I am constantly fearful and worrying, but when it is troubling me, I spend time doing some serious soul searching about not ‘externally’ knowing if my baby is normal. Behind that fear I still feel like everything is ok though. And every time I come to the same conclusion, that even if something was found to be wrong, I would not be able to abort this baby. I already love this baby without knowing if it is a boy or a girl, without knowing for sure if there are three arms or a chromosome fault and there is something very special about that. I will of course be devastated if something is wrong, but I am not sure if a scan could help me with that. I know emotionally this is the best way for me to do this. I am having to really tune in again and again and trust my instinct. I will of course have a scan if there is suddenly a cause for concern, if I am not growing or my baby is not moving or I am bleeding etc, but I don’t think I will unless that is the case. I will probably also have a scan if I suddenly have more fear than confidence.
Women have so many different reasons for tests and scans and we all need to do what makes us feel most at peace and most confident. That also goes for birth. It is important though to really think these things through. What are you going to do with this information, is it going to get in the way of your instinct and trust in your body and yourself. It is also important to remember that ultra sound is a very unreliable tool still. We have mountains of misdiagnosis or alerts, leading to anxiety and unnecessary medicalisation of birth, more tests that have high risks of spontaneously aborting the child, healthy or not.
I wonder also that if we were meant to know, wouldn’t we have been created to be able to see in then? Medically it is reassuring but is it good for us emotionally? What does it mean emotionally to women and to pregnancy that we do look for all these things that ‘could’ be wrong. And what does it mean to spend weeks and weeks of pregnancy worrying about something that has been found that we don’t know if is serious and waiting for more tests and results? Is this a technological advancement that is really benefiting us on this very emotionally journey? And then if a scan is making women feel more confident, do they need 16 of them? Or is that what happens when we start relying on that external reassurance? It becomes nearly addictive to keep getting that reassurance. I don’t know.
As I said I am not out to say that having scans and tests are wrong. I would just really like there to be more questions asked and for women to remember that having a scan does not make their pregnancy or baby safe. It is a choice we are offered, not something that is medically necessary, and you can do what suits your situation and personality whatever that is. I suppose it is the same message as in so many of my other posts; take charge of your pregnancy, ask lots of questions and make conscious decisions, whatever they are.
For more information on what tests are offered click on this link to MidwifeThinking