What's With All the "Scary" Pregnancy Stats?
I’m pregnant at 40, and boy is my doctor worried
I didn’t start having children until I was 35 and now I’m pregnant with my fourth. And even though with the first three I was overseas, all four pregnancies have one thing in common: endless prenatal testing until they each breathed their first breath. But because of my new and even more advanced age range (40 and up) and new locale (North Carolina, USA), this one is getting the most attention of all.
The testing doesn’t bother me. I like to have the reassurance that all is well, that the pea is growing happily and healthily in the pod. What I don’t like are the scary statistics.
First of all, because of my “advanced maternal age,” I was referred to the genetic counselor, along with my husband. She held out a chart, outlining the chances of our baby having Down syndrome (along with other genetic conditions), which at my age were almost as high as the chart went: 1 in 100. Compare this to a woman at 30 whose chances of having a baby with Down syndrome are 1 in 900. If this were a lottery, you’d buy a ticket (or two… or 17) with those odds, right?
But then she spun it another way. The same information, just presented differently. Chances of me having a baby without Down syndrome were above 99 percent. So why even show the first chart?
It turns out that most babies born with Down syndrome are carried by younger moms. Statistics are tricky though because again, there’s a spin. This is not because younger women are more likely to have babies with Down syndrome (they’re not). It’s because younger women have MORE babies overall, thus skewing the numbers all around. Statistics. No wonder Mark Twain famously said, “There are three kinds of lies. Lies, damn lies and statistics.” I’d add a fourth category: super scary statistics.
Then there are options for testing. “Would you like an amniocentesis?” This is what each nurse and OB-GYN has casually asked me every time I visit the clinic. Not really, I say. It’s invasive (hello, humongous needle right in my belly!) and, even though it’s only a remote possibility, it has been tied to problems in pregnancies. For this one and the three pregnancies before, I prefer to start with the basic options—ultrasounds and blood tests—then escalate from there if needed. But when I say this to the doctors, they usually sort of shrug with an, “It’s up to you” attitude.
It’s a rock and hard place position for them, I know. Nudge too far in one direction and you scare a mother to death. Don’t give her enough guidance and you run the risk of an undetected issue. But like the genetic statistics, why start with the scariest option first?
I know they’re just doing their best to take good care of me, and I’m just trying to take it all in stride. Things I keep reminding myself when I get scared: I’ve had three healthy pregnancies followed by three very healthy babies. True blessings to be sure! My body is in good shape, I have no physical issues and even at the terribly old age of 40, I feel like a spry 33-year-old.
Now if I could just convince my doctors of that…
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