Knocked up at 43: Is my baby at risk?

By Christine Zeindler


Panic hit as I watched the double blue line appear on the pregnancy wand. It was positive. I wondered if my middle-aged body would be able to support and nourish this new life and what the odds were of delivering a healthy baby.

A trip to the doctor quieted some of my fears. “Generally, if a woman is healthy and fit pre-pregnancy, chances are she will do very well,” said Dr. Deborah Cohen, an obstetrician/gynecologist who delivers babies at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). “Our biggest concern with increasing maternal age is that the baby has an increased risk for genetic abnormalities.”

Hearing this, I was confident, I was in good shape and could carry the baby   However, I didn’t know if my baby would be healthy and wondered how we could find out.

“There are three options,” said Dr. Cohen. “You can do nothing, screen the baby using an ultrasound and a blood test or do an amniocentesis.”

My chances of having a baby with a genetic abnormality is 1 approximately in 33. So, doing nothing was just not an option for me.

Pros and cons of nuchal translucency screening

A noninvasive ultrasound test, which involves measuring the nuchal translucency, a membrane at the back of the fetal neck, was a possibility. “There is a correlation between thickness of this tissue and Down’s syndrome, “ said Dr. Cohen. “In addition, a serum screen to look at maternal blood can be completed. Together these two tests provide a good indication of fetal health, but are not absolute.”

Opting for amniocentesis

Based on the limited accuracy of the ultrasound and blood test, I decided to have an amniocentesis. It is an invasive procedure, where a long needle s inserted into the uterus and a small amount of amniotic fluid is withdrawn. This is sent to a laboratory for genetic testing.

The day of my procedure I was nervous and my little baby was energetically zipping around my uterus. We had to wait more than 15 minutes for the little guy to slow down, so the needle could be safely inserted. The feeling was uncomfortable, but mercifully the procedure was under three minutes.

Because the analysis at the MUHC was going to take about four weeks, I decided to also send the sample to a private clinic. The genetic testing at the private lab involved using specialized probes to look for the three most common genetic abnormalities: trisomy 21, 18 and 13, and it only took 48-hours to get the results.

That two-day wait was intense. Thankfully, the results came back negative, indicating that my little babe did not have any of these three common genetic abnormalities. Four weeks later, I received the welcome news from the MUHC that the babe passed the complete amniocentesis test with flying colors.

I was also told that I’m having a boy, which is thrilling. What I don’t know is the colour of his eyes, hair or if he’ll have his father’s dimple. For this, I will happily wait for the big day, which is still three months away. I look forward to meeting my son.