Handling Pre-Natal Genetic Counseling

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sonogramIf you are having difficulties in your pregnancy, or if you are of  ” advanced maternal age”, you may consider having pre-natal genetic counseling.

During the counseling session, a genetic counselor will ask about the health of your family members.  Both your family history and your spouse’s family history are important.  Basically, they are looking for any genetic diseases or conditions that may have appeared from generation to generation.  They’ll ask about your grandparents, parents, and your siblings to determine a genetic history.

From this information, they can obtain statistics on your chances of having a child with a certain disease.  Based upon your age, the counselor will be able to give you an idead of your risks of having a child with a genetic disease like Down’s Syndrome.  Down’s Syndrome is a chromosomal disorder which causes mental retardation in children with the disorder.  If your risks are particularly high, the counselor may recommend further testing, which may or may not show anything definitive.

An ultrasound may reveal certain genetic markers for Down’s Syndrome, but the fact that they are present does not necessarily mean that your child will have Down’s.  For that matter, an absence of markers does not mean that your child does not have the genetic condition either. 

Your counselor and/or physician may recommend other test such as an amniocentesis to further verify the results of the ultrasound.   Although results from this test are very accurate, the testing itself does slightly increase your risk for miscarriage.  You and your spouse may decide that the accurate results warrant the risk, or you may feel the opposite.  It’s important to be honest with yourself and your mate about your feelings before undergoing such testing.

What if your child does have a handicap or a chromosomal abnormality?  It will take some time to come to terms with that information.  If your child does have a special condition, it’s important to find out as much as you can about that particular condition. 

Many support groups exist to help families deal with having a special needs child.  Your doctor should be able to help you locate support groups in your local area.  If none exist, or even if they do exist, you may wish to join a support group online.  My older two children have a rare degenerative eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa(RP).  There are no support groups locally, but I have connected online with several groups that have been helpful.  By searching online, I’ve found several different organizations that advocate for children with RP.  One of these organizations also puts out an incredibly informative newsletter several times a year which has been very helpful. I’ve found out about wonderful social opportunities for my children, as well as medical advances that may one day cure my children’s condition.

Finding out that your child has a handicap or a chromosomal abnormality is a stressful event.  While such a diagnosis may mean a change in your family’s lifestyle, it doesn’t mean that life needs to stop.  By educating yourself and getting the support you need, you can help your child to have a wonderful life!

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