- I’m a scientist working in a genetic lab analyzing samples from pregnant people.
- I help determine the viability of a pregnancy and whether there are any genetic conditions.
- Becoming a mom has changed how I view the work I do — I know what’s at stake.
No one looks forward to me doing my job. I also wish no one needed my services.
Working in the genetics lab, I’m in the business of trying to provide answers during some of life’s most difficult situations. Chromosomes help diagnose cancer, developmental issues, and a variety of viable and less viable conditions present in utero.
Odds are I’ll never actually meet the people whose samples I’m analyzing, but I often know a bit of their backstory. One thing is certain to me: These people are grieving as they wait for the results. Their biological samples come to me, and I literally hold their heartbreak in my hands.
I find genetic testing during pregnancy the hardest to process
For me, it’s the prenatal cases that tend to hit the hardest.
While there are never any guarantees in medicine, I guarantee you there’s never been a pregnant person who wanted me to be a part of their journey. If I’m involved, there’s a question — a big one. A question that required a doctor to collect cells from the gestating life and send them for a barrage of tests.
Through scientific and practiced procedures, I culture those cells, allowing them to multiply and grow outside the body. From there, our team can often diagnose a chromosomal or other genetic pathology. While I see my fair share of chorionic villus sampling and amniocentesis, it’s the products of conception — the catchall term for samples that come from pregnancies that are no longer growing — that stay on my mind.
I have to apologize for the sterility of my language, a consequence of working within the medical laboratory. Personally, it feels more like a coping mechanism. A gestating being is referred to as a fetus. Miscarriages before a specific time are classified as missed abortions. A stillbirth is often called intrauterine fetal demise. All of it is heartbreak.
Working behind the scenes leaves me feeling like a nameless testing machine. Samples are submitted, and results come out, at least most of the time. But I care about other people’s heartbreak. Regardless of her name or background, I know there’s a mother out there grieving, likely living through one of the worst moments of her life. And I want to give her an answer — something simple and clear, based on genetics, to try to explain what happened.
But the cruel truth is we often cannot provide a clear answer. Science and biology aren’t as straightforward as they’re presented in high school. Just like most of life, they’re complicated.
Becoming a mom changed me
Something shifted in me after experiencing pregnancies of my own. The decision to create a new person is a heavy one, but it’s also filled with excitement and hope.
While I know the science of embryonic development, I also know the emotional future you create for yourself and your family. I know the love and care that can manifest even in the very early days of discovering you’re pregnant. I know the elation, relief, and anxiety of trying to get pregnant for years and seeing that early heartbeat; it feels both real and unreal in the same instant.
My approach at the lab bench changed after having children. Of course, my colleagues and I have always been respectful. But I give extra care, thought, and tenderness, if that’s even possible with cell culturing. I think about the person carrying the pregnancy. I can’t reach out and hold their hand, but I will gently hold their heartbreak.