Amniocentesis is a prenatal diagnostic technique used to detect genetic disorders in fetuses. The procedure involves an amniotic tap, usually performed during the sixteenth week of pregnancy. The test results are available about four weeks later. If the test results indicate a genetic defect in the fetus, then the parents may decide to have an abortion.
Barbara Katz Rothman has written a provocative book, The Tentative Pregnancy: Prenatal Diagnosis and the Future of Motherhood, in which she discusses some of the implications of amniocentesis for women and society. According to Rothman, pregnancies in which amniocentesis have been performed are tentative. The woman follows personal, medical, and social rituals that acknowledge pregnancy. Nevertheless, she knows that depending on the test's results, she may decide not to carry the pregnancy to full term. Consequently, many of these pregnancies are tentative well into mid-pregnancy.
Rothman's field work, which forms the backbone of the book, includes extensive interviews with women and medical professionals. She writes with sensitivity about women who have used the procedure. The voices of the interviewed women come out clearly in the text, bringing their seldom heard views into the arena of public discourse. While amniocentesis gives women a certain freedom to choose the kind of parenting they will undertake, Rothman's data suggests that women's opinions and experiences have not been sufficiently considered in the use of this relatively new technology.
Rothman found that the use of amniocentesis changed the way that women experienced several aspects of pregnancy. For example, amniocentesis changed the emotional and social experience of quickening. Quickening refers to the first fetal movements felt by the mother. For many women it is an experience that affirms pregnancy. Rothman found that, when amniocentesis was used, fetal movement was not necessarily reassuring to the pregnant woman. Some women were unable to feel movement until after test results confirmed a genetically healthy fetus. Other women were faced with the difficult decision to abort a fetus that they had felt moving, and had become attached to.
The author puts her concerns about amniocentesis to a pragmatic use by including an appendix, "Guidelines For Personal Decision-Making." In this section Rothman summarizes the clinical procedure, the fetal conditions that may be diagnosed, and the parameters involved in the decision-making process.
In this book Rothman combines theoretical and historical perspectives with empirical data, enabling the reader to gain insight into some of the implications of this new technology. The Tentative Pregnancy is both informative, and provocative. It is a book that would be useful to health care consumers, as well as health care professionals.