When I had my daughter, obstetric ultrasound was relatively new. My British obstetrician proudly told the story about the Glasgow obstetrician who saw the potential in ultrasonic testing for cracks in submarine hulls. I had one scan late in my pregnancy because the obstetrician suspected that my baby was quite small. The images were unsettling – at 28 weeks, her body was too big to completely fit on the screen, so it appeared as if her legs, arms, and torso were unconnected. I left the room shaken. After waiting for the results for a day, I heard that the verdict was in – she was growing normally. Even with the good news, it was hard to reconcile those images with the feeling of her inside me.
To reconnect, I would press my belly against my husband late at night, so that he would be able to feel the baby move against his body. We would talk about who this baby might be, based on the clues that we had – the vigorous movements, the tumbling and dancing. We worked hard to leave the disconnected ultrasound images behind.
During my second pregnancy, I chose to be cared for by midwives who were part of a pilot project at Grace Hospital, and, as part of the project policy, I had to be seen once by a physician. His main focus seemed to be to convince me to agree to an ultrasound. “You’re not one of those midwifery patients who’ll argue with me, now, are you?” I remember my 3-year old daughter looking at him, warily, when he said that. “Oh, of course not!” I heard myself saying, submissively, while thinking, “I wish I was strong enough to opt out.”
Over the years, I followed the progression from 2D to 3D and 4D ultrasounds. During research trials of the 4D equipment, clients would describe the experience as eerie, like they were seeing something that they weren’t supposed to see. When I didn’t hear anything further about 4D scans, I assumed the newest models were being used under strict guidelines in medical diagnostic settings. But, when I started to hear that one of the newest pregnancy trends is the “Bonding Scan,” I couldn’t help being reminded of the trend to X-ray customers’ feet in shoe stores in the 1940s and 50s.
For some reason, the 3D and 4D ultrasound images have always made me feel uncomfortable. It feels like the baby doesn't want to be scanned – moving away from the transducer, covering her face. But, after talking with many clients this week, I’ve found that I’m not alone. Each woman that I’ve spoken with (perhaps we’re all in agreement because, well, they are my clients) talked about a little voice in her head that said, “It’s like we’re looking at a mystery without permission.” “There’d be a porthole if we were meant to see this!”
Certainly, ultrasound images can reassure parents. They can see the fingers and toes and be sure that everything is “all right.” But, isn’t it a false sense of security that we’re being given? We can never ever be sure that everything’s “all right” in life. Ultiimately, we have to accept that there are hidden dangers, potential concerns, around every corner. Life can never be risk-free. As parents, we have to let go at some point, do our best to keep our children safe, and hope for the best. Certain things are beyond our control.
Perhaps my negative feeling about the “bonding ultrasounds” is my gut telling me that we have to trust our bodies and our babies. It doesn’t mean that we have to turn our backs on technology, just use it judiciously, mindful of the false sense of security that it gives us.