Thursday, March 08, 2007

"window children/with protective parents/sit and watch/other kids go out and play"

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. (Her birth weight was a decent 8lb 8oz.) 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 mildly nauseous. It feels like the baby isn’t comfortable being 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. This is the hardest challenge of parenting – to trust that we will do our best to ensure the safety of our children, teach them to keep themselves safe, then, eventually, let them go out into the world.

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.
- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula


Anonymous said...

I'm heartened to see your view on this. When we were a week prior to our due date, our midwife reccomended an ultrasound. We had only had one other, at 10 weeks, to verify that we were pregnant (little stinker was hiding from the doppler). For the last ultrasound, my husband and I decided not to even watch. We also wanted to maintain the mystery of this being who was growing in my body. We didn't want to know about anything which we couldn't do anything about (ie: downs, defects, etc) prior to the birth and we would deal with it after.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how we form mental images of our pregnancy that have nothing to do with technological images. Seeing my own ultrasound last year, a little dark spot on the screen, was the most abstract thing and not at all how I knew it actually looked inside me. But I can't imagine that a photograph would be more accurate than my imagination. My sense of being pregnant was 4-dimensional in a physical and emotional sense. I could feel it throughout my body, not just in my belly, and I didn't picture a dark spot of growing cells, but a deep red, blushing, extremely heavy, life-filled energy. That doesn't translate into a fuzzy digital image.

mm said...

My first ultrasound was scary, tech tsk tsking and then finally noticing that I was crying said... oh it's just really active.
Gee thanks for scaring us.
Second one, same tech.
"yeah, nothing alive in here. I'll go see about a d/c."
I got dressed and left before she came back, had my misscarage at home.
Third I almost sobbed when I "had to" do it. Great tech (diffenent province) and kept the volume on for me to just hear the heartbeat.
Never showed the cord tightly bound around her neck. So yeah, a false sense of security is so true!
As always, a feast for thought!

melissa said...

My first ultrasound at 17 weeks was very unsettling. I had nightmares about it before it happened. The tech wasn't very personable and I found the images disturbing.

We changed providers and I had a second ultrasound at 31 weeks. This one was much better. I felt curious and I enjoyed the experience. It did feel *disconnecting* to peek at my childs internal anatomy like that, but I didn't consider it a "bonding" experience anyway.

BTW, I *love* your blog & writing. I'm very interested in going through doula training at some point so I find your stories very inspiring and exciting!