Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why No Ultrasounds?

I have never had an ultrasound during a pregnancy. Happily, my babes have so far grown perfectly without any need to check and make sure that they are okay. I have nothing against someone else having an ultrasound for whatever reasons they deem fit, but they just aren't for me.

I would have an ultrasound if the health and well-being of me or the baby were in question and I wouldn't hesitate. I am fully in support of using the magic of technology and modern medicine to prevent problems and save lives. In this writing I am considering only the routine ultrasounds done throughout a pregnancy.

There are a number of questions surrounding routine ultrasound, and you can read about them in Mothering's article here, if you are interested. I'm writing about why I don't ultrasound my pregnancies.

My superficial hesitation - those ultrasound images are kind of creepy and alien. The images of the standard ultrasound are odd enough, but the newer 3-D images look to me like someone has tried to sculpt Winston Churchill out of pudding and failed...I don't really want that to be a "first" visual of my baby.

Sister-Bug has a cuddle, hoping to be kicked in the head. 

I've been surprised at every pregnancy the amount of judgement extended to a family who chooses not to find out the baby's gender. You, random stranger in the grocery store, need to know the gender of my baby for what reason? We should know the gender so we...know what to buy? Additional judgement is extended when it's revealed that we don't have any ultrasounds, with or without gender. It's as though I am intentionally endangering my baby because of sheer pig-headedness, as though I'm a bad parent for not counting the baby's fingers and toes before it joins my reality.
I marvel as my belly grows each time. I wonder if it's a boy or girl...but even more I wonder what idiosyncrasies, what personality quirks and traits have manifested as this baby grows inside me. I wonder if it will have a secret dimple like it's sister, or the funny ribs that Brother-Bug inherited from me. These things won't be revealed by an ultrasound, and I wouldn't want them to be.

We do use an ultrasound doppler with our midwife to hear the baby's heartbeat, and without fail all three babies have, as soon as they were big enough, moved away from it's waves, deeper into my cavities. They don't like it (how I can tell they don't like it is a topic for another post). The doppler is a very low-level wave, much lower than the wave needed to see the outlines of a baby. If my babies don't like this little wave, if we can tell that they are distressed by it, how much more might they be distressed by the larger sonics of a visual ultrasound?

But ultimately what it comes down to is this: My body has made this dark and protected cave in which my baby takes its first movements, begins its heartbeats, and turns to the gentle stimuli that come through the layers of my skin and muscle. It is the quintessence of private and intimate. The idea of ultrasound penetrating this privacy just doesn't work for me; it violates something sacred.

There are lots of people in the world for whom ultrasound is an important part of their journey through pregnancy, and I applaud their decision and ability to choose what is right for their body and baby. But it's not a route I plan on taking - for a third time around.


  1. Thank you for this!
    This is very similar as to how I feel about ultrasounds. I was asked to get 4 with Brother Oldest and although I didn't want to I felt very pressured by the midwives and my family to have these procedures done.
    This time around I'm following through with the same instincts not to do this.
    I would, as well, have one done if medically necessary.

    1. I think that the most important thing is that we feel empowered in our choices and not pressured one way or the other. I'm glad you get to go around again - don't hesitate to tell people that it's none of their damn business!

  2. Very well written and expressed.
    We did not do an ultrasound either. We waited to hear the heartbeat until the stethoscope worked. :) That was very exciting.

  3. I'll never forget listening to my (very young, Christian) co-worker explain to the staff room that he and his wife were waiting for the ultrasound to tell them if their baby had a weenie so they could get the right colors for their decor in its room.

    "Want to get those rigid gender roles established early, huh?" I said (in what I thought was a friendly tone.)

    "We believe in rigid gender roles," he told me, sincerely. You can bet I shut right up.

    1. With Brother-Bug we told people we got the ultra-new and fancy ultrasound that didn't reveal gender, but did tell us we were pregnant with a Republican...

  4. I also didn't have an ultrasound with either of my children. I was having healthy pregnancies and there was no reason to need one. I think it was wonderful to be surprised with my children's gender. My first was my daughter, my second, my son, and they were both able to use the same layette and the same nursery.

    My sister had a routine ultrasound, and they found a very small, possible problem with her little one's heart, turned out it was just fine, but she spent a good portion of her pregnancy stressed out and worried, and I think that it contributed to a very stressful, difficult labor as well. Had she just not had an ultrasound (her pregnancy was otherwise healthy) she could have spent her pregnancy in joy rather than worry. I would only say to get one if you are having a health issue that merits an ultrasound.

    Wonderful article, thanks for writing this! :)

    1. The fallibility in ultrasound - false positives and misdiagnoses galore - is one of the reasons I am suspicious of them. I'm sorry your sister had to endure that stress.