(above: one of Lee’s standing sculptures)
The following is my personal view of the benefits and risks of ultrasound. I’m not a scientist or a journalist or a doctor. Please do your research and make up your own mind. Most of my friends and acquaintances have ultrasounds done, and I love you all. I am motivated entirely by my love of babies and my belief that pregnancy and birth are safe and normal. If you disagree with me and think I’m nuts, that’s fine. You can let me know if you like. But please be respectful.
There is, for me, not *any* instance in which I would ever have an ultrasound done. Ultrasound is, I believe, a mistake, and possibly a dangerous one. It is a product of the military industrial complex and has little to no place, in my humble view, in the childbirthing year. As a diagnostic tool, ultrasound is abysmal, and it is *documented* to cause cellular change. There is reason to believe (and many qualified individuals do) that there are potential links between ultrasound and miscarriage, learning disabilities, other cognitive effects, and more.
I hear so many women say a version of the following, when they come across articles or individuals who advocate *against* the use of ultrasound: “Yes, I’ve heard that ultrasound carries some risk. That’s why I only had two done.” Or three, or one, and so on.
Ultrasound has been entirely normalized in our culture, and I find this perspective very troubling, considering how very little benefit ultrasound provides. Why consciously expose our unborn babies to this technology at all, when it is an invasive procedure, the effect of which we *do not* comprehensively understand?
I think that many women consent to exposing their babies to ultrasound because doctors present ultrasound not as an infrequently employed visual aid for the rarest of circumstances, or even an option, but as an imperative; an inevitability, standard procedure, and as a rite of passage in a North American pregnancy. And, of course, it is.
But ultrasound is also unproven (in myriad ways), and my feeling, based on the very compelling research I have read, is that ultrasound is dangerous to our tiny developing infants. Not only do doctors neglect to present ultrasound with any sense of perspective or honesty about the potential for risk, but its administration is described, in tone, as protective, preventative, and insightful, when it is emphatically none of these. Ultrasound also happens to be one of the core moneymakers of the childbirth industry.
When women decline to receive the standard dose, they are treated by medical personnel with a combination of dripping condescension and authoritative disapproval, and they are urged to “think of the health of their baby”. They are reminded of the sometimes (truly) terrible outcomes of placenta praevia, and of the terrifying (not at all) possibility of “breech” birth. But they are rarely told that the risk of placenta praevia is extremely minimal, or of the fact that the placenta migrates during pregnancy and that ultrasound isn’t even effective as an early diagnostic tool…and they are almost never told that the baby’s size, the mother’s amniotic fluid levels, and the baby’s position are all better discernible through the traditional midwifery skill of gentle palpation.
Women are also *never* informed, in the hospital or by most contemporary registered midwives, that the doppler actually exposes their baby to a higher level of ultrasonic waves than does the larger machine. A good friend of mine was recently told, when she asked to have a foetoscope used instead of a doppler during her prenatal appointment, that she couldn’t be accommodated, because the doctor did not know how to use the foetoscope.
The way ultrasound has been sold to our society, to me, is unethical, and I predict that in the next 20-30 years ultrasound will be looked upon as one of the medical mistakes of the 21st century. Then again, maybe todays world of ultrasound, stress testing, blood diagnostics and amniocentesis is only the tip of the technological iceberg that continues to infringe upon the stunningly *perfect* process of human birth.
Like the fraught question of immunization, the issue of diagnostic interventions in pregnancy and birth often comes down to worldview. My perspective is that our bodies are incredible and very smart. The vast majority of babies are born without problems, or deformities, or diseases or intellectual disabilities. This has nothing to do with ultrasound. Among the tiny minority of babies who *are* born with problems, perhaps these might have been minimized, even slightly, by avoiding exposure. Even in the rarest instance when a baby has a problem that is detected by ultrasound, there is very little anyone can do, but know and worry. Even if (goddess forbid) a baby dies in utero, there is *still* no necessity to have this “diagnosed” by a scan. Mothers should be encouraged to know their bodies can give birth to their Babies alive, and Still, and that birth is almost always safest when there is no intervention.
Perhaps most potently though, I am opposed to ultrasound, for myself, for philosophical reasons. I feel profoundly that to utilize a form of invasive soundwaves to create an image of the unborn child is an affront to the sanctity and safety of the womb. I view it increasingly as an assault. And while I respect the choices of other parents, and I do understand the pull of curiosity, I find our cultural obsession with discovering the sex of our babies prior to birth both frivolous and chilling, at a cost that is hitherto incalculable. I am deeply uncomfortable with our collective, misplaced faith in technology as a way of “knowing”. No one knows.
If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, I *implore* you to read the following article. It gives a good overview of many of the potential risks, and I would also urge you to check out the “Doppler Danger” facebook page.