Necessity of the Ultrasound

In light of our recent fertility/birth control issues around here, I’ve been thinking a lot about ultrasounds. With my first pregnancy I had two: the internal to see how far along I was at the beginning and the standard at 20 weeks. With my second, I had three ultrasounds; there was some concern around 30 weeks or so that the baby wasn’t growing enough because my uterus was measuring small. She was fine. With my most recent pregnancy, I had four. I had to have two extra ones at 26 and 32 weeks to keep track of Choroid Plexus cysts on our baby’s brain and excess fluid in the tubes connecting her kidneys to her bladder.

Looking back I know that these were minor issues that were being monitored, especially since they both cleared up on their own. But when they first told us about this at our 20-week ultrasound they also used words like Downs Syndrome and Trisomy 18. It was very scary. Even though the chances of our baby having either one of these issues was extremely small the doctor had to make us aware and offer us the opportunity to have an abortion or an amniocentesis to cover his own ass.

I knew an abortion was completely out of the question. Before the maternal-fetal specialist came into to conduct the second part of our ultrasound and give us the “bad news”, we had spent at least fifteen minutes with the ultrasound technician looking over our baby’s body, laughing at her slightly larger than normal head (just like her sisters), and finding out that she was a girl. Then suddenly they are saying that I can kill my baby because she has a less than 1% chance of not being completely healthy. Even though at the time I didn’t have a total grasp on how minor the issues they were monitoring were, I knew I was not aborting my baby. I was not going to have an amnio at that point, either, because it might cause premature labor from which my baby might not survive.

Since then I have wondered how many women have been scared into doing just that, though. I mean when they first come in and tell you that there may be a problem with your baby the shock can be very overwhelming. I am more of a visual than an auditory person anyway, and by the time we left the office, I couldn’t remember all the terminology that was used to describe the issues. It wasn’t until the first follow-up ultrasound that I really started to grasp what the doctor was really concerned about, because the doctor didn’t really think that our baby had Downs or Trisomy 18. He was more concerned about relatively minor kidney issues.  They really should give you some notes or pamphlets or something to look over once your brain has calmed down.

While at one time in our marriage my husband suggested having four kids while I thought two was enough, the whole experience of worry with this last one was just too much for him. He’s adamantly in the “No More Babies” camp. I’m not saying that I am particularly desiring to go through the whole pregnancy and childbirth thing again, but if I ever did get pregnant I can’t help thinking that I would delay getting an ultrasound until later in my pregnancy.

For one thing, many fetuses have the same issues that ours did and they often resolve themselves by around 30 weeks. Doctors are not even sure if these are necessarily indicators of a big problem or a normal part of fetal development that just resolves itself later for some fetuses. And if you know that you are not going to abort no matter what, why go through all of the stress if you don’t have to do so? If we had waited until week 32 to have the standard ultrasound (which is when our second follow-up was), we would have just been told that she looks like a perfectly healthy baby. We would have been spared 12 weeks of needless worrying.

I know that there are some women out there who forgo having the standard ultrasound at all. Sometimes this is for financial reasons or concerns about perceived medical risks from ultrasounds. Personally, I can see an advantage of having some sort of ultrasound, because if there is a problem doctors and pediatricians can know to be prepared to treat the baby or the mother immediately at birth. Plus, as a parent, I could be emotionally and mentally prepared and aware of what needs to be done. I am also someone who sees the ultrasound as a bonding experience, and I am such a nerd that I like trying to identify as many bones as I can remember the name for. (There’s the radius! Check out that femur!)

Sometimes at night when I am snuggled in the bed nursing my new baby girl, I think about our pregnancy worries and how the doctor offered us the option of an abortion. I just hold her tighter in my arms, kiss her sweet cheeks, and offer a prayer of thanks to God for her.

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One Comment on “Necessity of the Ultrasound”

  1. Kelly Says:

    If you need to have an ultrasound for dating purposes, then it is best to get one in the first 9 weeks, because the accuracy goes down after that time. However, the 20 week one just became popular because people wanted to know what the sex was, and you can still squeak in an abortion in most states.

    If abortion is completely off the table, and your dates are accurate, then after 30 weeks is the best time. Many “warning signs” have settled down into something that has completely cleared up, or is clearly seen as a problem. One example is placenta previa, where the placenta grows over the cervix. Many times at 20 weeks there is a low lying placenta, so a woman is told it might be placenta previa. But by 30-34 weeks, the placenta has moved up, and you no longer have to discuss bedrest and an early scheduled c-section.

    I agree that you’re on the right track by sticking with early and/or late ultrasound, and missing out on the maybe in the middle.


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