Recently, I was sorting through old boxes. Letters, cards and calendars from the previous decades past through my hands (along with floating dust motes). Out of an overstuffed envelope peered a dusty, ultrasound photo-sheet, ancient evidence of the only prenatal ultrasound I ever received.
Three pregnancies. Three babies. One ultrasound.
In 1961, when I was being gestated, prenatal ultrasound did not exist. However, by mid 1980, when I was pregnant with my first child, ultrasound was a routine part of pregnancy care in the US. During my pregnancies, while prenatal ultrasound was routine, I wanted nothing to do with it. My decision to avoid this common test was not a decision at all. It was an emotional and visceral reaction; I felt fiercely protective of my babies-to-be and wanted no one (or thing) to see them, not until they were ready to be seen, not even in an ultrasound’s fuzzy shades of grey.
Half way through my third (and final) pregnancy, I contracted Fifth’s Disease, aka Parvo Virus. My cheeks looked like I had been slapped hard with an open hand. My body was covered with a lacy rash. I was achy, feverish and tired. Then I got better. Blood work showed that I had indeed had contracted Fifth’s.
My midwife, Vicki Wolfrum, CNM, reasonably suggested an ultrasound to check on my uterine passenger. I felt flushed all over again. How dare she?! She knew how I felt! Then she calmly explained the very unlikely but possibly severe things that could occur if the baby inside my had also contracted the disease. I still was still militantly opposed to an ultrasound. At this point, my midwife let me know that to continue towards a planned home birth, an ultrasound to rule out fetal hydrops was important.
At this point, I had known and loved Vicki for more than 10 years. I had already had two planned home births with her in attendance. She had been my employer, mentor, midwife and friend. And now she was asking me to do the forbidden, to have my baby irradiated, and viewed before birth. I was horrified. Yet, I understood that this was an irrational reaction. I understood that I was pregnant, protective, and maybe, a little crazy.
Taking all of that into account, I agreed to have the ultrasound, but only if Vicki, my midwife would go with me. Then I had more conditions. During the scan, she was not to look at the screen. If she did accidentally glance, she was not to comment, especially about gender. If the ultrasound showed twins, she was to not to change our plan for a home birth.
So my midwife and I drove over the bridge to Long Beach, to the perinatologists’ office. My beloved husband stayed at home with our two other children, protecting them from the world with I felt no longer able to protect our unborn child from. During the scan, I kept my face turned from the screen, squeezed Vicki’s hand and sent her alternating glaring and then pitiful glances. We had what turned out to be a very uneventful ultrasound. One baby. No hydrops. No big deal.
Except it was a big deal. Negotiating health care decisions is always big deal. Then you add pregnancy related irrationality, maternal ferocity, social expectations, fear and need for control and you have an incredibly potent brew. Lucky for me, I had access to quality medical care, a healthy baby, and a loving midwife beside me the whole time.
May all babies be born into loving hands