Margaret Stephenson, the legendary Montessorian who helped establish the method in the United States, once famously said about gauging a child’s development: “We don’t plant a seed and then dig it up to see if the plant is growing, do we?” This same philosophy should hold true before birth, and it’s one of the reasons I decided (with my husband’s full support) against subjecting our child to unnecessary ultrasound procedures and genetic testing in utero.
A child has a right to privacy – to develop in the way Nature intended. When we say “trust the child”, we are really saying “trust Nature”, for it is Nature who is guiding the child’s progress. We cannot speed up true development, but we can certainly slow it down or even arrest it by choosing to interfere. The more research I did on the impacts of ultrasound (for seeing the fetus) and Doppler (for listening to the heartbeat), the more convinced I became that it represents an interference in the developmental process of the child who is growing within me.
What Ultrasound Is Used For
Doctors routinely use ultrasound as a diagnostic tool to gain the following information during a pregnancy:
– baby’s gender*
– gestational age
– baby’s size and how he’s growing
– if there are multiples (twins, triplets)
– how the baby and the placenta are positioned in the womb
The reason that doctors have to rely on ultrasound and Doppler technology is because they have not been taught the diagnostic tools of palpation (feeling the fetus with their hands) and auscultation (listening to the fetus’ heartbeat with a special stethoscope called a fetoscope). These are dying arts that nowadays only very few doctors and even a diminishing number of midwives are familiar with. Why? Because it’s a lot quicker and easier to put a wand to a woman’s belly (or even insert it vaginally… gasp!) than it is to spend countless hours practicing manual techniques.
(*Gender can’t be determined through manual techniques, but unless there are congenital conditions in your family that only affect one sex and that must be diagnosed before birth, it is nothing more than capriciousness to want to know the baby’s gender prior to birth).
Sure, it can be fun to look at an ultrasound image and see the baby bouncing around in the womb, but the doctor’s laziness and the parents’ lack of awareness come at a very high risk to the unborn child – the only one affected and the only one without any say in the matter.
The Research Is Out There… Ignoring It Means Putting Your Baby at Risk
“There’s no advantage to performing an ultrasound if a woman’s pregnancy is otherwise normal and healthy,” explains Dr. Joanne Motino Bailey, PhD, CNM. “While it has become standard practice, there’s no medical evidence that shows that performing standard ultrasounds improves a baby’s outcome.” However, most of the mainstream pregnancy websites will state that ultrasound is perfectly safe and can be used routinely. Is it and should it?
Ultrasound began to be used by doctors in place of x-rays as a way to look into the womb once it became clear that the use of x-ray technology during pregnancy was causing an increased risk of cancer in young children. While parents are told that ultrasound is harmless to the developing fetus (which was what they had been told regarding x-rays, by the way), research has shown the opposite.
Studies done on animals have shown the following issues associated with ultrasound exposure: cell abnormalities, delayed myelination of nerves (myelin = nerve coverings), reduction in cell division and increased cell death, impaired learning ability, and growth retardation.
From an article on www.mothering.com : Studies on humans exposed to ultrasound have shown possible adverse effects, including premature ovulation, preterm labor or miscarriage, low birthweight, poorer condition at birth,dyslexia,delayed speech development, and less right-handedness,a factor which in some circumstances can be a marker of damage to the developing brain. In addition, one Australian study showed that babies exposed to five or more ultrasounds were 30 percent more likely to develop intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR)–a condition that ultrasound is often used to detect. (See entire article here for study sources and more information.)
Even if all these studies are wrong, we should observe the unborn child (as we Montessorians are called to do) for indications of his comfort level during ultrasound. Countless pregnant women and most ultrasound techs have reported that babies “run away”, “hide”, or “wiggle like crazy” during ultrasound procedures. Anecdotal? Yes… But, if the child reacts negatively to this breach of privacy, why do we insist on continuing with these unnecessary procedures?
Misdiagnosis and False Positives
Perhaps the most heartbreaking thing for a pregnant woman to hear is that her child has a birth defect. This is what thousands of women who undergo ultrasound scans are told, and yet for some of them, the diagnosis will be false. A pre-birth diagnosis of a birth defect (whether accurate or not) can interfere with the mother-child bonding that takes place during pregnancy. If you treasure your pregnancy and would not terminate it for any reason (which is how we feel), then why should you expose yourself and your child to unnecessary suffering?
When Is Ultrasound Recommended?
When my husband and I were interviewing midwives, we made sure to inquire about their views on ultrasound technology. Because we had done our research, we were able to find a midwife who was well-versed in the pros and cons of ultrasound and who has amazing “traditional” diagnostic skills. It’s comforting to know that a talented midwife can use her hands and ears to diagnose a variety of issues. If she finds something abnormal, she will recommend an ultrasound to confirm her diagnosis. In this case, an ultrasound is an important tool that can support the midwife’s findings – this should be the role of ultrasound in all pregnancies, for the sake of our children! In our pregnancy, we will only subject our baby to ultrasound to help confirm a diagnosis.
Aren’t You Dying to Hear the Heartbeat?
The most difficult part of this pregnancy (other than the nausea, insomnia, and exhaustion of the first trimester) was waiting to confirm its viability. I’m not made out of steel… It was certainly a struggle to know that the technology exists that would allow me to know at 7 or 8 weeks gestation whether there was indeed a living being within my womb. While other pregnant friends reported galloping fetal heartbeats as early as 12 weeks into their pregnancies, I sat and waited for our child to make his/her presence known the old-fashioned way – through feeling movement in the womb. I kept reminding myself that Nature is in charge, not me…
I constantly asked myself: What is more important, your desire to hear a heartbeat or your responsibility to support your child’s development? Pregnancy and birth are not about us; they are about the life we are bringing forth. We are but vessels, charged with the huge but clearly defined responsibility of keeping the being with us safe, nourished, and nurtured, so that Nature can do Her work.
Somewhere around 15 weeks gestation I felt the unmistakable wiggles that signaled life within the womb. Those wiggles have turned into strong, daily kicks, which are a constant reminder of my role as protector and provider. Daily I feed and water the little seed that is burrowed deep within me, knowing that when it is ready it will bloom exactly as Nature intended.
Recommended Reading for Pregnant Women and Their Partners:
It’s impossible to include all the research and all the issues surrounding ultrasound and Doppler in one post. If you are interested in finding out more, here are some excellent links.
If you have access to a midwife, ask her if she has a copy of the British publication: Ultrasound? Unsound by Beech, B. & Robinson, J. (1993), issued by the Association for the Improvement in Maternity Services.
Also, make sure you read: