Ultrasound scans are now an acceptable and desirable routine part of the pregnancy for the mother/father/family to see the reality of their baby. It can be especially important, reassuring and positive for the father to confirm his feelings of involvement in the pregnancy process (albeit as an observer).

Scans were originally used as ‘intervention for vulnerable and “at-risk” pregnancies’. There is some controversy about the risk and benefits of using them as its health impacts are still largely unknown. ‘Research has not demonstrated that ultrasound imaging is safe. A lack of risk has been assumed because no adverse affects have been demonstrated clearly in humans.’ You may wish to follow up with some online research before consenting to a scan. (Women’s Health Action Trust in Auckland NZ, has comprehensive pamphlets on the subject). In New Zealand it is currently your choice (07.09) about pregnancy screenings. All women, irrespective of age, are entitled to a dating scan to confirm their estimated delivery date (EDD). The earlier this is done, the more accurate the date of delivery. (Written consent is usually not sought.)

When there is a problem

Unfortunately, a consequence of scans is that a problem may be encountered. No-one is usually prepared to receive the bad news that may show a baby with no heartbeat. The radiologist/sonographer is then in the unenviable position of having to break the news to the parents that their baby has died. That may not be done in an empathetic or even clear way. We have heard reports of comments such as ‘There is no heartbeat. Please see your Dr.’Everyone may be thinking, ‘He/she just can’t find it’ and request them to ‘keep trying’. Whichever way they are told, ultimately the realisation for the woman that she has a dead baby inside her. The fact it may have been like that for some time, is shocking and can be horrifying and traumatic.

Pregnant women over 35-years-old are classified at-risk for Down’s Syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities. A scan should also be offered between 11 and 13.6 weeks to address the ‘nuchal fold’ issue. If a result comes back as a high risk, it will then be placed alongside the age of the mother and the family history. Their Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) will probably recommend an amniocentesis test to rule problems out. This means a needle is inserted through their abdomen to gather amniotic fluid from the placenta. (There is an accepted risk of 0.5% to 1.0% or a one-in-200 chance of miscarriage that this test could cause a late miscarriage as it is an invasive procedure.) There are now alternatives see; Couples are presented with the results of all the information. If it is negative, they are left to decide for themselves whether to continue with the pregnancy. A medical abortion is usually offered. This decision of whether to keep their baby or not, must be one of the most painful, poignant and hurtful ones any couple trying to have a child will ever have to make.