Long ago in highschool I had a friend named Ann who graduated as the top Ontario Scholar in our class. She and I both attended York University in 1992 and we were both accepted to the concurrent Teacher's College program the following year. From there our paths diverged. She married a farmer and had a baby the following year and did not return to York. I graduated in 1996 and was hired that Fall as a French teacher in Toronto.
Yet there are many things about us that are the same. We both lost pre-school aged sisters in tragic farm accidents. We both have parents who separated after decades of marriage. We both have brothers who were largely misunderstood by parents and educators. We both thought we were going to be teachers but ended up with children who have never attended school.
Ann is now the mother of 6 homeschooled children and lives on a farm near the town where we attended highschool. She is a polished and prolific blogger, whose poetic and emotion-laden writing I have been following for a couple of years. Her posts are always grounded in her very strong Christian values, and while I don't disagree with the values, I do find the fundamentalism to be a little overwhelming at times. However, I acknowledge that I am not her targeted audience.
So all of this is to say that this week Ann wrote a recommendation for a book written by Angie Smith, whose blog describes the intimate details of the loss of her daughter at 34 weeks gestation. I will likely end up buying the book, but I spent two days this week reading the blog where this mother describes the tragedy she faced. In short, at 20 weeks into her pregnancy she went for a routine ultrasound where she learned that her unborn daughter had multiple conditions: a very enlarged heart, no visible stomach or bladder, underdeveloped lungs, and insufficient amniotic fluid. The mother was told that even if the infant continued to grow, she would not likely survive the birth and would be unable to live outside of the uterus. Her daughter, named Audrey Caroline, was born alive and passed away in her mother's arms after 2 1/2 hours.
Well, I cried my way through that blog, thinking of course about my own unborn child. At 30 weeks gestation, reading about the death of a baby is pretty hard to take. It called into question the decisions we have made regarding this baby before and at her birth. As with my pregnancy with Jasmine, Partner-Guy and I have chosen not to have any ultrasounds to check the health of our baby. Anna was subjected to ultrasounds at 7 weeks, 13 weeks, 20 weeks and 41 weeks. Holly had ultrasounds at 13 weeks and 20 weeks. Following Holly's birth (which did not go as planned, and left us even more skeptical of the entire modern healthcare system than we were before) we decided that in future pregnancies we would decline any medical interventions unless there was a clear indication that the intervention would benefit my health or the baby's.
Partner-Guy and I have discussed at great length whether or not there is any benefit to routine ultrasounds. On the one hand, yes, it was reassuring at 13 weeks and at 20 weeks to learn that the growth of our first two babies was normal and healthy. But ultrasounds are not without risk, although the medical establishment would have everyone believe that they are completely safe, and we decided that since having an ultrasound rarely changes the outcome of the pregnancy, there is little indication to proceed with them on a routine basis. Furthermore, we would not terminate a pregnancy unless we were 100% convinced that my life would be in danger if the pregnancy continued. (If there were a choice to make between saving my life or the baby's, Partner-Guy and I agree that he would insist that my life be saved, as our children need their mother.) Unlike many modern parents, we don't believe that we are entitled to a perfect baby, although we always assume that we will get one. We will learn at the birth about the health (and gender) of our baby, and we will rely on the experience of our midwife to advise us during the labour about the apparent health of our baby. We trust our midwife, we trust my body, and we trust ourselves to be able to handle whatever the outcome of our pregnancy is.
In the case of Angie Smith's baby, the routine ultrasound did not change the outcome of the pregnancy. However, it did give her time to make some rather important decisions: she chose a planned cesarean birth when her friends and family could be at the hospital to support her and her husband and her other 3 daughters, she had a photographer at the birth to capture her short, precious moments with her baby, and she was able to plan the details of the funeral which she knew would be inevitable.
So as a result of reading about Angie Smith's experience, Partner-Guy and I discussed again whether or not we would rather have an ultrasound and know if there were any potential risks to planning a home birth for this baby. As with Jasmine, we believe that a home birth is completely safe for a healthy, full-term baby. And if anything seems to be going wrong during the labour, we are no more than 10 minutes from the nearest hospital. (We would not hesitate about going to a hospital if necessary, as we did for Holly's birth.)
But ultimately the question remains: do we risk damaging what is likely a perfectly healthy baby in order to determine whether or not our baby is perfectly healthy? And to further complicate things is the fact that we've already had an ultrasound during this pregnancy--the tiny-grain-of-rice-sized fetus was discovered during an abdominal ultrasound that I needed for a completely unrelated issue. So have we already injured our baby? I guess we'll know in about 2 months......
...because we have finally decided that without clear indication that an ultrasound will be of benefit, we will not be having one.