I put my probe down, find the head, then slide down to the bum. Fortunately, the baby is in a good position. "It's definitely a boy!" I tell the mom and dad, as they peer over my shoulder at the screen. I point out the very obviously displayed male anatomy. The dad's face drops. "That sucks!" he exclaims. "I wanted to have a girl." He continues to express his displeasure as I show them their child and take a couple more pictures for them to take home with them. He is still unhappy as I tell them I'm done and they can get the results from their doctor.
"Can we just end this and start over?" he says to his wife as they leave the room. She laughs nervously. He's joking . . . I hope.
This is my both my least and most favourite part of my job as an ultrasound technologist. There is something indescribably beautiful about watching human life develop and grow at all of its stages. From the tiny flicker of the heartbeat at just six weeks’ gestation, to seeing the little bouncing 8-9 week old peanuts which (given a good scan) wave tiny little arms and legs. It only gets better from there on out as the baby gets bigger and is easier to see with my ultrasound equipment.
There are also the fun opportunities of telling good news and watching mothers’ faces beam as they get to see their child for the first time. Then there are the good news stories that warm your heart and put a smile on your face. There is nothing quite like telling the mother who thought she had a miscarriage several weeks ago that she is in fact still pregnant and has a bouncing, healthy twelve-week gestation baby. Not to mention finding live twins in a patient who had just had an ectopic pregnancy removed.
But this is only the happy side of the story. There is a sad side too. Like the countless miscarriages that we see day after day. Nothing is quite so disappointing as finding no heart heat and then trying to keep a neutral expression for the rest of the scan, knowing that when they get the results from their doctor their dreams and hopes will be disappointed.
Even that is still not the worst part of scanning pregnant females. The absolute worst is the unwanted children that you see. There is nothing so heart wrenching as the feeling of scanning and seeing little miracles that have been sentenced to die by the ones who are supposed to support and love them.
Scanning early pregnancies only so that some abortion provider knows how to best stop that little heart beat is one example. Another is guiding the needle in an amniocentesis procedure, knowing that the results of the test will be the determining factor of life or death for the baby whose heart rate is carefully recorded to see that they don't show adverse effects from the procedure.
Then there was the young woman who was already more than twenty weeks pregnant but had decided not to continue the pregnancy. I had to scan her that same day so her doctor could still send her to a hospital that would do abortions up to twenty-four weeks (in the same building where NICU teams fight to save babies born earlier than that). Her baby was a little girl.
I have no words that I can say to my patients. I am not allowed to share my views or offer support. I can't suggest pregnancy resource centres or tell them how wonderful adoption is. I am not allowed to explain to them exactly what abortion is or tell them about the struggles that other patients have told me that they have had afterwards.
I am not allowed to be a voice for the silent ones. I only have my machine. I can turn my screen and show them that little beating heart and those tiny little arms and legs, fingers and toes. I can show them and hope that they are seeing the same baby, the same human, the same life that I do.
Scanning pregnant ladies has taught me that children in our culture are conditionally loved and conditionally valued. If they are planned and expected or wanted, then I see excited parents and smiling faces. When things don't go according to plan then I hear disappointment. There are still those that will face the unexpected and make it work, but there are so many who just get rid of the problem instead of accepting and working with it.
That's why we need people on the streets. We need people to hear and see the truth of what abortion is and what it does. We need to show our culture that abortion does stop a beating heart and that it ends a life. I can only show one side of the story, but people need to know both.