Six of us filed into a room and took our seats on long leather sofas, then stared expectantly at a big-screen TV.
I was ready to ask where I could buy popcorn and Twizzlers for the main attraction.
But four generations of my family didn’t get together to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster. We went to a shopping plaza in Morrisville to see an image of my sister’s unborn baby, for now fondly referred to as “Gummy Bear.”
More than ever, apparently, moms-to-be want to see 3D or 4D images of their little ones. And they want to know early on whether they’re having a boy or a girl.
As a result, a growing number of parents are paying to visit sonogram businesses that offer keepsake pictures and videos. The idea is to create a relaxing, family-friendly atmosphere, said Tanir Mathson, owner of Baby Bump 4D, where we saw strikingly realistic images of Gummy Bear.
Many medical offices aren’t set up for large groups, Mathson said. And they don’t have plush couches.
“Most doctor offices are kind of a stale environment,” he said. “Most people don’t want to be there.”
Even so, some health experts discourage pregnant women from getting ultrasounds just for fun. No research suggests that ultrasounds have harmful effects, but risks could become apparent in the future, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Dr. Ann Collins, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Rex Healthcare, said patients should get ultrasounds only in medical offices – and only when they need them.
Collins said she typically gives her patients two ultrasounds, one in the early weeks of pregnancy and another in the second trimester. Doctors use ultrasounds to check for abnormalities and potential health issues.
If something is amiss, she said, doctors are on hand. But that’s not the case at elective ultrasound businesses.
“Unfortunately, things aren’t always fine,” Collins said.
Mathson said his staff are properly trained to administer ultrasounds. If they suspect something is wrong, they call the woman’s regular doctor.
My sister P.J. and her husband were anxious to find out the gender of their second child. She was 16 weeks pregnant when we piled into their minivan and headed to Baby Bump 4D, where she shelled out about $70. (Health insurance plans don’t cover this sort of thing.) She would have had to wait four more weeks for an ultrasound at her doctor’s office.
Collins said she understands the appeal.
“We’re realistic enough to understand that people are interested,” she said. “And it’s fun.”
Maybe hospitals will catch on to this trend, I told her. Maybe doctors can make sonograms a bit more festive.
OK, maybe not. But Collins said doctors strive for a “family-centered birth process.”
I was glad to hear P.J. wasn’t interested in hosting a sonogram party in her home for friends and family, as some people are doing now. I admit, I already felt a little weird about the whole thing.
And I nearly missed the big reveal anyway. I escorted my 5-year-old niece outside the room and returned just in time to hear that Gummy Bear is a boy.
The little guy is expected to arrive in June. I plan on telling him about the first time I saw him in all his 3D glory – on a 50-inch television, with his grandmother and great-grandmother by my side.
It was a nice moment.
Sarah Nagem is editor of The News & Observer’s Cary News and Southwest Wake News.
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