“Seeing the Baby”: Pleasures and Dilemmas of Ultrasound Technologies for Primiparous Australian Women

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Abstract

The practice of obstetric ultrasound scans has undergone significant expansion in the last two decades and is now a standard part of many women’s antenatal care in Australia as elsewhere. This article reviews recent evidence about the value of obstetric ultrasound, summarizing debates and contradictions in research literature and practitioner guidelines. Pregnant women’s interpretations of the significance of ultrasound are examined through multiple interviews with 34 study participants. We find that ultrasound has become an integral part of women’s embodied experience of pregnancy, with its own pleasures and dilemmas. The increasing use the technology has augmented the role of scientific biomedicine in the government of pregnancy. This must be understood in the light of trends toward individualized risk management in which the pregnant woman increasingly takes responsibility for the successful outcome of the pregnancy, in a context where pregnancy is discursively constructed as a risky domain of gendered experience in contemporary Australian society.