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Baby's First Picture

Baby's First Picture: Ultrasound and the Politics of Fetal Subjects

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 288
  • Book Info
    Baby's First Picture
    Book Description:

    Mitchell argues what is seen through ultrasound is neither self-evident nor natural, but historically and culturally contingent and subject to a wide range of interpretation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7114-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Chapter One Introducing Ultrasound Fetal Imaging
    (pp. 3-21)

    One of the most common rituals of pregnancy in late twentieth-century urban North America begins when a woman and her partner are ushered into a small room by a white-coated person known as ʹthe sonographer.ʹ The room is dark, illuminated only by the glowing screen of a machine. The sonographer asks the woman to lie down on a table, then squirts her belly with a cool blue gel, moves a device over her abdomen, and taps at a keyboard. Suddenly, a greyish blur appears on a luminescent screen. Customarily during this ritual, the couple smile, laugh, and point at the...

  5. Chapter Two Opening the Black Box: The Ontology of Fetal Ultrasound Images
    (pp. 22-49)

    In ultrasound fetal imaging, high-energy sound waves enter the womanʹs body, reflect off internal structures, and are converted into an electric signal displayed as dots on a screen. This chapter examines several of the historical processes through which those dots have materialized as a fetal subject on the ultrasound screen. I do not claim to offer a ʹcompleteʹ history, nor even a particularly detailed ontology, of the fetal image in Montreal, in Canada, or in general. My intent is to examine some of the technical changes, organizational politics, and social meanings that have converged at particular times and places to...

  6. Chapter Three The View from the Field
    (pp. 50-68)

    In this chapter, I begin to locate prenatal ultrasound and fetuses within the lives of the sonographers and expectant couples I interviewed. Much of this involves explaining what ultrasound and fetalitymeanin the ethnographic fabric of Montreal. The uses and meanings of ultrasound fetal imaging are not universal; rather, they are locally shaped and directed. I also discuss what my own role was in the production of those meanings.

    I first saw ultrasound fetal imaging during the summer of 1986, when my own pregnancy dragged on past the ʹnormalʹ forty weeks. After listening to my midwife and my physician...

  7. Chapter Four Being Pregnant and Coming to Know the Fetus
    (pp. 69-107)

    Fetal subjects are only partially the product of the technologies, legal discourses, and professional agendas described in the previous chapters. They also emerge through the diverse lives, actions, words, sensations, and imaginings of pregnant women. In this chapter, I begin to discuss womenʹs experiences with and perspectives on fetality and ultrasound, with a focus on how women talk about being pregnant prior to the first ultrasound. Chapter 5 examines sonographerʹs narratives about the fetus during ultrasound, and chapter 6 examines how women apprehend the fetal subject through ultrasound imaging.

    Each of the following three chapters includes narratives from four of...

  8. Chapter Five ʹShowing the Babyʹ: Sonographersʹ Accounts of Fetal Images
    (pp. 108-136)

    All ultrasound examinations are, borrowing Harawayʹs terms (1991: 164), acts of ʹtranslationʹ or ʹcodingʹ in which technologically produced signs (reflected echoes) are translated into meaningful statements about the world. Some of the work of translating ultrasound echoes into a picture of the fetus is accomplished through historical and social processes such as technological change and the institutionalization, routinization, and dissemination of fetal images (see chapters 2 and 3). In the present chapter, I focus on how that translation continues as sonographers produce and talk about routine prenatal ultrasound images. During these scans, sonographers must translate the physics of echoes –...

  9. Chapter Six ʹSeeing the Babyʹ: Womenʹs Perspectives on Ultrasound
    (pp. 137-168)

    In this chapter, drawing from womenʹs narratives on their experiences with ultrasounds, I continue to explore the links among technology, bodies, and thinking, feeling women. What do women ʹseeʹ during routine fetal imaging? Does this seeing shape the other sensations of being pregnant? What symbolic messages reverberate through the routine practice of having an ultrasound?

    They didnʹt do it until noon! I was too full and there I was waiting, in agony, from 10:45 ... They changed my due date! My God! First she said it was a little small. And I got all freaked out and said how much...

  10. Chapter Seven Reconnections: Women, Ultrasound, and Reproductive Politics
    (pp. 169-200)

    In this chapter I move the analysis outward from the lives of women and the routines of sonographers to return to the issues raised in the opening chapter: how ultrasound mediates the experience of pregnancy, and how the ultrasound fetus can be ʹdenaturalizedʹ so that we can see its social and cultural constitution. This discussion follows three converging paths.First, I revisit womenʹs experiences of ultrasound fetal imaging in the context of the impacts of ultrasound and the social control of women.Second, in order to underscore how ultrasound fetal imaging is both socially and culturally shaped, I examine the...

  11. Chapter Eight Re-Visions: Other Ways of Seeing
    (pp. 201-210)

    In this concluding chapter, I suggest how prenatal ultrasound might be used and interpreted in ways other than as ʹbabyʹs first picture.ʹ My inspiration for this exercise came initially from Monica Casperʹs feminist ethnographic analysis of fetal surgery. At the end of her book, Casper (1998: 220) outlines ʹwhat needs to be in place – clinically, socially, culturally, economically, ethically, and legally – to enable women to undergo fetal surgery safely, effectively, and autonomously.ʹ The changes she outlines are wide-ranging, and include making fetal surgery safer and accessible to all women, while at the same time working ʹto ensure that...

  12. Appendix Profiles of the Women
    (pp. 211-212)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 213-224)
  14. References
    (pp. 225-250)
  15. Index
    (pp. 251-258)