I’m a nerd. I love learning, particularly by reading, and when I take up a new pursuit I put everything into it. I feel like i’ve signed up for a 6-months-long, independent study program with a grueling final exam at the end. Luckily, I have a few trust-worthy lab partners and a lot of enthusiasm to learn. I’m also a cynic. I like to look for holes in arguments and consider the sources. So i’ve been doing a lot of critical thinking.
I recently finished reading a book called The Business of Baby by Jennifer Margulis. The subtitle is “What doctors don’t tell you, what corporations try to sell you, and how to put your pregnancy, childbirth, and baby before their bottom line”. It was an interesting and informative read, despite the fact that it seemed a bit over the top. The case studies used to prove her points were incredibly extreme and clearly not the norm. The message I took from the book is basically that hospitals are dangerous, doctors DO NOT have your best interest at heart, and even those that are trying to do the right thing and truly care for their patients are handicapped by things like insurance concerns and hospital regulations, or are brainwashed by corporations.
That said, I did learn a few interesting things, one of which had to do with ultrasounds (scroll to the bottom if you don’t feel like reading the backstory). My best friend from way back in 2nd grade and I have been on surprisingly similar journeys. Despite losing a bit of closeness in high school when surfing completely overtook my life, we ended up at the same college (UCSD) with the same major (psychology). We were married the same year, and are both currently pregnant with our first babies (she’s a couple months ahead of me).
After graduating from UCSD I went on to pursue a surfing career, while Lisa earned her PhD in Psychology, specializing in Autism. When I found out she was pregnant, I was really surprised to hear that she was planning to have only the bare minimum number of ultrasounds – probably just two. She said that ultrasounds are linked to autism and she didn’t want to take the risk. I should have asked for more details. I should have asked her how exactly ultrasounds are linked to Autism.
As I said before, i’m a cynic. While I totally trust Lisa, I don’t necessarily trust the science, especially if I haven’t read the studies myself. I’ve heard that vaccines are linked to autism. GMOs to ADHD. And everything, absolutely EVERYTHING will give you cancer.
My midwife had suggested getting a maximum of 2 ultrasounds – 1 to confirm the pregnancy and set a due date, and the second to find out the sex at 20 weeks. I figured how bad could they really be if the midwife was sanctioning them (albeit recommending the minimum necessary)? By the time Lisa told me she wasn’t planning to have any, I’d already had one. I went to the Dr. when I was just 6 weeks pregnant to confirm that I was actually pregnant. He did an ultrasound, which wasn’t very exciting since at that point there’s not much to see. Not even a heartbeat. I asked the Dr. how often he usually performs ultrasounds, and he replied, “at every visit,” (which means once a month), “We like to look at the baby.” He seemed appalled, but eventually accepting, when I told him I only wanted the minimum ultrasounds.
Then at 9.5 weeks I had some spotting. It was light in volume and dark in color, which everything I could find on the internet told me was probably ok, but I was nervous. When there was a bit more spotting the next day, I freaked out and we went to the Dr. immediately. I then had my second ultrasound which confirmed that everything was ok. I actually got to hear the heartbeat for the first time! The Dr. told me the bleeding was caused by a subcorionic hematoma – a not uncommon and not usually serious separation of the uterus and chorionic membrane. It can be a problem if it’s large, but luckily mine was small. I’d had a cold a few days before and a really bad cough that had me hacking all night with some fierce core-shuddering coughing spasms. That was most likely the cause. I was advised to take it super easy – bed rest for three days – and then the absolute minimum amount of activity for two weeks to let it heal. He also advised another ultrasound in 2 weeks to make sure it was gone.
So, at 12 weeks, I got another ultrasound. My third. My friend Nikki who is also pregnant here had recommended a new Dr. who is young, was educated in London, and seemed better to her than the Dr. we’d both been seeing previously. I made the switch as well and he informed me that he’s the only Dr. certified to perform the 12 week chromosomal abnormality tests that identify risks for defects such as Down Syndrome. Nikki had just had this test done and raved to me about how awesome it was to see all the physical structures and the relief of hearing she was low risk. When the Dr. asked if I was interested, I said “yes, please”.
If I had already read the section on ultrasounds in Margulis’ book, I would not have opted to have the test done. The test ended up taking about 30 min of pure ultrasound time (in an hour long appointment), and while it was really fun to see all the fingers and toes, and be told that I was also low risk and all the parts looked normal and healthy, after reading more about ultrasounds I don’t think it was worth it. But I was also happy to see that my hematoma was gone.
So, now for the part you’ve been wondering since you clicked into this post. What’s wrong with ultrasounds? I advise you to do your own research, but according to Margulis, in 2006 a neuroscientist at Yale (Pasko Rakic) found that prenatal exposure to ultrasounds changed the way the neurons in mice distributed themselves in the brain. A lot is still not understood, but they found that a smaller percentage of cells migrated to the upper cortical layers of the mouse brain (where higher level thinking and processing occurs). The book also includes more description of how brain cells form and work together and how that relates to the way scientists believe an autistic brain operates. I won’t go into detail, but I encourage you to read for yourself. It has been shown that ultrasound waves are a form of energy known to deform cell membranes, so you can imagine that that energy can’t be a good thing for the rapidly growing cells of a developing fetus, particularly the highly sensitive stem cells in the brain.
After reading, I told my husband that i’d changed my mind and did not want to have another ultrasound to find out the sex of our baby. He was very surprised and argued against the decision. We both really want a boy and have decided that if we end up having a girl, it would be better to know in advance and adjust our mindset to that, rather than feel any bit of disappointment on delivery day. I gave him the book, told him to read the chapter on ultrasounds and then we’d talk. After reading the section himself, he agreed with me. Whether or not it’s true that ultrasounds cause autism, or whether it’s simply that ultrasonic waves can trigger autism in a brain already predisposed to it is unclear. However, we both decided that there seemed to be enough evidence to not warrant the risk. And since i’ve already had three ultrasounds, we don’t want to subject our baby to any more.
Anyone with an opinion or a link to a study showing evidence one way or another, please comment in the section below!