For Keeps-sake: The Fetal Image Industry and the Prenatal Commodity

By Jennifer Chisholm.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Prenatal ultrasound images are gaining increasing salience in visual culture. Janelle Taylor (2002) suggests that fetal ultrasound images have a public life, due to their presence in advertisements, magazines and anti-abortion propaganda. In its early stages of use, the possibility for ultrasound technology to produce an image of the fetus meant that physicians were able to visualize and identify organ development and fetal anomalies. Receiving a print or copy of the ultrasound image quickly became standard practice for women in hospitals and clinics, acting as visual proof of the presence of the fetus. I submit that the allure of the fetal ultrasound image has since eclipsed its medical purpose in popular culture. Over the last decade, we have seen a shift in the use of ultrasound, from a medical diagnostic tool performed in hospital or medical clinic, to a means through which to obtain an image of the fetus. Private clinics have opened across Canada and the United States for the purpose of producing ultrasound images and video as a keepsake for the pregnant woman and her family. These images then continue their “public life” through sharing, both in person and online, through social networking websites and email. When produced for this purpose, the ultrasound image acts as “baby’s first picture” (Mitchell and Georges, 1998). This paper interrogates the practice of producing ultrasound images for keepsake purposes and examines the impact of these images on interpersonal and social relationships.

Keywords: Prenatal Ultrasound, Consumption, Commercialization, Semiotics

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.175-186. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.123MB).

Jennifer Chisholm

PhD Candidate, Department of Women's Studies and Feminist Research, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada

I am an enthusiastic graduate student from Canada. I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba but am currently attending graduate school at the University of Western Ontario in London. I have a BA(Honors) in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies and a Master of Arts in Sociology, both from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. I am fascinated by the role images play in our society and have recently developed a strong interest in medical imaging and techniques of visualization. My dissertation research is focused on the emergence of private clinics which offer prenatal ultrasound imaging services to pregnant women. Particularly, I am concerned with the way this medical technology is being taken up in non-medical settings.