The baby who looked like the Antarctic

Last year our eldest daughter Lois gave birth to Quinten, our first grandson. Throughout the latter stages of her pregnancy, Lois brought ultrasound pictures of the baby to show us. They reminded me of my first experience with ultrasound …

I remember accompanying Liz to the hospital and sitting with her outside the scanning room for a whole hour. For Liz, having been told to drink a litre and a half of water before the scan without relinquishing any of it until afterwards, those sixty minutes seemed like sixty tortured and fidgety hours. However, eighteen-month old Luke took the delay in great spirits and proceeded to devastate the pile of women’s magazines in front of him. And I was patiently looking forward to seeing an ultrasound image with my own eyes at last.

I say “at last”, because when we were expecting Luke’s arrival I always seemed to be away on business whenever Liz was having a scan. Now, however, I was working from home and could accompany her to all her pre-natal appointments.

At last, when Liz’s bladder was about to burst, we were ushered into the scanning room. But first I had to have a little chat with the ultrasound technician.

“My wife and I don’t want to know the sex of the baby, so would you mind not telling us?” (After all, discovering the baby’s sex is all part of the “fun” of the birth).

The technician nodded and started to operate the scanner. Luke took this opportunity to sneak off and play with some equipment on the other side of the room, which was clearly much more interesting than the Fisher-Price medical kit at home.

Seeing an image flash up on the screen and not wanting Luke to miss a flicker, I called him over to the scene of action.

“Look Luke, isn’t that amazing! That’s a picture of…er…”

On the screen was a satellite picture showing us the weather conditions in the Southern Hemisphere. An enormous whirlwind centred over New South Wales seemed to be heading towards New Zealand.

“Oh dear, Aunt Jenny’s on holiday in Auckland; what rotten weather for her.”

Then the technician changed the channel and we were looking at a black-and-white silent movie of Wildlife in the Antarctic.

“Those dark expanses must be the sea, Luke, and the white blobs must be icebergs. Oops, that’s a big blizzard. Look Luke, a dotted line’s appearing on the screen, probably charting the migratory path of penguins. Interesting isn’t it Luke?”

But Luke was more interested in his new toys.

“OK Luke, I get the message; let’s ask the nice lady when we can see your baby brother or sister.”

But she just laughed and pointed to the screen.

“Everything appears to be fine. Here’s the baby’s legs, here’s the knees, this is the backbone, the stomach, the heart…”

I stared at disbelief at the screen. Having seen icebergs and the migratory paths of penguins, my brain refused to see anything medical. I was sure I could see some whales now.

“… and this is the little one’s head.”

Tears were welling in my eyes. But not from the ultrasound picture – Luke had just poked me in a tender part of my anatomy with a stethoscope he had found.

“Yes, it is a very emotional time for you, seeing your child for the first time,” said the friendly technician with a tender smile. “I’ll just discover its gender …”

She peered at the screen, moved the scanner, nodded her head and wrote something down. I wiped away my tears and frowned. She knew the sex of our baby! Before the scan I wasn’t too bothered by my ignorance. But now someone DID know. Worse still, it was a complete stranger.

Then her supervisor came into the room and looked at the scrawl on the paper. Now TWO people know! Before long the ultrasound department’s receptionist will know, and then the receptionist’s boyfriend in cardiology, who will whisper the news to his colleagues over lunch. In fact the whole hospital will know by tomorrow. Can I bear everyone knowing except me?

“Wouldn’t you like to know if it’s a boy or a girl?” I suggested to Liz.

“You mean YOU would like to know.”

“Well it would be interesting I suppose.”

I got the nod of consent. And so they told us. (It was Lois).

The show over, Liz looked around for the nearest toilet.

“Just down the corridor on your left,” I whispered, being careful not to start an avalanche.

I was about to follow her when the technician handed me a piece of paper.

“Don’t forgot your printout.”

I looked at it closely.

It was an aerial view of the Himalayas on a cloudy night.

Or was it the Crab Nebula?

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