Short-Term Impact of Fetal Imaging on Paternal Stress and Anxiety

By Brown, Gary F. PhD | Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal, Fall 1988 | Go to article overview

Short-Term Impact of Fetal Imaging on Paternal Stress and Anxiety


Brown, Gary F. PhD, Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal


INTRODUCTION

Since the introduction of ultrasound technology first took place in the 1950's, there has been a significant increase in its utilization as a diagnostic tool during pregnancy (Romero, Jeanty, & Hobbins, 1984). Indications for the use of ultrasound scanning during pregnancy include determination of fetal gestational age, monitoring of fetal growth, evaluation of multiple gestation potential, and evaluation of fetal viability when spontaneous abortion or intrauterine demise is suspected (Kremkau, 1984). Ultrasound imaging is also applied in the detection of ectopic pregnancy, in diagnosis of physical anomalies, as a guide to physicians when treating the fetal patient in-utero and as a visual reference in the performance of amniocentesis (Gottesfeld, 1984).

Ultrasound cannot detect signs of pregnancy during the first three to four weeks after conception. The first sonographic sign of an intrauterine pregnancy is the visualization of a gestational sac at five and one-half to six weeks after the last menstrual cycle (Batzer, et al., 1983). After the identification of the gestational sac, heart motion can be identified by the seventh week of gestation and fetal and trunk movements are detectable by the ninth week (Joupilla & Piironen, 1975; Robinson, 1972; and Shawker et al., 1980). Investigators continue to explore (Stratmeyer, 1980), debate and weigh (Verny, 1987) the benefits of ultrasound scanning versus the possibility of unknown hazards to the fetus with this procedure. However, as of this writing, there are no known proven risks to the unborn (Kremkau, 1984). It was not the intention of the current study to enter that debate but more to explore other aspects of this procedure. This seems particularly timely in that many hospitals and private practice physicians now use ultrasound imaging as a routine screening device during pregnancy (Platt, 1984).

During an ultrasound examination with a real-time scanner, the expectant parent(s) can view their unborn child in-utero. If the fetus is moving the scanner will transmit that moving image onto a television monitor for viewing (Reading, 1983). As a result of the increasing use of this diagnostic procedure, the ways in which pregnancy and the time of expectancy are viewed may be changing. Prior to the use of this technology, the first view parents could have of their child was at birth. Ultrasound technology has now removed this limitation. As ever increasing numbers of parents are being exposed to real-time ultrasound imaging of their unborn children, assessment of the social and psychological impact of this technology is appropriate and necessary to understand its possible implications. Several studies have examined various aspects of the mother's emotional experience of fetal imaging. However, absent from those investigations were any attempt to systematically study the emotional reactions of expectant fathers who were exposed to ultrasound imaging of their child in-utero. Therefore, the purpose of the present study is to begin to explore some of the emotional responses of expectant fathers when viewing their unborn child.

LITERATURE REVIEW

In order to more fully understand fathers' specific reactions to fetal imaging it may be beneficial to review some of the literature related to fathers' experiences to pregnancy in general. Historically, there was a noticeable void in the literature prior to the 1970's regarding the normative experience of the expectant father during pregnancy. The limited data available prior to that time appears to have focused more upon abnormal or pathological responses of men towards pregnancy (Freud, 1909, 1918; Jacobsen, 1950; and Jarvis, 1962). Commenting on the relative lack of literature regarding the expectant father, Parke (1981), points out that until recently expectant fathers have been generally ignored in the literature. He believes that this was as a result of prior assumptions which subtly promoted the idea that fathers were less important than mothers in the development of their child. …

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