WASHINGTON - The last 25 years have seen a festive shift in the 'big reveal' process that expecting parents use to discover or announce the gender of their unborn child.
Colored cake fillings, confetti-filled balloons and themed parties have replaced the traditional grainy black-and-white sonogram photos produced in the doctor's office.
And last March, Betelhem Seleshi of Silver Spring, Md., added to the list of creative ways in which expectant parents can find out the sex of their little ones. With her company Baby Joy 3D/4D Mobile Ultrasound, the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer brings the big news right into the home.
"This experience is very special," says Seleshi, who travels to the homes of expectant parents with a mobile ultrasound machine to deliver the news and give a glimpse of the baby.
"And me going to their homes -- they don't have to travel, they don't have to take off, they can be in just one room with the rest of their family and whoever they want to share this experience with and see their baby," she says.
The convenience of having the ultrasound in the home is what first attracted Halima Pickett, of Northeast D.C., to Seleshi's business in early January.
Pickett says she could have gone to the doctor's office to find out the sex of her baby, but she wanted her husband and two kids to be present for the news. She says having two young children running around the doctor's office does not always make for a calm and collected visit. Plus, she was interested in seeing her third child in 3-D. Her previous ultrasounds were conducted in 2-D.
"From the traditional office, you just have a regular black-and-white screen, and depending on how busy your OBGYN is, or the ultrasound technician who is doing your official reading, you don't see as clearly. You may not get to see the baby's features, watch them while they're just hanging out inside the womb," says Pickett, who has several family members who used 3D/4D ultrasound in the past.
"Whereas with the 3D/4D [ultrasound], you get to see the chubbiness of their cheeks, their lips purse if they're sucking their thumb, or drinking some of the amniotic fluid. It's quite an experience."
According to Mayo Clinic, ultrasound imaging uses high-frequency sound waves to gather information on internal anatomy, such as soft tissue, organs and a fetus in utero. The information is then transmitted and displayed as a two-dimensional image on a video screen.
Three-D/4D ultrasound imaging is the latest ultrasound technology. It shows internal systems in three-dimension and in real-time movement.
While Seleshi conducted Pickett's ultrasound in an intimate, family setting, she says her clients' immediate family members are not always the only ones present for the process.
Seleshi, who is a graduate of George Washington University and has been a sonographer for more than nine years, often conducts the 3D/4D ultrasound for couples at gender-reveal parties and baby showers.
"People, they haven't seen anything like this before," Seleshi says.
The at-home ultrasound typically takes Seleshi no more than one hour. She travels with a GE ultrasound machine, which is about the size of a laptop.
"It's very light and portable so it doesn't require too much space to fit in [to a person's home]," she says.
And setting the machine up takes Seleshi two to five minutes. She hooks the machine to the client's TV or shows the images on a portable projector she carries with her to appointments.
"So in no time, they can see their babies," she says.
After the images are displayed, Seleshi prints off pictures of the baby (black- and-white and colored) and puts the experience on a DVD. The basic package for a 10 to 15 minute ultrasound is $150, and longer, more customized packages go up to $250.
In just about a month, third-time mom-to-be Pickett plans to use Seleshi's mobile ultrasound services one more time before her baby boy is due to arrive. Only this time, she plans to share the experience with 30 family members and close friends.
"We decided, well, what a wonderful way to kind of end our child-making experience and have our family members there to see the baby inside of the uterus," says Pickett, who is making the 3D/4D ultrasound part of her baby shower at Maggiano's in March.
"[They get] food and they get to see the baby. I figured that was a different activity for a baby shower versus all of the little games. My husband and I aren't really into the traditional games."
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