Prenatal Diagnosis and the Liminality of Pregnancy   1 comment

Worldwide, the process of reproduction may be envisioned in many ways: as mimesis, a kind of ‘photocopier’ of parental or other kinship material; as the unfolding of a spirit or soul destined to fulfill a cyclical mission; as an acorn, embryologically poised to unfurl into an oak; as a miniaturization of prior adult persons and their social relations or in some other fashion.

– Rapp 106

The real-time fetus is a social fetus, available for public viewing and commentary at a much earlier stage than the moment of quickening…

– 119

The first quotation from Rapp’s fifth chapter called to my mind the argument of the homunculus, which suggested that sperm were in fact fully formed albeit tiny humans that simply had to “grow” inside a mother’s womb, effectively rendering the mother as nothing more than a receptacle for a male’s homunculus to grow.  Quite anti-feminist, if you ask me, and I’m thankful that this is not the current medical consensus on the definition of reproduction.

The concept of one’s “degree” of pregnancy is also an interesting one that Rapp addresses again and again.  In my mind, I always considered pregnancy a binary: one is either pregnant or is not; there is no “kind of” or “a little” pregnant.  But then, Rapp says, “With sonography and amniocentesis, one can be ‘just a little pregnant'” (126).  Medical imaging realizes the fact, at least when it comes to seeing how developed a fetus is at a certain time.  However, whether “a little pregnant” or “pregnant instead of not,” being pregnant is certainly a liminal or transitional phase regardless of the analogies assigned to it and is further categorized and divided by the medical technologies we use to interact with the state.

Granted, I’ll never have the first-hand experience of pregnancy to confirm how I might envision it.  I can only think about it in the context of how someone I know might experience or explain it.

Since 2005, my mother has witnessed a drop in the number of patients choosing to undergo amniocentesis in favor of “sequential screening,” which involves periodic ultrasound imaging of the spine of the fetus and blood tests of the mother over the course of several weeks during the first trimester of pregnancy.  Whereas amniocentesis poses a 1/200 risk of miscarriage (so my mother asserts), there is no similar risk with sequential screening since the most physically invasive the test gets is with the drawing of blood.  Only for high-risk patients (those with conditions like heart disease or diabetes, or those over 35 years old) is amniocentesis additionally suggested.  Moreover, over the past few years, she has seen “more and more women unwilling to terminate a pregnancy even if it’s abnormal.”

It amazes me how much seems to have changed in the last 10 years since Rapp’s book was published, at least from the testimony I get from my mother.  Like other technologies we discuss in the program, 10 years is more than enough to render obsolete that which was once state-of-the-art or generally accepted.  I’m looking forward to when our discussion focuses on imaging, as it seems so central to our medical identities.

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Posted September 27, 2010 by wdorner in Uncategorized

One response to “Prenatal Diagnosis and the Liminality of Pregnancy

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  1. Your perspective is always interesting in light of your mother’s work. I am interested in fetal imaging (and the notion of imaging in general–which I didn’t really know I was interested in until this class;). I am particularly interested in advanced imaging which shows detailed features of the fetus, as if one is looking at a photograph. How does this change our relationship with fetuses? And how does it change the question of abortion, if at all?

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