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Baby's First Screen Test : Expectant parents are turning to ultrasound, often just to get a peek at their unborn child.


WESTLAKE VILLAGE — When Mary Rauch and Ellie Rice started their new business, they sent out birth announcements.

No wonder.

Theirs may be the ultimate amniotic enter tainment, a chance for parents-to-be to share fuzzy prenatal pictures of their beloved fetus with family and friends.

Since they opened the doors of their Westlake Village office in October, the women have welcomed a steady stream of pregnant Southlanders who don't hesitate for a moment to expose their swollen bellies so that spouses, parents, siblings, earlier offspring and just plain pals can oooh and aaah over Junior's antics in utero.

The procedure is a simple, painless one. The expectant mother settles into a reclining chair next to an ultrasound machine, while her guests get comfortable on a nearby sofa. A trained sonographer smears Mom's abdomen with goo, then runs a probe that looks like a hand mike over the surface.


The probe transmits sound waves into the woman's uterus and receives the sound waves that bounce back. Just as a submarine's sonar sees another submarine by interpreting rebounding sound waves, the fetal sonograph pictures the unborn child as he or she squirms and shifts in the confines of the mother's womb. What the sonographer sees on her monitor is simultaneously shown to mother and guests on a 20-inch TV screen.

Obstetricians have been using medical ultrasound since the 1970s to take a safe, non-invasive peek at the unborn child. Read skillfully, a sonogram (as an ultrasound picture is called) can often, but not always, reveal any gross abnormalities as well as the sex of the developing fetus.

Rauch and Rice stress that their service is for entertainment purposes only. "We're not replacing anything the doctor does," Rice tells each new client.

To ensure that the service doesn't venture into doctors-only territory, the ultrasound equipment has been stripped of the peripherals that would allow them to measure the fetus or monitor its heartbeat--standard on diagnostic machines.


Ultrasound is not a risky procedure in the view of most physicians, even ultrasound that has no purpose beyond giving pleasure to the expectant and her loved ones. "As long as the mother is getting prenatal obstetrical care, the Precious Moments ultrasound should cause no harm to the fetus," said Dr. Fred Schaffner, an obstetrician in private practice in Westlake Village.

Rauch had the idea for the service when she was carrying her first-born, Aleczandria Grazia, now 3 months old. "I wanted to see and get to know my baby," she recalled. But, like many physicians, Rauch's obstetrician saw no medical reason to recommend an ultrasound for his healthy, young patient. She ended up going to Nevada, where a non-physician technician friend gave her the prenatal picture she craved.

The women insist that all clients be under the care of a physician and prefer that they have already had a medical ultrasound. In part, Rice explains, this is to ensure that the Precious Moments' sonogram doesn't reveal some unanticipated fetal anomaly to an unprepared mother, a potential tragedy that they have never encountered.

Decorated like a cross between a nursery and a media center, the Westlake Village office includes such amenities as Barney activity books for preschoolers less than rapt at the prospect of viewing their new brother or sister. Aleczandria naps near her mother, who can pick the baby up and nurse her when she fusses.

On a recent morning, Patti Mosqueda, 26, is in the office to give her in-laws their first blurry glimpse of their unborn grandchild. Patti, who is almost eight months pregnant, has already had three medical ultrasounds with husband Raul, 22, at her side. But this is the first grandchild for Raul's parents, Kathy and Andy, and they are impatient to see the next generation of Mosquedas.


Patti Mosqueda also hopes that the procedure will reveal whether the baby is a boy or a girl. She is of Mexican heritage, she explains, and the old wive's tale is that if you are wide, you're going to have a girl. "It's a girl," she tells the Mosqueda men, both of whom are rooting for a boy.

"I couldn't wait to get here," says Mosqueda, who has been drinking water all morning, trying to swell her bladder, which gives the sound waves something to bounce off and makes for a better picture. "I got up a 4 o'clock in the morning. I couldn't sleep because the baby was kicking so much."

The young Mosquedas live with Raul's parents in Oxnard, and they banter comfortably about such family matters as the odds--high, it's agreed--that the baby will have big ears and what to name the child. Raul Jr. is universally popular. If it's a girl, Patti likes Sara (it means princess) Nicole or Ashley Nicole. Most of all, she likes Presley Aaron, which her husband thinks is a silly name even for the daughter of a die-hard Elvis fan.

Rauch and Rice tell the Mosquedas what to look for if the ultrasound manages to home in on their pre-born's developing genitalia.

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