OBJECTIVE: Although prenatal ultrasound (US) is a common clinical undertaking today, little information is available about women's experience of the procedure from the perspective of women themselves. The objective of this study was to explore women's experience of undergoing a routine prenatal US examination associated with an unexpected fetal diagnosis. STUDY DESIGN: Qualitative methods were used to explore the prenatal US experience of 13 women. Five women were given unexpected news of multiple pregnancy and eight women were given unexpected news of congenital fetal abnormality. One in-depth audio-taped interview was conducted with each woman. Content analysis of interview data identified themes common to women's experience of US. RESULTS: Identified themes of women's experience of routine prenatal US examination associated with an unexpected fetal diagnosis are: experiencing the setting, sensing information, feeling connected/disconnected, the power of the image, and communication rules. CONCLUSIONS: Women's experience of prenatal US examination is influenced by physical and environmental factors and by the behaviors of the US examiner. Behaviors of the examiner contribute to a woman's labeling of the US experience as positive or negative. Women identify being objectified by the examination and experience poor communication patterns after a fetal US diagnosis. Women's description of the US screen image as a baby suggests it is a powerful influence on subsequent clinical and ethical decision-making about the pregnancy.
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