Technology is a marvelous thing. The idea of being able to see and hear your baby almost from the beginning is awe-inspiring. As for many things, technology for a pregnant after loss mama is a double-edged sword. The ultrasound or Doppler that can provide reassurance that is so desperately sought can also trigger immense grief.
Even more incredible is the fact that you don’t have to go to your health care provider to get this information, as dopplers are sold commercially. Heck, there are even apps that purport to serve as dopplers (many have attachments that make them work).
But is investing in this technology a good idea?
The answer can range from “it depends” to a flat-out “no.” Typically, those with at least a technician level of training are qualified to perform an ultrasound. The concern with laypeople using this technology is severalfold. First, most people don’t have ANY training with medical equipment or its interpretation. Second, the likelihood of a panicked call to your provider is high if you don’t hear anything, which spikes the delicate balance of anxiety for any pregnant after loss mom. Third, how reassuring would it actually be? For many, seeing the baby on an ultrasound provides (at best) 24-hours of calm before the anxiety starts to seep in again.
Here are some ideas if you want to have the 24-7 piece of mind that a Doppler supposedly gives during pregnancy after loss:
- To start, talk to your healthcare team about buying your own Doppler. This will start a conversation where you can gauge how supportive your providers are to this practice.
- Ask for some training. If you are going to go ahead, at least learn the nuances between your heartbeat and your baby’s—it will be less anxiety-provoking in the long run.
- Come up with a plan if you can’t detect the heart rate. Who can you call? When will you double-check? When might you go in for a second opinion?
One thing to note is that a Doppler is a tool. However, it provides momentary reassurance around anxiety (which is normal in a pregnancy after a loss) but does not provide coping strategies to manage this feeling. Often, anxiety can last long after a Doppler would prove to be effective.
- Top Questions Pregnant after Loss Mamas Ask Their OBs
- How to Cope with Doctor’s Appointments in Pregnancy After Loss
- Inside a Pregnant After Loss Mama’s Mind: In Between Appointments
- 6 Coping Skills for Managing Stress During Your Pregnancy After a Loss
- Rainbow Connection: 10 Ways to Bond During Pregnancy after Loss
My biggest fear with the doppler was that I would incorrectly interpret the results to be reassuring (because I found a heartbeat) when my baby was actually in distress. To combat this, I paid attention to a variety of factors – particularly baby’s movement patterns so I knew when to expect him to be active, and how much and what types of movements felt normal – and if I thought something felt off and I wanted to use the doppler to make sure he was ok, I would make a decision *before* I ever picked it up about whether I thought something might actually be wrong or whether I just thought it was my anxiety acting up. If I genuinely thought it was something, then I would use the doppler just to reassure myself that he was alive so that I wouldn’t freak out on the way to the doctor, and I would *always* trust my instinct and go to the doctor, even if the doppler reading looked fine. And of course if the doppler reading looked suspicious I would go to the doctor. But only if I had previously decided (based on other factors and my intuition) that I was just being anxious AND then got a reassuring doppler reading would I NOT then follow up with my medical team. That way, I knew I wasn’t supplanting expert medical advice with my own limited (though very well researched!) experience and potentially putting my baby at risk. The doppler can be a great tool, but we need to be careful to regard it as only one piece of the bigger picture. It’s difficult to trust your gut when you live in constant terror during a PAL, but letting the pendulum swing too far the other direction and relying only on technology is dangerous as well – like anything else, it’s important to find a balance.
This is very interesting. Until reading this article I thought dopplers were great! But then I thought GMO’s were fine too until I did some further research. Thank you for the sharing this Dr. Julie, I very much appreciate hearing your perspective. I will now be purchasing a fetascope in lieu of a doppler.