Ambiguous encounters, uncertain foetuses: Women’s experiences of obstetric ultrasound

Niamh Stephenson, Kim McLeod, Catherine Mills

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7 Citations (Scopus)


We examine pregnant women’s experiences with routinised obstetric ultrasound as entailed in their antenatal care during planned pregnancies. This paper highlights the ambiguity of ultrasound technology in the constitution of maternal–foetal connections. Our analysis focusses on Australian women’s experiences of the ontological, aesthetic and epistemological ambiguities afforded by ultrasound. We argue that these ambiguities offer possibilities for connecting to the foetus in ways that maintain a kind of unknowability; they afford an openness and ethical responsiveness irrespective of the future of the foetus. This suggests that elucidating women’s experience has implications for theorising ethics across maternal–foetal relations and, more specifically, for the ‘moral pioneering’ (Rapp, 2000) that reproductive technologies can demand of women. Moral pioneering cannot be reduced to moments or processes of decision-making; it must allow for greater recognition of the affective commitments entailed in and incited by ultrasound. Furthermore, focussing on experiences of the ambiguity of ultrasound allows for understanding the ways in which affectivity circulates across domains commonly understood as medical or social, public or private. In doing so, it contributes to undermining a series of tensions that currently shape feminist analysis of obstetric ultrasound, often at the expense of the experience of women.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-33
Number of pages17
JournalFeminist Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • reproductive technologies
  • ultrasound
  • maternal-foetal relations
  • experience
  • pregnancy
  • moral pioneering

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