EVERETT — Franchesca Simpson wanted more than a doctor’s office grainy black-and-white image of her baby due in October.
She and her husband went to a boutique ultrasound studio for a high-def fetal photo session.
“Our jaw dropped and our heart kind of stopped,” said Simpson, 26, of Lynnwood. “I could see the baby’s personality.”
What’s up with that?
Two new studios in Everett and Coupeville offer elective ultrasounds with baby pics and videos as keepsakes. Both state the ultrasounds are for elective, entertainment purposes and do not replace doctor visits.
Parents, not insurance, foot the bill for these non-diagnostic keepsake ultrasounds that are not medically regulated or endorsed. The 3D scans are sepia-tone still images, 4D scans are a live version and “5D” is the post-processing enhancement.
“People do this to bond with the baby, and to include their friends and family,” said Kelly Fox, who in May opened Wonder Baby Ultrasound Studio in Everett.
Her studio is in an office complex at 9505 19th Ave. SE, in the Eastmont neighborhood of Everett where she grew up. The main advertising is via Google, social media and Wonder Baby decals on her silver Hyundai SUV.
A $180 session offers a 20 to 25 minute scan of the baby at 27 to 33 weeks. A “Wonder What?!” 10 to 15 minute scan at 14 weeks is $105 and shows the baby’s gender, and a “Wonder Beat” option at 7 to 14 weeks is $75 to see and hear the baby’s heartbeat. Sessions include a USB flash drive with the images.
Island County Ultrasound on Whidbey Island has individual sessions from $90 to $185. Package deals with multiple visits are $500 and $700.
Ultrasounds use sound waves to create an image of what’s inside your body.
According to the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine: “Although the general use of ultrasound for medical diagnosis is considered safe, ultrasound energy has the potential to produce biological effects.”
The elective use “is inappropriate and contrary to responsible medical practice,” the institute’s website says.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also advises against doing ultrasounds solely for keepsakes.
The studio is a side job for Fox, 38, a medical sonographer for 12 years. After sonography school in Austin, Texas, she spent several years training veterinarians and their staff on how to scan small animals.
“Dogs and cats, typically,” she said. “However, there were snakes, birds, ferrets. Sedated, thankfully.”
People have been the subjects the past seven years at her main job at an outpatient diagnostic imaging clinic in Edmonds, where most of the medical scans are for conditions other than pregnancy.
Wonder Baby is limited to unborn baby glamour shots in a casual setting. Her studio camera, so to speak, is a $40,000 Mindray ultrasound machine she purchased through a third-party reseller. It can do it all, but she doesn’t. After all, nobody wants a photo of their liver to show to friends.
“I use it for fun and making memories as opposed to diagnostic purposes,” Fox said. “It is to enjoy looking at the baby as opposed to how they are developing medically.”
She said grandparents often attend — and pay for — the sonogram sessions. Siblings are welcome.
“I’ve had nine people in the room. There are places to sit, but people never sit,” she said.
The waiting room has a “cravings corner” with a variety of free snacks and a fridge with drinks and pickles. Picture frames, onesies and gender reveal confetti balloons are for sale. For $35, the heartbeat is recorded in a portable device placed inside of a stuffed animal that plays the sound when squeezed.
Simpson said she told her doctor before getting her first elective ultrasound at 29 weeks at Wonder Baby.
She already knew the gender of the unborn child, the couple’s first, which they plan to name Aubrey.
“We wanted to see what the baby looked like,” she said. “You could see the details of the lips, the eyes, the cheeks and fingers and the movements, too, when our baby started sucking her thumb or she’d giggle.”
The second Wonder Baby session was at about 32 weeks.
“We could see how different she looked,” Simpson said. “Her face filled out, she was a bit chunkier and more developed. She was moving a lot more. Her hands were kind of in the way. She was getting shy.”
Now they just have to wait until her Oct. 22 due date to meet Aubrey in person.