BSM brings ultrasound to classroom to teach fetal development

| January 4, 2017 | 0 Comments

Ultrasound technician Mark Hutchinson gives an ultrasound to Jacinta Pearson during ninth-grade health class at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park. Teacher Alisa May does the demonstration to teach her students about fetal development and deliver a pro-life message to them. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Benilde-St. Margaret’s School ninth-graders oohed and aahed at the sight of an unborn baby making a big, long kick across a large projector screen.

“Basically they’re just moving their muscles,” said Mark Hutchinson, an ultrasound technician who volunteers at Robbinsdale Women’s Center, and who, with the help of a volunteer expectant mother, presented to the students in the BSM chapel Dec. 15.  “They’re not spazzing in there. They’re practicing moving their muscles, getting them strength.”

It surprised students at the St. Louis Park Catholic high school who attended the presentation as part of their freshman health class. Some anticipated a much more restful baby even though this one measured at 16 and a half weeks gestation.

“I thought it would sleep all day. It actually moves its legs a lot,” student Sophie Latourelle said.

Health teacher Alisa May brought in the presenters from RWC to give students a closer look at the development of unborn babies. She explored the possibility of a live ultrasound for the class and found RWC, which does in-school presentations.

“It’s just a lot more impactful than the video of an ultrasound,” she said.

RWC’s first presentation at BSM in 2015 inspired some students to volunteer at the pro-life pregnancy center, May said.

Students from this year’s class were also moved.

“I [have] never seen an ultrasound before, and I thought it was so amazing,” student Phoebe Sellke wrote in a class journal entry after the event. “She [the mother] was four months pregnant, and if I saw her on the street, I would have never thought she was.”

Latourelle recognized the importance of the mother’s health during pregnancy.

“You really need to take care of the baby,” Latourelle said. “What you do affects what happens to the baby.”

Life-saving sound waves

Hutchinson explained how the sound waves of the ultrasound produced the image of the avocado-sized unborn baby they saw. The transducer, the ultrasound’s probe that the technician puts on the mother’s womb, picks up the sound waves. Then, the computer hooked up to the transducer tracks the sound waves to produce the image.

“It does it about 15 to 30 times a second, and that’s why you can see motion,” Hutchinson said. “There is about 35, 32 shades of gray [on the screen], but I’m told that the eye can really only pick up about 15 shades.”

With those shades of gray, an ultrasound displays the many details of a baby’s development from the limbs to the inner organs. Hutchinson also showed the students how he can pick up the sound of the baby’s heartbeat.

“Baby has all four chambers in the heart already – the atrium and ventricle left and right,” Hutchinson said.

Such detail moved students to see the life inside a mother that’s hidden to the naked eye.

“I was impacted by the ultrasound because I realized really how fast the baby develops,” said student Sarah Luong. “I was surprised by the fact that you could see such small details like toes and fingers.”

Hutchinson told the students that the baby already yawns, gets hiccups and dispenses waste. He also explained how the baby receives nutrients through the umbilical cord.

“They [also] like to hold on to it [umbilical cord] because it pulsates and rocks them to sleep,” he said.

Besides Hutchinson, several RWC staff members presented on the importance of ultrasounds in preventing abortions, as well as the importance of chastity to avoid crisis pregnancies in the first place. RWC provides free and confidential services for women in unexpected or crisis pregnancies. Services include pregnancy testing, ultrasound and mentoring.

The center has an intentional location on Broadway Avenue in Robbinsdale, across the street from the Robbinsdale Clinic, Minnesota’s third largest abortion provider. The Minnesota Department of Health reported that 1,039 abortions were performed at the clinic in 2015.

“About 70 to 80 percent of the women who come through our doors are either determined to have and abortion, are considering abortion or they’re being pressured by someone, a parent or a boyfriend or something,” Peggy Benicke, RWC executive director, told the students.

Ultrasound provides a woman in that situation a chance to see her baby. “It doesn’t take a whole lot of conversation when they hear their baby’s heart beating,” Benicke said, which aids the counseling process.

Hutchinson said that 80 percent of abortion-minded women who see their baby’s heart beating in ultrasound will choose to continue the pregnancy.

Hutchinson, Benicke and the volunteer mother, Jacinta Pearson, took student questions at the end of the presentation. Benicke also tested the students’ knowledge, and included a stumper: How much would an unborn baby would weigh if growth continued at its fastest rate throughout the pregnancy?

After a few hints from Benicke, a student finally nailed it —14 tons.

“Can you imagine?” Benicke asked as students reacted with amazement.

Benicke used the staggering figure to help students contemplate how they could help a woman in a crisis pregnancy who feels a 14-ton weight of fear, anxiety and pressure. She emphasized the importance of encouragement and assuring the mother that resources for help exist, as well as sharing their experience of seeing an ultrasound to “let them know this is a baby” inside her womb.

“Our job is to reach out with the love of Christ,” Benicke said, in addition to offering emotional and practical help.

Students, including Latourelle, were grateful for the information.

“I think it’s good that people are educated about this, so it’s not like a shock when they do get pregnant,” she said.


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