Childbirth is considered both a scientific necessity as well as a miracle. No matter how much we learn about the nature of reproduction, it is nearly impossible to stand by and not be amazed at the process of bringing new life into the world. But "standing by" is exactly what we do while a woman undergoes the stages of pregnancy-standing by to support her, st`nding by to monitor the progress of the fetus, standing by to ensure the health and safety of the expecting mother. In fact, the Latin verb for "to stand by" is obstare, which is where we get our current word for the medical field of obstetrics: the science of a woman's reproductive process.
One of the main methods by which we monitor the progress of the fetus is ultrasonography, which produces images of the fetus inside the womb. It may seem counter-intuitive at first to use a sound-based frequency to produce visual-based information, but this is not ordinary sound as we know it. Ultrasound describes a frequency of hearing that is higher than what is audible to the common human ear. Ultrasonography works by taking ultrasound waves, which non-invasively penetrate the skin, and bouncing them to the womb. The sound waves bounce back and are read by a scanner which then translates the ultrasound waves inside the body into visual images.
The standard ultrasound image has undergone some major technological advancements into 3D and temporal-based 4D. State-of-the-art healthcare training in ultrasonography now includes a thorough education of this new equipment.
In standard 2D ultrasonography the sound waves are beamed into the body and are reflected directly back to the scanner for a flat image. 3D ultrasonography is able to achieve this extra dimension of the image by using "echoes" which are multiple sound-waves that are sent into the body at a variety of angles. The computer which reads the returning waves is far more sophisticated than the scanner used in 2D sonograms. One of the immediate advantages of 3D sonography is the ability to not only see the surface of the fetus from one position, but to rotate the image from all angles. Another important advantage is the ability to see beyond the surface into the internal organs of the fetus.
The progress of fusing health and technology becomes extremely evident with 4D ultrasound technology. Speaking of the fourth dimension may sound more like science fiction than medical science because we are speaking of a dimension outside of space: that of time. The 4D ultrasound produces a moving image of the 3D ultrasound. The technology is not that different from 3D ultrasounds, except that many scans, or pictures, are taken rapidly and displayed in succession, producing the "moving image" effect, or as we know it, a 3D movie.
Today, there is no serious need for a pregnant woman to have a 4D ultrasound where a 3D ultrasound will do. One must, however, marvel at the miraculous powers of our technology in giving expecting parents a real living glimpse of their baby. These scientific "miracles" are only fraction of the miracle of life they have been invented to serve.