But perhaps the most priceless pictures we will ever have of our firstborn child are the ones that were taken before she was born: black-and-white sonograms with close-ups of tiny knees and elbows, two curled feet, a waving hand, and a beating heart.
For almost three decades, ultrasound technology has provided parents with a miraculous window to the womb. This common diagnostic technique uses harmless sound waves, sent by a hand-held transducer rubbed over the mother's belly, which bounce off the developing unborn child. Echoes from the waves are converted into sonograms, which can be seen on video and captured in print. The latest advances produce amazing three-dimensional views.
Ultrasound is an innovation that not only affirms life, but also saves lives. Those who believe in protecting the unborn can do more good, more immediately, by helping to spread this technology across the country than by counting on fair-weather politicians in Washington.
Crisis pregnancy centers, armed with ultrasound machines donated by the nonprofit National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, have persuaded an untold number of parents to say no to abortion.
The institute's "Life Choice Project" empowers the centers with legal advice, technical support and all the equipment and training necessary to be converted into medical centers that can perform ultrasounds.
Anecdotal evidence of ultrasound's persuasive powers has been steadily accumulating since 1983, when two government researchers published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine on pregnant women who underwent ultrasound tests while considering abortions.
Viewing their unborn children early in pregnancy, before movement is felt by the mothers, may "influence the resolution of any ambivalence toward the pregnancy itself in favor of the fetus," wrote Drs. John C. Fletcher, then of the National Institutes of Health, and Mark I. Evans, then of George Washington University Medical School. "Ultrasound examination may thus result in fewer abortions and more desired pregnancies."
Fletcher and Evans wrote that one woman who had been beaten early in pregnancy was given the test to see whether her child had been injured in the womb. When she saw the image of her child moving on the screen, she said: "I feel that it is human. It belongs to me. I couldn't have an abortion now." Another woman, 10 weeks pregnant, said after her ultrasound exam: "I am going all the way with the baby."
Pregnancy centers from Joplin, Mo., to Denver, Colo., report that many women and their partners leaning toward abortion change their minds after ultrasound exams. Dorothy Wallis of the Care Pregnancy Clinic in Baton Rouge, La., reports that 98 percent of women who have ultrasounds choose to carry to term.
Institute President Thomas Glessner told me before the holidays that his group's goal is to equip one-third of the nation's pregnancy centers with ultrasound machines and trained staff. Imagine someday being able to prevent as many abortions as occur in this country - an estimated 1.5 million per year. "I believe it can happen," he said. But not without help. The program costs tens of thousands of dollars per center. Tax-deductible donations can be made on the Internet (www.nifla.org) or by sending checks to NIFLA/Life Choices Project, Box 42060, Fredericksburg, Va. 22404.
If you are a parent or grandparent who has been moved to tears of joy by ultrasound - I know you are out there and I know you are legion - make it a New Year's resolution to join this life-saving crusade.
Michelle Malkin is a syndicated columnist. Her e-mail address is email@example.com. You can also comment on her columns by writing, faxing or e-mailing the Daily News at the addresses given on the letters page.