Good Mothering Before Birth: Measuring Attachment and Ultrasound as an Affective Technology

  • Jennifer Denbow California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Keywords: STS, feminist studies, affect theory, reproduction


The idea that fetal ultrasound is useful for promoting a pregnant woman’s emotional attachment to her fetus is commonplace in the United States. While STS scholars have examined many facets of ultrasound, scholars have not analyzed the medical construction of ultrasound as an affective technology. This article fills that gap by bringing feminist STS and affect studies together to examine medical understandings of fetal ultrasound’s emotional utility. The project interprets a unique archive of published medical research on measuring maternal-fetal bonding and using ultrasound to promote that bonding. My discourse analysis shows that this medical research defines “optimal bonding” in a way that reflects the norms of intensive mothering. I argue that this medical research contributes to the creation of a new, presumably high-risk population of “sub-optimal bonders.” The research I examine also suggests that medical professionals may be able to use the technological fix of ultrasound to manage this new population’s emotions and behaviors. In the process, medical experts individualize the risks of infant well-being and locate those risks in women’s emotional state.

Author Biography

Jennifer Denbow, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Jennifer Denbow is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Her work combines critical theory and transdisciplinary feminist studies to investigate contemporary reproductive law, technology, and politics. She is the author of Governed through Choice: Autonomy, Technology, and the Politics of Reproduction (NYU Press, 2015). Her work has also appeared in a variety of journals, including Signs, Constellations, and Feminist Legal Studies.


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23 Mar 2019
Research Articles