Fla. Father's Miracle Baby Inspires Sonogram Parties

Chad Berry and his wife Camie of Fort Meyers, Fla., know from personal experience that having a baby is a miracle -- their own daughter is living proof.

Madisyn, now 14, was born after they lost five, two to ectopic pregnancies and three in miscarriages. So today they offer a "glimpse of your little miracle" in a low-cost ultrasound to couples who want to celebrate the joy of pregnancy in their own homes or at celebratory venues.

Camie Berry, 38, is a certified sonographer and her husband, who used to work as a lab technician, runs the business side of Miracles Imaging. The couple is tapping into one of the latest trends in pregnancy, one that has been growing in popularity over the last several years -- sonogram parties.

"We'll get a call that someone is having a baby shower and ask if we can come," said Chad Berry, 37. "In two weeks, Alex and Kara are having a package with us. They are renting a real nice room at a country club. We set up and bring the massage table and the screen set up for them so everyone at the baby shower can see."

Women who opt to get a 3-D image of their child at 23 weeks, moving and showing facial expressions, say they are a fun way to share the excitement of pregnancy.

As finger food and drinks are passed around the room, the mother-to-be stretches out on an examining table while the technician moves a wand across her belly. Imaging equipment is hooked up to a TV screen or computer monitor for all the room to see.

Berry said that the services he and his wife offer should never replace routine medical care, but it can be a more affordable way to see a 3-D image not taken during a routine prenatal exam.

A hospital-based ultrasound might cost up to $800 or more locally, according to Berry. "We can do it 70 percent off because we run a small clinic."

"The most touching one we ever did was for a couple in their 40s trying to have a baby," he said. "She finally got pregnant and they planned a dinner at home but didn't tell the parents. One of the grandparents was crying hysterically the whole time."

The man had been diagnosed with cancer and told he likely would not live long enough to see the baby. "He could watch it in his own home," said Berry. "This was the most rewarding experience to provide that to someone."

But medical experts caution against the experience. The American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Food and Drug Administration, strongly discourage having ultrasounds purely for entertainment and not for a medical reason.

An ultrasound provides reassurance and some useful information for doctors on fetal development -- to confirm dates, detect a heartbeat and to check for certain genetic defects.

According to Austin, Texas, pediatrician Dr. Ari Brown, there is no "requirement" to have an ultrasound during a normal pregnancy and is up to a practitioner to determine if the woman is at high risk -- usually carrying multiples or a history of pre-term labor or diabetes.

"Some doctors don't do any," she said.

"Yes, it is pretty cool to see your baby that way, but not necessary," said Brown, the author of "Expecting 411."

"In our book, we discourage couples from going to the mall and getting glamour-shots style ultrasounds," she said. "There is no certainty of the technician's training or if the machine is properly maintained. And, some of these photo shoots last three to four hours. It is not worth the risk of exposing your unborn baby to several hours of sound waves and excess heat."

Technician Lisa Dixon, who is just starting up Peek a View ultrasound services in Santa Monica, Calif., confirms that the trend is growing. "'Viewing parties' is what they are called," she told ABCNews.com.

She charges $375 and up for her parties, depending on location. Like Berry, she provides 3-D images and a DVD with the deal.

Miracle Images provides a "gender reveal" package for $179 anywhere between 15 or 32 weeks. For $198, a client can buy, "Watch Your Baby Grow" with a classic sonogram session during each trimester.

With the deluxe "Shower Package" for $249, Miracles Images will go to a reception hall or a home and provide a 4-D film of the fetus moving in the womb that can be Skyped to absent family or friends.

LeAnn Flippen of Lehigh, Fla., surprised her 33-week pregnant sister-in-law with a sonogram at a baby shower because the family couldn't afford a 3-D image through their own doctor. (Insurance only pays for 2-D images, unless there are medical complications.)

"My brother was trying to be frugal because with a baby on the way, he didn't want to spend the money," said Flippen. "She is a dental hygienist and doesn't get maternity leave."

"With 3-D you see the entire face and the pudgy cheeks and nose and eyes," said Flippen, 30.

"We ate as soon as we got there and played a game while they were setting up," she said. "We had her chair at the front door so everyone was in front of her and she was the center of attention…. She was so excited."

Flippen, who has two boys, is now 23 weeks pregnant with a girl. At 15 weeks, she went to Miracle Images to find out the gender in 3-D. Back in 2007, she went to another ultrasound company and had a 3-D image of her son and paid three times as much.

Viviana Aguilera, a 25-year-old teacher from Cape Coral, Fla., held her own sonogram party in her home. Friends attended in person and family from Miami watched the 4-D image of the 29-week fetus moving in her womb via Facetime on her iPad.

"It was awesome," said Aguilera, who got a discount because her husband is in law enforcement. "The house was packed."

Sonogram Parties Are the Rage

At first the baby wasn't "cooperating," she said of her daughter, who is now 2 months old. "So they made me do certain exercises and I was eating brownies and drinking Coke, trying to wake her up."

Afterward, she received a DVD and photos. "I would definitely do it again."

But medical experts say that even though sonograms are considered "safe," they do not recommend them for "entertainment."

"Ultrasound should only be performed for medical purposes with a prescription from a licensed professional so people won't do it just for the fun of it," said Dr. Deborah Levine of Harvard University Medical School, who is chair of the American College of Radiology Commission on Ultrasound.

Certified technicians are also not supposed to practice independently, without a "physician behind them," she said. "If a sonographer goes out to the house, you don't know how it is calibrated, who is operating it and you don't have the normal quality assurances as in a medical practice. You don't have the normal checks and balances."

But Berry of Miracles Images said no research has determined that ultrasounds are unsafe.

"We have quite a few ob/gyn doctors here that we refer women to," he said. "Insurance covers on one or two, and especially for those on Medicaid, there is little chance for them to have them done."

He offers discounts to active military, firefighters, first responders and police officers.

Miracle Images requires that their clients have their own doctor to provide prescribed medical sonograms and to oversee their prenatal care.

Berry insists his is no "fly-by-night" operation and has a medical director on call if ultrasound reveals medical problems. "When we find a baby with no heartbeat, we know the physician to call."

Even LeAnn Flippen, who is now 23 weeks pregnant with her own child, doesn't seem to worry that an ultrasound could reveal a deformity before a horrified group at a sonogram shower.

"It's always a concern," she said. "I guess I leave it up to God. There's nothing I can do."