TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City native Jessica Thorne expects her fourth child to arrive in October, but she'll already have a picture of the youngster long before then.
Thorne last week opened Precious Moments HD Ultrasound Studio, a company that sells elective, non-diagnostic ultrasound images to expectant mothers.
"Seeing it can feel very surreal. It can feel quite miraculous," she said. "They get to see the baby in 3D or 4D."
4D is Thorne's term for three-dimensional video.
Thorne, 30, has used similar services to capture images of each of her first three children, who were born elsewhere during her husband's 9½ years of service in the Marine Corps. But when the family moved to Traverse City, Thorne discovered that such a business service was not available locally.
So she took out a loan, hired two people and launched Precious Moments HD Ultrasound Studio on July 3.
"I've done some side businesses," she said. "Nothing like this, no brick-and-mortar."
Her grandfather was an entrepreneur. He owned Ken's Pick Up Service.
Thorne is confident enough local parents-to-be will want to see and preserve images of their unborn children to keep her in business.
Imaging sessions last from 10 to 20 minutes and are priced from $65 to $155.
The whole family can participate, Thorne said. The imaging room includes a sectional sofa that surrounds a carpeted area suitable for young children. Live imagery can be projected on a wall so everyone can see the ultrasound image of the unborn child.
"They can just enjoy bonding time with their baby," said Thorne.
There's an adjacent waiting room for clients who arrive early for an appointment.
Thorne said clients at the businesses she used during her early pregnancies typically used the service twice. Once early in the pregnancy to hear the child's heartbeat and determine if it was a boy or a girl. A second time late in the pregnancy to see the more fully developed unborn baby in 3D and to capture an image and/or video to treasure.
Clients must sign a waiver stating they are receiving proper prenatal care for their unborn child.
A doctor typically orders an ultrasound when the unborn child is between 18 and 22 weeks old, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The organization's website states that, "there is no evidence that ultrasound is harmful to a developing fetus." But it also states that, because such effects could be found in the future, casual use of ultrasound during pregnancy should be avoided.
"They are really not recommended," said Mary Schubert, executive director for Women's and Children's Services for Munson Healthcare, except for clinical purposes. "We would not support their use for entertainment purposes. There's no evidence to say that exposure to the ultrasound itself would cause harm. But we would not recommend doing that, because we don't know."
The American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine takes more of a hard-line approach to the subject of non-medical ultrasound use.
"This is not a (Food and Drug Administration)-approved practice," said Dr. June Murphy, who leads the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Program at Munson Healthcare.
She said the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine strongly discourages non-medical use of the technology for entertainment purposes because of various concerns, including possible biological effects that could result from scanning for long time periods and "the potential that pregnant women would use this keepsake ultrasound in lieu of prenatal appointments with their medical doctor," Murphy said.
Physicians order ultrasound imaging for diagnostic purposes — to determine that the child is progressing normally and to detect possible medical issues.
"We also provide 3D imaging as part of our routine scanning," Murphy said.
Thorne said she is careful to tell clients that her service is a supplement to, not a substitution for, a medical ultrasound.
"This doesn't replace anything their doctor does," said Thorne.
Thorne earned a degree in special education from Michigan State University. But her life "moved in a different direction," she said.
Her husband now works for Grand Traverse Construction and is taking classes in the trades.
Thorne is sole owner of the company. More information is available at www.preciousmomentshd.com or (231) 944-9094.
The couple thought ahead when selecting the office location at 1501 Cass St., Suite F.
"We looked at a few places downtown," said Thorne, "but with pregnant women, you have to provide parking nearby."