Breaking Down Barriers for Blind Parents-To-Be, Part 2

Editor’s note: VisionAware’s Francesca Crozier-Fitzgerald dives into the world of 3D ultrasounds for expecting parents who are blind or visually impaired in this two-part blog post. In today’s post, Francesca interviews In Utero 3D founder, Aleksandra Witkowska-Masojc, about the process of creating a bas-relief model of your child. Read “Breaking Down Barriers for Blind Parents, Part 1” for more information on this new company and the inspiration behind this new initiative for blind or visually impaired parents-to-be.

Breaking Down Barriers for Blind Parents-To-Be

A family-run company in Poland has created a new project giving blind expecting mothers and fathers a chance to know what their baby looks like even before he or she is born. The initiative is called Waiting Without Barriers. The program’s goal is to give blind mothers and fathers the same experience as sighted parents and break down another barrier between parents-to-be who can see and blind parents-to-be.

The company, In Utero 3D, uses a special software that allows them to take a 3D ultrasound scan and digitally design and print a 3D bas-relief model of the baby. Here is their unique process.

A picture of a woman's torso with her hands in front of her stomach holding a 3D mold of her child's ultrasound

Images courtesy of In Utero 3D

Interview with In Utero 3D Founder: The Process

Francesca Crozier-Fitzgerald: What is the full process from the time a family decides they want this done until they are holding it in their hand?

Aleksandra Witkowska-Masojc: The first step is to request a proper 3D volume format of the 3D ultrasound scan from the clinic holding the patient’s records. Usually it’s saved as a JPEG or AVI file, but these formats lack volumetric information; we are not able to create a 3D model from this data source. We work with data saved in VOL, DCM, or MVL format (depending on the instrument the hospital is using). These formats contain 3D data necessary to create the 3D model.

Once we receive the file in the proper format, we create the 3D model with our software. This will take about two to three hours to create the high-quality model. Parents, at this point, will have the option to take the high-quality model file and print it themselves in their country, on their own printer, the 3D printer of a friend, or they can have us print the model for them.

FCF: How long can the 3D printing process take?

A: Depending on the dimensions of the data, the printing process could last many hours. Printing the image of a tiny baby in the 20th week of pregnancy could take up to five or six hours. But, when the baby is bigger, in the 28th week or 30th week, for example, features are obviously larger, and it can take up to 11 or 12 hours. That’s natural if you want to receive this high-quality, detailed, 1:1 scale model, it requires many hours in the printing process.

A picture of a woman holding a 3D mold of her child's ultrasound

FCF: What material do you use to create the 3D models?

A: The bas-relief is made of ecru non-toxic bioplastic material known as PLA – polylactic acid.

FCF: What are some challenges that you’ve faced along the way?

A: One of our biggest challenges occurs in the first step of our process when patients go to receive the file of their 3D ultrasound from the hospital or clinic, and it is saved in an improper or incompatible format. If we are contacted before the parents go to their clinic to receive the file, we are able to send them and the clinic very specific instructions regarding the file format.

FCF: What happens if the file you receive is not in great quality and features are difficult to decipher?

A: Because we work only with the data sent to us from the 3D ultrasound examination, the quality of the file is important. If the image is not the best quality, we do not try to tweak, change, or idealize; we contact the parents and request a new, better image. It is important to us that we are creating the baby’s image to it’s exact likeness.

FCF: If someone here in the US wants to join Waiting Without Barriers or purchase a bas-relief 3D printed ultrasound, what should they do?

A: If a blind mother or father in the United States contacts us, we’ll provide them with all the step-by-step information of how to send the proper file format to us. We’ll explain all of our processes and rules about quality of the image and printing.

If they send the file and the format and quality are all in good condition, we create the 3D model and send it back to the parents. We’ll tell them that they have the option to print the model we created there in their own country. In the USA, for example, we work closely with a company in Ohio called Proto3D Printing. They can send our model to a company in their home country to reduce the delivery cost and receive their model much faster.

FCF: How is Waiting Without Barriers financially supported?

A: We decided early on that Waiting Without Barriers would be our own initiative. It is not funded by an agency, and it is not considered charity; this is something we believe, as sighted parents, that we should give to parents that cannot see. The only cost for blind parents from Poland is equal to 1 zloty ($.25 USD) for the bas-relief of a baby printed in FDM technology. For parents outside of Poland, we create the 3D model of a baby ready for printing in their own country also for a symbolic 1 euro ($1.08 USD).

We knew that we didn’t want to charge for the service because being able to see your baby is a standard, it’s right and fair that you can see your baby as it grows. We consider this a right that we’re simply making possible.

Blind Parenting Series

Breaking Down Barriers for Blind Parents-To-Be, Part 1

Introduction to Blind Parenting Series

Preparing for Pregnancy: A Blind Mother’s Checklist, Resources and Services

Blindness and Infertility: A Mother’s Story

How Congenital Vision Loss Affect Motherhood