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Having a baby is no picnic. Sure, there’s the joy of bring new life into the world and all that — but there is also about 40 weeks’ worth of busywork. Choosing a colour scheme for the nursery or assembling an IKEA crib, for example, are not fun tasks for those who might feel bloated, nauseous, neglected by their partners, or just plain exhausted. And then there are the endless doctor’s appointments.

“I didn’t want to remember my pregnancy as just doctor’s visits and tests and weighing and measuring,” a Estonian woman identified only as Marja told Reuters. “I wanted to turn it into something emotional to be remembered by my family and me.”

To make her pregnancy more special, Marja didn’t look to a doula or a baby shower, but technology: specifically, a 3D-printed fetus. Already available in the Japan and the United States, these sculptures of tiny unborn humans cast in plaster from ultrasound images have taken Estonia by storm.

“We are trying to create a very positive emotion for them as a memory of this magical time,” a representative of WolfPrint, a company that makes the fetuses, told Reuters.

Holding a replica of her child-to-be, Marja agreed.

“It’s really real,” she said.

3D-printed fetuses are available stateside for as little as $250. The company 3D Babies once reportedly even offered a replica of a celebrity baby — specifically North West, the daughter of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian — though this option, perhaps a bit too intimate, is no longer available.

“Using technology, we capture a parent’s loving feelings and excitement about the coming birth,” the California-based company’s Web site reads. “We want all parents to feel the joy that we and our customers experience and prolong it, using this combination of science and emotion.”

But 3D-printed fetuses can be more than just a tchotchke. Indeed, they may be an important diagnostic tool.

“It is possible to see face malformations such as a cleft lip,” gynecologist Marek Sois said. “… When the child goes into surgery, the surgeon can look at the sculpture and see exactly what kind of a defect it is.”

And the faux fetus may also find its way into the abortion debate. Just as ultrasound images changed the discussion about whether a woman has a right to end her pregnancy — with some states trying to require women to view ultrasounds before getting abortions — 3D-printed fetuses, for some, show that life begins long before birth.

“No matter how hard they try, abortion advocates cannot hide from the technology that will continue to make their arguments moot,” one pro-life advocate wrote last year. “The latest business to capitalize on the advances in ultrasound technology may not be one every parent longs to patronize, but it is another reminder of the reality of life in the womb as a 3D printer will create a virtual baby for parents.”

Cross-posted with additional reporting from the Washington Post.

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