So here we are again. We're in the same room we were in exactly eight weeks ago, only this time we know the drill. We're keen, we're lean (well, I am; my wife is getting less lean by the day)... bring on the foetal-scan machine!
This time our sonographer is an Aussie girl, about our age, called Nicky. She has the bright personality and proactive, 'right, let's get things done' attitude that back home probably earns her the tag 'little ripper' from men who look like Alf Stewart.
'Thanks for being so patient, you two,' she says.
She's been having IT trouble. My wife and I express our heartfelt sympathy. The computer splutters to life, and Nicky launches into action. We have been nice to her, and, we can tell, she wants this scan to go well almost as much as we do. As womb-world materialises on screen, she's all but clenching her fist to her chest and muttering 'come on' through gritted teeth.
'...ahh... beautiful… awesome... beau-di-ful...'
These are very much the words you want to hear your sonographer saying at 21 weeks. Oh, yes. My wife's occupant is looking good, Nicky tells us. I am surprised the creature is exactly the same size as last time (completely forgetting the picture has been magnified to match the screen size), though it's carrying a lot more beef now. Been working out, then.
First port of call on our tour of our child's organs, oddly, is the bladder, which is full. 'Looks like a big drinker,' Nicky reckons. 'Takes after its mother,' jokes my wife, before realising she's sounding like some brandy-breathed, amniotic fluid-polluting booze mum. The Australian sonographer, though, being Australian, bursts out laughing, and my wife - who is from New Zealand - giggles along. It is a lovely Antipodean moment.
Nicky next shows us the heart, zooming in to make sure all four chambers are ventricle-ing and aorta-ing correctly and the valves are doing their valvey thing. She then flicks on the speakers to monitor the heartbeat, and I get to hear our baby's blood pumping for the first time (my wife has already had a blast, at one of her midwife appointments). It's fast, like a gerbil's, but also loud and squelchy and echoey, like a whale that's had its heart transplanted for a washing machine.
Nicky moves on to bone development. 'There's the spine: yep, good spine... That's a leg bone... There's the other leg; nice, strong legs... Oh, and what's this? Here's a third leg!'
Now, if we hadn't made it clear early on that, yes, we did want to know the sex of the child, this could have been a horrifying moment for a skittish expecting couple. No parent would relish the prospect of having to raise a three-legged child, not least the expense of keeping the little tyke in trousers. But Nicky is, of course, unveiling our child's gender – and I can honestly say it is one of the funniest, most cheerful few seconds I've ever spent conscious.
But, just in case we’ve been left in any doubt, she manoeuvres the scanner to snap a nice, clear shot of our little fella's little fella. Then, next to the relevant fuzzy squiggle, she types 'WILLY' and prints out the now correctly anatomically annotated image for us to show to his grandparents.
To finish, Nicky runs us through the measurements she's taken. Everything is well within the parameters considered normal for 21 weeks, though our chap's a little on the porky side. (Good lad.) She tells my wife she has 'a very ultrasound-friendly uterus', and this makes me enormously proud, for some reason. From now on, I will always think of my wife in this way. We thank Nicky – who gets our vote for 'Human and/or Marsupial Sonographer of the Year 2008' – then we step out of the hospital into the sunshine joyful and buoyed: blimey! It's a boy!