Voices

Weary in well-doing

Good motives aren't enough to guarantee business success

Issue: "Iraq: Terror without end," Oct. 2, 2004

What could be more deflating, and discouraging, than to go out of your way to do the right thing-even at some personal risk-and then instead of becoming everybody's hero you become the goat?

That's how Alex and Danielle Kuznetsov of New Britain, Conn., have been feeling the last few months. As WORLD readers, they had a growing sense of responsibility for doing something practical to help stem the tide of secularistic, statist thinking in the society they had adopted as their own. In 2001, the Kuznetsovs had moved back to Connecticut from Alex's native Russia. The two had moved to Russia in 1998 so their children could experience their father's culture.

Alex had worked for several years for the Pratt and Whitney company, both in Russia and in the United States-but he and Danielle felt there might be something more they could do together vocationally that would let them make a difference in their community and beyond. That's when, while reading WORLD and other journals, they developed an interest in the role of high-tech sonograms of unborn babies.

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Particularly, the emerging capabilities of three-dimensional sonograms were beginning to capture the attention of pregnant women in ways only hinted at with the less compelling two-dimensional images. With the 3-D equipment, expectant moms could see images that looked like real babies-not just squiggly bluish-greenish rivulets that left much to the imagination. Soon there were reports of women with unwanted pregnancies who, when they saw the pictures, decided to carry their babies to term.

After extensive research and prayer, Alex and Danielle scraped together everything they could from their savings, and then borrowed from the bank, from family members, and from friends. With just over $150,000 in hand, they bought the appropriate equipment and opened two centers-one in central Connecticut and the other in the southern part of the state-under the fetching title "Fetal Fotos." The businesses were part of a franchised chain set up originally under a Utah obstetrician. Danielle invested 500 hours in specialized training before they opened their doors.

The game plan was to attract at least 20 women a day to stop by, plunk down $100-$275 for different packages, and take appropriate delight in a series of vivid images of their yet-to-be-born babies. If along the way a few confused women-very typically single-moms-to-be-came in to satisfy their curiosity, that was exactly what the Kuznetsovs hoped for.

If all that happened on schedule, Alex and Danielle could make a living for their own growing family and pay off their debts.

But things didn't happen on that schedule.

Some well-meaning folks began misusing the equipment, giving the sonogram business a bad name. The procedures came to be pictured as a risky game of entertainment, and the machines as high-tech toys. Although medical risks are nonexistent (use of the equipment is by law always FDA-regulated), rumors of danger started to spread. Undiscerning media picked up the story, and by the time they had repeated it regularly in different versions, the Kuznetsovs' businesses were hurting.

The medical establishment, meanwhile, also tended to reverse field. Obstetricians in the area who might have been expected to refer their patients to the Kuznetsovs, since they themselves tended to have only 2-D equipment, one by one added that service (for a fee) as part of their own regular procedures. Some doctors quietly joined the scare-mongering over what "Fetal Fotos" was doing-even while setting up to do exactly the same thing. Insurance and liability issues were easy whipping boys.

Alarmingly, Alex and Danielle's clientele began to disappear. Rent and salaries still had to be paid, but revenue dried up. Someone suggested direct mail to expectant moms, but response rates were tiny-and then the folks who had rented lists said they would no longer do so.

So shouldn't such a story have a happy ending? I wish I could provide one-but so far, in this case, not yet.

"We know we made some mistakes," Danielle told me last week. "The name 'Fetal Fotos' was maybe a little too playful, and we'll probably change it. We want people to know this isn't a game, but a serious look at the pregnancy process that helps whole families gain an appreciation for the wonder of what is going on."

Optimism and high motives don't guarantee business success. Idealistically challenging a pagan culture-in this case one that is too often anti-baby-carries its own risks. And it doesn't happen only in a country like the one the Kuznetsovs moved from three years ago.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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