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         MAY 2016

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1605 image news

“A living testament to the unreliability of scans”

Spectator article by Mary Wakefield


The commissioning editor of The Spectator, Mary Wakefield, has written about her experiences of a misdiagnosis of the fatal condition IUGR (intra-uterine growth restriction) for her unborn baby when she was five months pregnant.@ Whilst recalling the chilling moment she and her husband were bluntly told “placenta is failing. Baby will not grow,” and her realisation that the dreams she had held for her baby would no longer happen, she calls upon better training for sonographers, who are not trained to deal with anxious parents and display an alarming attitude towards the unborn; “it was quite clear from the way he spoke that he assumed we’d bin this malformed kid and start again.” Wakefield and her husband went into a state of mourning, feeling “panic and despair” before submitting to resignation of the situation.


Despite being offered a consultation with a specialist in a few days’ time, Wakefield instead sought out and paid for a quicker private consultation where the same scan was repeated and her baby was found to be reassuringly “boring” and perfectly healthy. It is not commented on directly, but there is a definite feeling in the article of “what if” she and her husband had taken the decision to terminate?


Another question which arises is what if a pregnant woman could not afford such a second opinion? The second sonographer’s polar opposite demeanour to her first also confirmed to Wakefield not only the need for empathy training for sonographers but also the importance of a proper understanding of the tests they perform and their margins of error. The first sonographer had simply misinterpreted the baby’s measurements probably because the baby had been upside down in the first scan which would lead to all measurements being squashed according to the second sonographer. Even then, the parameters of ‘normal measurements’ for unborn babies is based upon measurements from studies undertaken in the 1970s.


Wakefield’s story, fortunately, is a happy one as she concludes: “As  I write this, my son is stretching in the sunlight beside me — a living testament to the unreliability of scans. Two weeks old, small, sometimes cross, miraculously ordinary.” One of the beauties of God’s creation is that we are all different - we do not conform to one size or shape and grow at a speed unique to each person – even in the womb.