Author: Alison Perry

Inspiring the next generation of research midwives

Imperial College research midwives embraced the opportunity to showcase the varied career of midwifery to young people at the Creative Culture public engagement event held on the 17th November 2017, with the event providing the perfect opportunity to highlight the pathway for midwives into a varied career which can include clinical research.

Creative Quarter is an annual event which offers secondary school students the chance to explore different career paths in art, science, design, technology, music and drama.  This event showcases the rich tapestry of professions and disciplines that are featured within the Exhibition Road enclave of South Kensington.  During the event, 400 students ages 13- 18 attended demonstration lectures, took part in interactive exhibits and found out more about careers in science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) at Imperial.  Midwives from the Women’s Health Research Centre added to this offering by illustrating to students the wide range of creative opportunities available to midwives today.

As luck would have it, the event coincided with World Prematurity Day 2017, providing a perfect handle from which to discuss an area of research in which midwives are active.  Research Midwives Rachel Akers, Malko Adan and Alison Perry were on hand to talk about some of the current prematurity research at Imperial, as well as the wider research agenda in reproductive health and childbearing.

We considered prematurity with students in a global context and contemplated both reasons and remedies for prematurity. We had multiple bags of sugar on hand to help with conceptualizing disparities in baby sizes which made for some vibrant dialogue and theorizing.  One student shared with us that she, herself had been born premature, weighing only 1 kilogram at birth, she smiled with a bag of caster sugar in hand.

Additionally, we looked at the physiology and mechanics of birth with a torso, doll and placenta.  Students bounced away on birth balls at our table while nibbling on jelly babies self-served with a pair of laboratory tweezers.

We were charmed to learn that many of the students knew their own birth stories including a student who knew that she was born “in the caul”. We marvelled at the precociousness of some students who wondered about possible disadvantages of being born by caesarean section and others who considered the possible difficulties of being born in a low-income setting. Overall, we were astounded by the level of inquiry from the students and also delighted to facilitate the many questions of their teachers, too. Creative Quarter display tables were set up in the foyer of the Main Entrance hall on Exhibition Road, which meant we also had the opportunity to chat with some of our Imperial College colleagues and to settle some of their own burning questions around birth.

The day ended on a high as some students left with helium balloons (which were around the size of a 30-week uterus) and others left with pockets lined of jelly babies for the bus ride back to school.  Undoubtedly, all of the students left with the creativity, intrigue and possibility of the midwifery profession firmly in their minds.

Baby Bubbles and the Great Pipette Challenge

The Women’s Health Research Centre facilitated a ‘Discover and Do’ table on the schools day of Imperial Festival, Friday May 5th.  Showcasing the combined fields of clinical research and clinical midwifery practice, we offered Year 5 students several hands-on activities which they took on with inspiring enthusiasm.  That May 5th also celebrated International Day of the Midwife was an added bonus.

The ‘Baby Bubbles’ activity at our stand invited students to explore the mysteries of the womb by using their so-called ‘midwife detective skills’ of sight and touch.   Research Midwives Rachel Akers and Malko Adan facilitated gentle probing hands over miniature amniotic water balloon sacs each with a singleton, twin or triplet jelly baby pregnancy.   Like a midwife using her core skill of abdominal palpation, students practised “seeing with their hands”.  The amniotic sac water balloons provoked much intrigue and discussion as young midwives of the future discovered the excitement of a multiple pregnancy.  Amazingly, despite the tactile appeal of the ‘baby bubbles’, we had only one rupture of membranes on the day!

Meanwhile at the other end of the table classmates paired off to have a go in the ‘Great Pipette Challenge’.  Lab technicians Ramona Mannino and Maria Arianoglou challenged participants to a laboratory skills race transferring tiny volumes of different fluids to a beaker. Some of the girls decked in full lab coat, goggles and gloves mused about the possibility of their future careers in laboratory science.   Our Lady of Victories Primary School won overall on the day and was sent a prize-winning lab coat for their class.

The nine and ten year old students additionally had the opportunity to explore a life-sized pregnancy torso and the uterine environment with Research Midwife Tina Prendeville.  One precocious student queried, “…Miss, you mentioned that the umbilical cord transfers nutrients from the mother to the baby.  Does that mean the mother isn’t left with enough?”  We were floored by their knowledge and delighted by their unabashed enthusiasm.  Finally, before each group moved to the next stand, pupils were invited to use further fine motor skills tasked with grabbing a single jelly bean from a large pot using only a pair of lab tweezers.  No small task without fingers!  One dexterous tweezer-handler declared it was “…his lucky day!”  There’s no doubt it was a great day for us too!

Alison Perry – Research Midwife at the Women’s Health Research Centre