Our PSG Research at the Medical Sociology Conference 2019

The best thing about ParentingScienceGang was discovering all the other articulate people passionate about the issues of high BMI pregnancy. One such woman is Dr Mari Greenfield, who presented our research at the Medical Sociology Conference in York in September. Mari has written a guest post about the experience:

Dr Mari Greenfield, who presented our PSG research at the Medical Sociology Conference 2019
Dr Mari Greenfield

Big Birthas: unpacking ‘choice’ for pregnant women with a high-BMI

I took part in the Big Birthas Parenting Science Gang as a Parent Scientist. I helped to decide the research question, design the methods we would use, and undertake some of the analysis.

When the project ended, we Parent Scientists had the data and the findings, but needed to decide what to do with them. My day job is a doula and researcher, and I’m passionate about choices in birth for all, regardless of BMI. Some of the stories women had shared with us were heartbreaking; stories of choice and power taken away, and of upset and trauma as a result.

Some of the stories were also uplifting, when women took power back; asserting their rights to make choices and decisions about themselves, their bodies, and their babies. Women had shared so much, giving time and investing themselves by telling their stories. I want to make sure we do justice to that. 

One way I can do that is to present our findings to a diverse range of audiences. In my day job, I frequently present research to conferences of academics, so I applied to the Medical Sociology Conference. Hosted by the British Sociological Association, it is a brilliant event which focuses not on what we do within health care, but how we do things, why we do things, and how we could do health care better.

our research at the Medical Sociology Conference 2019

Pecha Kucha!

My talk was accepted, in a format called Pecha Kucha. These presentations allow you to present 20 slides, and talk about each one for 20 seconds. It’s a challenging format because it makes you really focus on the key points you want to make. There is no room for waffle!

I wrote the both the initial application and the presentation collaboratively with Big Birthas and several of the other Parent Scientists, using the Facebook group to refine ideas and try things out, in the same way we had used it during the Parenting Science Gang project. It was lovely to have that very supportive and equal way of working. This is quite different from the creation of most other academic and medical presentations.

The high BMI ‘box’

I chose to focus on one of our findings, the idea of the ‘high BMI box’. Many women explained how, once in this category, BMI was the only thing anyone seemed interested in. They described having serious medical conditions ignored. One woman explained how the difference between her starting weight in her two pregnancies was objectively only 7 pounds, but in one this was ‘normal BMI’, while the other saw her put into the ‘high BMI box’. She eloquently described the differences this made to her care.

Programme excerpt about our research at the Medical Sociology Conference:

Big Birthas: unpacking ‘choice’ for pregnant women with a high-BMI

What does it mean to be labelled as having a high-BMI whilst pregnant? How does this label affect women’s experiences of navigating maternity services?

This presentation is based on a novel user-led Citizen Science collaboration between Big Birthas (peer information and support service) and Parenting Science Gang (Wellcome Trust funded user-led citizen science project).

The results described complex journeys, where interactions with healthcare professionals revolved around conversations of BMI-related risks to the exclusion of other factors, and ignored other events of the pregnancies.

Women also reported disrespectful and shaming language from healthcare professionals, and conflict if they asserted a decision that was not in line with the healthcare professional’s views.

This led some women to decline care that they actually wanted, or avoid attending appointments, to avoid conflict or denial of choice; a consequence which was particularly apparent when we examined how those women chose to approach their second pregnancies.

The presentation and our research at the Medical Sociology Conference was well received. Questions after the talk asked about both the Parenting Science Gang methodology, our methodology, and our findings. People spoke about how our research overlaps with work they are doing.

The Parenting Science Gang’s project is over, but the journey of the stories we collected is not. Next, I am hoping to work with some of the other Parent Scientists to turn our findings into a piece that can be published in a midwifery journal. Watch this space…

Dr Mari Greenfield

Academic researcher in maternity care, doula, birth activist. Special interests in traumatic birth and LGBTQ experiences.

Huge thanks to Mari for bringing our research to a wider audience, and for writing up the experience too!

Would you like to write a guest post for Big Birthas? Have you got experiences or a perspective that the Big Birthas audience might be interested in? Do you have a birth story you want to share? Please get in touch via the Contact Big Birtha page.