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Eleanor Molloy

Eleanor, one of our PhD students, tells us about her research study and the impact of the pandemic on her research plan:

My research is a mixed methods study. I am using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, from a feminist standpoint to explore the experiences of and support seeking for, Birth Trauma in diverse populations.

The main impacts of the Covid-19 crisis are that from a practical perspective, most if not all of my interviews will take place over the telephone, as well as that the current situation may actually add to levels of distress in birth.

From a research perspective, this study now feels more immediate and urgent. We know that Black and ethnic minority individuals are at higher risk from coronavirus; and also that Black women are 5x more likely to die in birth and throughout the first year postnatally. It is not enough to just look at the numbers, but to really understand how and why these inequalities are so wide, and from the perspective of the people who are at risk and being impacted.

My research plan changed somewhat when lockdown began as the original data collection was for hard copy, as well as online survey completion, followed by face to face, as well as telephone interviews. The first impact of this was the changes to my ethics application, as my REC meeting was booked for 23rd March, so many of the changes I was unable to make before the meeting, and needed to change for resubmission to the ethcis committee. The biggest challenge for this for myself was due to my son being admitted to UHCW on Sunday 22nd, and then having to have the REC teleconference whilst in UHCW trying to keep signal!

Interviewing over the telephone has advantages in some respects as the extra anonymity can allow some participants to be more open with their information sharing. However it is also challenging as the need to fill dead space can feel harder when you are unsure if silence is due to reflection, or loss of signal. It also means I feel I need to be much more aware of breathing and non spoken cues to assess any distress my participants may be experiencing.

I think that in some ways data collection might be improved (certainly response rates so far have exceeded expectations) because people are at home, and may have more time, or at least may need to want to reach out more. However, there has been an appreciable increase in maternity experience research currently, focusing specifically on pregnancy, birth and postnatal experiences under lockdown and during the COVID-19 crisis.

This also adds an extra layer of complexity to experiences which are traumatic, and analysing the data and taking this into account may prove challenging as time goes on.

Not to mention the challenges for myself of undertaking such delicate and potentially distressing interviews with 3 children, 1 husband and 2 guinea pigs at home!