The Centre for Reproduction Research Reflects on the 2019/2020 academic year

August is now upon us and, as is now tradition, we wanted to pause for a moment and look back on our third year as a research centre. This year has been turbulent for everyone; COVID-19 and the need for social distancing has meant that we have not seen each other in-person for five months or more and we have all had to adapt to a way of living that has felt strange, saddening, as well as outright scary at times. Those of us who live alone have experienced the loneliness of ‘lockdown’ and others have had to balance the needs of working alongside home educating children and reassuring and meeting the emotional needs of those who depend on us. We don’t yet know when we will be seeing each other again face-to-face, however we have fallen into patterns of communication, which, as academics who often work from home, have felt some-what familiar. The low rumbling ring of ‘Zoom’ and ping of ‘Teams’ have become the tunes of our afternoon meetings. Early on in to lockdown we introduced weekly ‘CRR hangouts’ as an opportunity to talk and see (other) familiar faces, we continued our regular reading and our writing groups, chaired by Christina Weis and Helene Mitchell, and even have managed some productive work during our ‘shut-up and write’ sessions.

Whilst we have not yet met face-to-face, this academic year we welcomed Victoria Lang, Caroline Law and Kylie Baldwin back from maternity leave and have sent Sumaira off with our best wishes as she has her first baby. We have also welcomed some new members to the centre, Dr Diane Menage, Senior Lecturer in Midwifery, Dr Ying Liu who is a new lecturer in Psychology and Dr Kim Watts (Associate Professor) who has joined the DMU as our Faculty Lead for Research Students.  Ying is currently researching the experience of sibling abortion under China’s one child policy and thus her expertise adds to the growing body of work undertaken by centre members examining (non)reproduction in China. In particular, Ying’s work compliments that of Amanda Wilson who has recently published some of her research on the mental health outcomes of prenatal and postpartum women in China after the implementation of the two-child policy. Amanda has also been undertaking work exploring men’s engagement in family planning and published her findings in ‘The Journal of Men’s Studies’ earlier this year.

‘Men and reproduction’ is one of the key themes in the work of CRR and is an area we have seen further development over the last year. Esmee Hanna and colleagues have shared the findings of their research on male infertility in several publications and, with the support of DMU Frontrunner Martha Dean-Tozer, they created a series of infographics which were shared widely during infertility awareness week. Caroline Law, whose PhD explores reproductive timing among single and partnered men, has also published some findings from her research which examines men’s views on age-related fertility decline and sperm freezing.

Infographic by Dean-Tozer and Hanna (2020)

The work on our ESRC-funded EDNA project continues, and in February we held a stakeholder workshop with a focus on international knowledge exchange. This workshop, organised with the help of Sasha Loyal and Jess Turner, was attended by egg providers, fertility service providers and professional and academic experts from the UK, Belgium and Spain. At this workshop we presented key findings from the research and discussed some new and emerging policy recommendations. We have been continuing to disseminate the findings of this project in blog posts, at key conferences such as ESHRE and the ESA, as well as in a recent paper in Health Policy and Technology.

Photos from our EDNA event February 2020

In other funding news we are pleased and very proud to say that Esmee has secured a prestigious and highly competitive NIHR Fellowship and was promoted to Reader/Associate Professor last August. Her NIHR project will explore psychological preparedness for amputation surgery, more information about Esmee’s work on this topic can be found here. Kylie was also awarded a DMU Global Fellowship. This fellowship is providing her the opportunity to complete analysis of, and publish from, her current research examining the medium to long-term reproductive experiences of users of egg freezing as well as put together new bids for research funding.

Tina Harris continues to work as Senior Clinical Lead for the National Maternity and Perinatal Audit; a collaborative project led by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology  in collaboration with the Royal College if Midwives, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) commissioned project is funded by NHS England and the Scottish and Welsh governments. Originally funded for three years until July 2019, last year the audit team secured an extension to contract with HQIP for a further 18 months. Congratulations to all!

Prior to lockdown measures, several Centre members gave invited talks on their research. Cathy Herbrand and Nicky Hudson were invited speakers at an event in Lausanne, Switzerland where they shared findings from the EDNA project as well as Cathy’s research examining reproductive and parenting rights of lesbian and gay couples in Belgium. Christina asked ‘Who is a patient in commercial surrogacy arrangements?’ at a talk in Cambridge in October and Nicky gave a keynote address exploring the creation of ‘world families’ via cross-border reproductive treatment at a conference in Germany.  

Throughout the pandemic Christina has updated our blog with a ‘COVID-19 and Reproduction Digest’ which has brought together news stories and research on COVID-19 as it relates to our area of work. Sasha Loyal, Research Fellow, also questioned whether we would be likely to see a boom of ‘Corona-babies’ nine months after lockdown.

This year, three further members of the Centre completed their PhDs, Kriss Fearon who used photovoice to explore the reproductive choices of women and girls with Turner Syndrome, Zara Hooley who explored LBTQ friendships and parenting and Rowena Doughty whose work explores questions of obesity in pregnancy. Congratulations all!

Wendy Norton and Christina Weis worked together on a project exploring heterosexual partnered men’s experiences of becoming fathers through surrogacy and Wendy has collaborated with several other colleagues on projects exploring fertility discussions with young adults with cancer and has also written guidance on the role of practice nurses in the management of endometriosis. It has been this latter work that led her to be awarded a Fellowship from the Royal College of Nursing this July. Wendy was one of only eight recipients of the award which is an honour that recognises outstanding contributions to advancing the art and science of nursing and improving health care. Well done Wendy, we are so very proud!

As summer advances many of us are taking time away and reconnecting with family and friends after a long time apart and recharging our severely depleted batteries. It seems unlikely that our lives are going to revert to normal any time soon, but we appreciate the connections we have within the Centre, across the university and beyond and send our very best to all of our colleagues and friends for the summer vacation.

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