Far apart but remaining close together: we reflect on another year of activity at the Centre for Reproduction Research

Another year has passed and as is now tradition, we look back on what has continued to be a challenging but busy 12 months for the Centre and our members. It’s now well over a year since we were all together, and our planned socially distanced meet ups outside have continued to be thwarted by the ‘summer weather’ we are all enjoying, though we nonetheless hope to be reunited in the not-too-distant future.

We are all very familiar with the new world we now inhabit, and some of us have enjoyed the short ‘commutes’ to the kitchen table/spare room from which we work and the flexibility to take our dogs out in between the delightful summer downpours. And whilst we have not been together in a very, very long time, the collaborative and supportive culture of the centre has nonetheless continued. Amidst lockdowns we have developed new and further support for staff and students alike including early career development workshops, generalised skill and professional development sessions, writing and reading groups as well as our ‘PhD in Progress’ sessions delivered by postgraduate students.

Despite the suspension of face-to-face events, we have none the less shared details of our research virtually with several members giving invited talks at conferences and events this past year. Nicky Hudson gave two invited talks at ESHRE where she explored the management of chronic pain brought on by Endometriosis and the role of commercial interests and actors in the constantly evolving world of ARTs. She was also invited to share findings and insights from our ESRC project on egg donation with organisations like ‘Pathways to Parenthub’ and, in collaboration with Prof Lorraine Culley and Cathy Herbrand and the rest of the project team, published a new paper in the journal ‘Health Policy and Technology’ exploring the shifting landscape of egg donation in Europe.

CRR members also saw their work published including in Biosocieties (Cathy Herband), BMC Psychiatry (Amanda Wilson), Asian Bioethics Review (Christina Weis), Sociology of Health and Illness (Nicky Hudson, Lorraine Culley, Helene Mitchell, Wendy Norton and Caroline Law), British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (Tina Harris) and many others.

CRR members have also been involved in Covid-19 related research. Recent PhD graduate Kriss Fearon took up a substantive post within the university on a UKRI funded project exploring the health impacts of Covid-19 on children in temporary accommodation and Tina Harris and colleagues published research based on a national cohort study examining maternal and perinatal outcomes of pregnant women with SARS-CoV-2 infection at the time of birth. Kylie Baldwin also spoke live on Sky News this May about the suggestion that women and couples may be pursuing more intensive fertility treatment protocols following a delay in accessing treatment during the pandemic, and contributed to a fascinating piece in The New Yorker on ‘The Promise and Perils of the New Fertility Entrepreneurs’.

This spring, Cathy Herbrand and Kylie Baldwin convened and hosted British Sociological Association Human Reproduction Study Group summer conference ‘‘Reproductive challenges in a post-Covid19 world’ with a keynote from Prof Ayo Walberg exploring ‘Declining fertility forms in a stratified world’ and two excellent talks from Charlotte Faircloth and Mari Greenfield on the Covid-19 related research they have been undertaking. A recording of the full event is available here. Several CRR members also attended and presented virtually at the British Sociological Association Annual Conference; Caroline Law shared findings from her research examining men’s attitudes towards fatherhood in a time of economic precarity and Nicky Hudson, Christina Weis presented two papers on egg donation.

This past year we have also further developed our strand of work around men, fatherhood and in/fertility with key publications from Esmee Hanna and colleagues exploring male infertility and young fathers both published in the journal ‘Families, Relationships and Societies’, as well as in Sociology of Health and Illness from Caroline Law examining men’s views on male age‐related fertility decline and from the EndoPart project team exploring accounts of male partners of women with endometriosis. Christina Weis and Wendy Norton also have shared new findings on their research on heterosexually-partnered men’s experiences of becoming fathers through surrogacy in the ‘Journal of Diversity and Gender Studies’ and are working with Donor Conception Network to develop resources linked to the research.

In line with DMU’s commitment to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as well as a as move to rethink the curriculum and generation of knowledge, we have begun new projects around decolonisation as well as sustainability. We hosted an important seminar delivered by Annabel Sowemimo on ‘Decolonising Contraception’ (you can find her excellent reading list here). CRR members Zaheera Essat, Diane Menage and Bernie Gregory have also been leading practice around Decolonising Midwifery education and recently had some of their work published in The Practicing Midwife.

The CRR also now hosts the Leicester Cloth Nappy Library which has received funding from Leicester City Council, DMU Local and DMU Sustainability and which is providing support to new parents across the city to reduce their waste by switching to reusable cloth nappies. This initiative has also provided work experience opportunities for undergraduate and postgraduate students within and outside of the centre and has supported a local nursery to use reusable nappies with their children, saving over 1,000 nappies from landfill every week!

As the academic year draws to a close, we look back not only on what we have achieved but forwards for what we have planned in the years and months ahead. Nicky Hudson will begin work on a collaborative project with Lucy Frith (University of Liverpool) and others on new ESRC funded research on direct-to-consumer genetic testing and donor-conception. This year we had Navi Kaur from the BSc Health and Wellbeing in Society course working with us as a project assistant as part of a student placement and we will be welcoming a new Frontrunner placement student this coming October. CRR staff are also involved in the launch of a brand-new MSc in Global Health this coming September, and we will be launching our very own undergraduate research project prize to reward excellent undergraduate research in the area of reproduction. Finally, we want to congratulate both Sasha Loyal and Kylie Baldwin on recent achievements and wish them the best of luck; Sasha submitted her PhD thesis this summer and will soon have her viva and Kylie Baldwin’s 2019 monograph was shortlisted for the Foundation for Sociology of Health and Illness Book Prize, the outcome of which will be announced in September. We wish both Sasha and Kylie the very best of luck.  In the next academic year, we will continue our events programme in the form of our guest seminars and British Sociological Association Human Reproduction Study Group activities, and we very much look forward to meeting once again with our academic friends and colleagues who we have missed these past 15 months.

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