Still Life – Engaging the public with stillbirth research through creative methods. A pilot project

Still Life – Engaging the public with stillbirth research through creative methods. A pilot project

Katharine Cresswell (1), Suzanne Thomas (2,3), Louise Stephens (2,3), Mark Dilworth (2), Alexander Heazell (2,3), Colin Sibley (2), Michelle Desforges (2)

(1) Public Programmes Team, Research and Innovation Division, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester UK, (2) Division of Developmental Biology and Medicine, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, The University of Manchester, (3) Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester UK

The University of Manchester’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre (MFHRC) is a specialist stillbirth research centre funded by Tommy’s, the largest UK baby research charity. Stillbirth remains a taboo subject for many, often leaving families affected by it socially isolated. It is therefore imperative to raise public awareness about stillbirth and the research taking place to prevent it. Members of the MFHRC ran a pilot project in 2018 to engage both women who had a stillbirth and the wider public with their research.

3 women who had experienced stillbirth took part in 4 creative workshops. The workshops were developed by an artist alongside MFHRC researchers, midwives and a public engagement practitioner. The workshops helped the women express their experiences through art whilst providing a safe space for discussion about stillbirth and research. MFHRC researchers also took part in the workshops to facilitate the discussions on research. 30 pieces of art, poetry and sculpture were created and showcased at a public exhibition.

Workshop participants reported reduced feelings of guilt and blame around their stillbirths due to a greater understanding of the causes:
‘It helped me to let go of some of the blame on myself – we learned so much about the placenta…there was no way I could have known or had any control over what was going on’ Participant
Exhibition attendees felt that they had a greater understanding of stillbirth and appreciation of the need for research in the area
‘The exhibition really moved me. It really demonstrated how vital research is not least to help make sense of the loss. ’ Exhibition Attendee

Creative public engagement techniques could be an effective way of discussing highly sensitive topics such as stillbirth. The resulting outputs may be incredibly powerful in raising public awareness of these issues and engaging people in research.

Ethics statement
Ethical approval was not required for this project as it was a public engagement project rather than a research study. The wellbeing of the women involved in this project was of high importance and as such steps were taken to ensure they had support during and after taking part in the workshops. A specialist midwife was present at all workshop sessions and participants were able to contact the specialist midwives after the sessions for further support if required. Consent was sought form the women to take part and to showcase any pieces created.

Keywords: Stillbirth, public engagement, research, creative, artistic, raising awareness, placenta

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