From 2007-2010, Mary worked on the Birthplace study at the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU) in Oxford, as a research midwife. She now works at University College London on Life Study, a project that aims to understand how the family, social and physical environment influences the health, development and well-being of babies and childbirth. Mary is no stranger to MIDIRS having edited MIDIRS Midwifery Digest between June 1998 till March 2000.
She has also written a fascinating and very personal account of her experiences relating to anticipated death and the parallels between birth and death, which appears in the February 2014 issue of Essentially MIDIRS.
MIDIRS: Hello Mary. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. Could you tell us about your background and what led you to becoming a midwife in the first place?
Mary: I’m sorry to say that I went into midwifery for the wrong reasons. I trained as a nurse when I was 18, grew up fast and made some lifelong friends. I went travelling with one of those friends, Nell, when we were 22 – we took a gap year before they had really been invented! Just before we returned to the UK I realised I needed to find myself a job. I had loved my nurse training but I knew that I didn’t want to be a nurse for the rest of my life. I have to confess that I just thought ‘Oh well, midwifery will do for now’ – I thought it would be something to keep me occupied for 18 months until I decided what I wanted to do next. However, as I wrote in the article, I attended my first birth and was completely hooked from that moment on – I felt as though I had come home.
MIDIRS: Which areas of maternity care or research interest you the most?
Mary: I particularly like research that draws together the art and science of midwifery. People sometimes talk about qualitative and quantitative research as though they are two completely separate entities, but I think the best research weaves them together, because this gives a much more complete reflection of real life.
MIDIRS: You’re currently working on Life Study at University College London. Could you tell us a little bit more about the project and how you see your work progressing in future?
Mary: I feel so lucky to be part of this project. Life Study is a new British birth cohort study that will start collecting data later this year. The aim is to recruit about 80,000 women and their partners, and to follow up their babies throughout their lives. The information we collect will create an incredibly rich and unique resource which will be used widely by researchers from different disciplines to answer important questions about the early life origins of disease, health, well-being and development. Our first recruitment centre opens in Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Trust (BHRUT) in May 2014 – I can’t wait to get started!
MIDIRS: You’re very familiar with MIDIRS having been an editor in the past. Which of MIDIRS services do you find of most benefit in your role of research midwife or in general?
Mary: I’ve been a huge fan of the Digest ever since it was first produced, and can clearly remember the excitement I felt each time I received my quarterly pack. I still think it is the most comprehensive and readable summary of all the latest research that I really need to know about.
MIDIRS: When you are away from work, how do you spend your time relaxing?
Mary: Cooking and singing have got to be high on the list! I’d also include knitting, yoga, hill walking, socialising…
MIDIRS: And finally, if you could give one word of advice to newly graduated midwives, what would it be?
Mary: ONE word?! OK, if I’m really limited to one word, I’ll stick to ‘breathe’ – which is shorthand for ‘don’t forget to breathe’. We use the phrase with women in labour, but it really works in our own lives as well – breathing mindfully helps us to think, relax, reflect etc etc – it’s one of the foundations of good midwifery practice.