This week we celebrated a milestone in BiBBS, our newest cohort study within the Born in Bradford family. Our recruitment team signed up our 500th pregnant woman to the cohort! This is a great step on our way to achieving our target of 5000 women over the next five years. We wanted to take a moment to say a big thank you to all of the women and their partners who have taken part so far.
As researchers, we go to great lengths to protect the identity of those who give their time to contribute to our studies. We tell them how carefully we will treat their information, how we will maintain their privacy and how their information will be added to that of hundreds and even thousands of other participants. When researchers finally get their hands on the data to analyse, it’s a series of numbers and coded ID numbers that get crunched through all sorts of complicated statistical models or plotted on charts and graphs. At that stage, it’s sometimes hard to remember that those series of numbers and anonymous IDs represent the answers that a real person gave in an interview to best explain their life at that moment.
I’ve chosen to mark our 500 milestone by remembering the stories of just a few of the 500 women and partners we have met along the way.
The first woman that I remember recruiting was 26 weeks pregnant when we met. She was attending her first ever Glucose Tolerance Test to test for signs of gestational diabetes. She had fasted for the test, as all women must, and was tired, uncomfortable and nauseous. She was very keen to take part in the study as she felt this offered her the chance to contribute something towards her local community. She asked a lot of questions about the cohort and the aims of the study, and really considered all of the questions in our questionnaire before answering them. She told me many things outside of those answers including that this was a much longed for pregnancy and how excited and grateful she felt about becoming a mother. Yet she was nervous; nervous about whether she would know what to do, whether her unborn baby would be healthy and about just how much bigger her belly would get!
Another woman came into the maternity clinic with her partner and their son. Their unborn baby was a complete surprise and they hadn’t planned to have more children so soon. They were so happy and relaxed and not nervous at all about the pregnancy; everything had gone well in the first. But they needed to find somewhere else to live so that they could fit another little person into their lives. And they were anxious about the impact the new baby might have on their son who had just started nursery.
The last woman whose interview stands out to me was younger than most of the women I had interviewed and told me that she had recently split up with her partner. She didn’t like where she lived, didn’t have family close by and lived alone. She talked about moving away to be closer to her parents and about her midwife who had taught her things that would be important when the baby arrived. She hadn’t been feeling well through the pregnancy and was looking forward to when the baby was born. She told me the name she had chosen for her daughter and talked about how excited she was to meet her, to see what she looked like and what colour hair she would have.
We’ve seen many different types of women join the cohort from first time mums who are nervous about looking after their baby through to mums on expecting their fifth or sixth baby. There have been those who had carefully planned their pregnancy, those to whom it came as a bit of a surprise and all of those between. And there have been those who were lucky enough to be pregnant after having difficulties in conceiving. All of these women answer the same questionnaire when they join the cohort.
People are not robots – they do not automatically have the answer to the question you are asking them. Even the simplest questions need some thought. For example, ‘who lives in your household’ may bring to mind images of family, perhaps the rooms they sleep in, the things they have shared or the chaotic school run of that morning. ‘How often do you visit local parks and green spaces’ might bring to mind recent experiences of a time there. And questions about what plans have been made for the new baby will evoke a whole host of thoughts, dreams and anxieties before these all get distilled down into a coded answer that best fits from 1-5 on a standard scale.
This is what our data represents: real people, answering questions about their lives. Everyone is different. And yet we have common experiences, like being a mother or father, that group us together. That is what makes a cohort study so interesting. That desire to understand what people do, how people live and how for this project, that may affect the way children grow, develop and learn is truly exciting. I can’t wait to meet many more of our future cohort; another 4500 unique individuals and their families.
Sally Bridges– Programme Coordinator, Better Start Bradford Innovation Hub