The ‘Face of Suffrage’ art exhibition: who was Dr Elizabeth Bryan?

OPINIONS LAST UPDATED : 26 NOVEMBER

The ‘Face of Suffrage’ art exhibition, which recently appeared in Birmingham’s New Street Station, is a floor-based, photo mosaic made up of more than 3,700 images of women, including Dr Elizabeth Bryan, namesake of Birmingham City University and the Multiple Births Foundation’s Elizabeth Bryan Multiple Births Centre. But who was she?

Dr Merryl Harvey, Professor of Nursing at Birmingham City University, reveals her pioneering past.

A pioneer

Elizabeth Bryan Multiple Births Centre

Birmingham City University

Elizabeth, a pioneering consultant paediatrician, devoted her career to the support and care of families with twins and triplets, and their particular needs as they discovered parenthood with more than one new arrival. She became interested in twins when carrying out research into low birth-weight babies, with a particular interest in twins who share one placenta which can lead to the rare twin-twin transfusion syndrome where the blood supply between the babies becomes unbalanced. 

In England and Wales, the rates of multiple birth have increased over the last 40 years from ten per 1,000 live births in 1980 to 15.9 per 1,000 live births in 2016[1]. The role of early parenting is critical and, for parents of multiples, the challenges too are multiplied. How do you juggle three crying babies? How do you feed them all? How do you find push chairs big enough? It is widely acknowledged that outcomes for multiple birth families are poorer than those with single births.

A founder

Seeing this first hand, Elizabeth played a key role in setting up the Twins Club Association which later evolved into the Twins and Multiple Births Association, a self-help organisation for parents of multiples, and published guidance for healthcare workers on managing multiple births, as well as founding the Multiple Births Foundation in 1988, conscious that the healthcare and allied professions were showing too little interest in multiple births.

An author

Elizabeth wrote a number of books during her career, including those focussing on infertility, twins and triplets, and her own family’s experiences of living with cancer.

Elizabeth died in 2008 after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2005, but her legacy lives on through Birmingham City University and the Multiple Birth Foundation’s Elizabeth Bryan Multiple Births Centre.

A legacy

The Centre, which recognises Elizabeth’s inspirational contribution to the field of multiple births, is jointly led by Dr Merryl Harvey, Professor of Nursing at Birmingham City University and Jane Denton CBE, Director of the Multiple Births Foundation. The Centre aims to build upon Elizabeth’s work, establishing a dedicated research programme for multiple births to develop the best possible care for babies, children and their families.

Find out more about the Elizabeth Bryan Multiple Births Centre.

References

[1] Office for National Statistics, 2017

[2] Segal, Nancy L. (2008). “Elizabeth M. Bryan: Tributes From Home and Abroad; Research Reviews: Anorexia Nervosa in Opposite-Sex Twins, Twin Study of Self-Esteem, DNA Differences in Monozygotic Twins; Twins and More Twins, Twins Living Apart, Twins Playing Together, Twins Working Together, Twins Playing Apart, Multiple Birth Odds”. Twin Research and Human Genetics. 11 (3): 357-61

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