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'What about us?' How might first time parents negotiate the realities of parenting multiples during the first five years?

This research aims to contribute to the study of family practices by investigating the everyday realities encountered by multiple birth parents and the resources on which they may draw in helping manage these.  It seeks to understand how first-time mothers and fathers manage the transition, any difficulties they encounter, including tensions, along with sources of enjoyment as they negotiate their identities as parents of multiples.

Adopting a qualitative approach ten couples who are first time parents of twins or higher order multiples have been recruited to the study, with data being generated through the use of in-depth joint and individual interviews, taking place over two phases.  Other techniques, such as network diagrams, timeline diagrams and participant generated photographs have also been employed to further elicit different types of data.  Parents’ accounts of the pressures on multiple birth parenting and their understanding of what is involved in trying to meet contemporary parenting ideals are being explored.  Multiple birth parenting brings with it discursive and practical dilemmas, where both professional and popular experts can provide support, as can family and friends.  But, this can also have the potential to undermine parents’ own expertise.  My research examines the practices they use in responding to the needs of their multiples and asks how advice and support may contribute to the development of their self-confidence and identities.  Rather than examining mothers and fathers in isolation, the research asks how partners together manage ‘ideals’ of shared parenting and how their identities as first time parents of multiples develops during the first five years.

Research Team

  • Laura Maguire PhD Student/GRTAa
  • Supervisor: Professor Merryl E Harvey
  • Supervisor: Emeritus Professor Elaine Denny

An exploratory study of health visitor experiences supporting multiple birth families

An exploratory qualitative study is being undertaken to investigate the nature and extent of any education and professional development that health visitors have received about supporting families with twins, triplets and higher order multiples and their experiences of supporting multiple birth families in practice. Focus groups and telephone interviews are being undertaken with health visitors working in the West Midlands. The findings will inform a subsequent large-scale survey of health visitor experiences of working with multiple birth families in the UK. This in turn will provide evidence of health visitor experiences, perceptions and education and professional development needs regarding multiple birth families.

Download the report

Research team: 

  • Merryl Harvey, co-lead Elizabeth Bryan Multiple Births Centre
  • Jane Denton, co-lead Elizabeth Bryan Multiple Births Centre
  • Lara Alamad, Research Assistant, Department of Children’s and Young People’s Health

What are parents’ experiences of parenting preterm multiples?

This study will explore the impact of preterm multiple birth on parents’ experiences, their transition to parenthood and their couple, parental and family relationships during the first year. The study aims to develop a more holistic understanding of parents' experiences of parenting preterm multiples and, in conjunction with the available literature, to inform future practice. Collating a body of evidence is required to enable constructive, preventative interventions to be introduced and to contribute to an area where little is currently known.

A constructivist grounded theory approach will be used to obtain relevant narratives from parents, establish an understanding of parents' experiences of raising multiples and 'give voice' to their perspectives.

The study will consist of 2 phases, with the possibility of a 3rd phase at 12 months corrected age. Each phase will explore the lived experiences of parents of preterm multiples, with the aim of better understanding the needs of parents, challenged with the additional complexities which preterm birth and parenting multiples may bring. The parents will be recruited, with the support of the specialist midwife in antenatal clinic, from a large NHS Trust in the West Midlands from 20 weeks gestation.

A combination of semi-structured and photo-elicitation interviews will be used to obtain relevant narratives. The use of visual images in qualitative health research has been used to investigate diverse phenomena, and there is a consensus that combining images and text can produce valuable insights and generate greater understanding. Parents will be recruited

It is hoped that the research will provide further insight into parents' experiences of parenting multiples and, in particular, those born prematurely. This may enable the parents of multiples to prepare more successfully for and to overcome the challenges posed in the early years of parenting multiples, in turn improving the long-term outcomes for children and families. In addition, it is hoped that the research will influence policy making and inform the practice of healthcare professionals enabling them to provide specifically tailored information and support.

Research Team

  • Louisa Clifford PhD Student/GRTA
  • Supervisor: Professor Merryl E Harvey
  • Supervisor: Emeritus Professor Elaine Denny

Parents’ of twins or higher order multiples experiences of antenatal care

The antenatal care period offers the perfect time to support, communicate and educate pregnant women and their families; a positive antenatal experience creates a fundamental basis for a healthy and happy transition to parenthood (World Health Organisation, 2016).  Yet very little is known about the antenatal experiences of this group of parents, and the diminutive current evidence suggests that women pregnant with twins or higher order multiples rate their satisfaction of antenatal care lower than women pregnant with singletons.  This demonstrates a significant missed opportunity to understand how parents’ of multiples experience and make sense of their antenatal care; which the proposed study aims to do.  

A qualitative research design will explore the lived experiences of antenatal care by parents of twins or higher order multiples, using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA).  Participants’ will be recruited at the 20 week gestation anomaly ultra sound scan, from a large NHS hospital. The study will comprise of two phases.  Phase 1 being a collection of data throughout the antenatal care period, facilitated by a voice recorded diary.  Participants will be encouraged to record their experience promptly following each of their antenatal care appointments.   Phase 1 data will be retrieved from the participants following the birth of their infants, analysed and used to construct the semi-structured interview guide for phase 2, allowing for clarification, reflection and rigour in relation to phase 1 data.   The interviews will take place at a date, time and location chosen by the participants.  Mothers and their partners will both be invited to participate in each phase of the study.  The data collected will be used to document the lived experiences of antenatal care by mothers and their partners, an interpretative approach will allow for an exploration of how the participants’ make sense of their experiences of antenatal care and to explore aspects of care which participants found particularly positive or negative.   

The researcher anticipates that the proposed IPA study can offer a unique qualitative perspective to what little is already known.  It is hoped the outcomes will complement the quantitative data and will be used to shape future antenatal care delivered to parents of multiples; by offering an exploratory insight into the lived experiences of antenatal care by this group of parents, including both the mother and father/partner.

Research Team

  • Laura McGrath-Scott PhD Student/GRTA
  • Supervisor: Professor Merryl E Harvey
  • Supervisor: Dr Helen McIntyre
  • Supervisor: Professor Fiona Cowdell