Saturday, January 19, 2008

Virtual midwifery in the "Mommy and Me clinic"?

What a strange experience I have just had.
Those who have followed this blog will know that I joined second life a wee while ago and have blogged about some strange experiences before.

I started my adventure this evening by reading about midwifery awards from the Royal college of Midwives UK. Two midwifery educators received an award for a virtual pregnancy teaching package they developed. This is something that has been on my mind ever since I ventured into this other life of social networking, virtual worlds and all the web 2.0 paraphernalia. so I did a search for virtual pregnancy and found this recent blog post about second life birthing clinics.

So I went into my second life persona "Dacary Dumpling" and searched for a birthing clinic and teleported to Mommy and Me clinic. I was fortunate enough to meet Noble Barnes.
He is a graphic designer and is the person who has built all of this. When I first arrived I sat at a computer console which has a brochure that informs about what is available here and made some notes. I was informed that the chief doctor here is a doula and student midwife. Now I know that this is an American site and midwifery is maybe not autonomous in this part of the world but why would a doula, student midwife want to call herself a doctor??? Sorry Noble, you were very kind but I do find that very strange. You do not have complicated pregnancies here, the virtual women push the virtual babies out by themselves. Lets get real here and let the midwives do what the midwives do at least in this virtual world.

Noble told me that this virtual birthing center was established so that women who cannot have babies in real life can have this experience in the virtual world. Couples can choose what sort of pregnancy they want, they can have a single baby of any colour or twins or, strangest and scariest of all, a furry baby or a wolf baby. Well that really threw me so much so my computer froze and I had to reload. He showed me the tummy he has developed called the tummy talker which the woman wears. She and her partner can pat it or rub it or sing to it and they can see the baby move.

Then he took me to the clinic room. In here they weigh, measure, take blood pressure and perform ultrasound (3D of course). He performed one on me and I saw the typical 3D face on the screen. (I don't know what you would see if you were carrying a wolf). I could also hear the foetal heart. After this he took me to the birthing room. They have a shower with a bar to hold on to. When my Avatar held onto the bar it moved rythmically up and down, there is a similar bar on the wall in the room. Their is also a birth ball to sit and rock on. There is a deliver bed (like a theatre bed) which is where the babies are born at present. He took me through a birth. I jumped on the bed and my body was moving and pushing. Lying semi prone and every now and again gave a wee jump with the hips. (I didn't notice any sound effects here). Eventually the baby moved down through my pelvis and out. Noble told me Avatars cannot birth in the shower currently but they are working on that and also plan to have a birth pool.

I was thinking about the possibilities of scenarios for students and clearly it is a possibility to create something like this, as Noble said it is not the purpose of this center. He felt that such a thing is a possibility. However I can see that what they have done has taken a considerable amount of work and although it may meet the needs of the people who go there it will take a lot more to get something that is useful as a learning tool for midwives or health professionals. To do something like this would need a collaborative effort, with midwifery educators who have a very clear understanding of what they want and computer graphic experts who can interpret this into useful interactive imagery. Still it is a step on the road and much further than I imagined we might be.

Many thanks to Noble Barnes for spending the time to show me around. I do worry a wee bit about people who might have deep psychological problems and how they might handle this sort of virtual experience. Is there some sort of help or support for someone who just can't handle the experience? It is all just a little bit strange.


Anonymous said...

hmm think I might wait until back at work so you can hold my hand for this experience...

Sarah Stewart said...

Looked at this in Wanaka - has been pouring all day with rain so had nothing else to do. That is one sick man,if you ask me!

But it has potential as you said - but will need a considerable about of time and money spent to develop something worthwhile. How about the 5 schools in NZ collaborating (and putting in money) to do this?

BTW,you're nearly 500hits ahead of me now!! How do you do it!!!

Anonymous said...

yes good idea to collaborate - i agree. The whole second life thing still seems bit creepy to me tho - but ours wouldn't be of course.

Carolyn McIntosh said...

Regarding the number of hits to this blog. I keep thinking I should take the stat counter off my blog, but I have to admit I am quite addicted to seeing how many people visit and for how long. I seem to be getting a lot of hits to this particular posting at the moment. My other popular post is homebirth and the doula post. I suppose these are just topics that people are searching the internet for and stumble onto my blog. As my blog grows it seems to almost be taking on a life of its own, it is starting to feel a bit scary really.

Carolyn McIntosh said...

Yes this was an incredibly strange experience and a little spooky too. I agree that it is going to take a considerable effort to develop a virtual birthing center for student midwives. Once we have the developed a basis we can just keep building on it and making it better. This seems to be how second life works, you get something fairly basic and keep working on it. Koru Island is becoming more established with interesting places being developed. Somewhere like this, which is designed for education, would be and ideal place to have a virtual birthing center. for the business of providing realistic scenario based learning opportunities. I am sure that Otago Polytechnic has considerable expertise. What we need to do is harness the talents we have. Collaboration is a good idea however I think sometimes, if there are too many people involved, it can be difficult to reach decisions and get things done.

Jen, aka JennyLynn Oh said...

Wow, I'm sorry I didn't see this sooner; I'm the person mentioned in this article as "chief doctor", and I feel the need to clear something up. It wasn't my choice to be called by that title; it was a marketing decision by Noble Barnes; in fact, I used to insist on "midwife" but he asked me to change it.

When I first started working at the clinic online, things were set up very differently. Over time, I asked him to please design different animations (things more akin to an active birth, such as the birth ball), since all we had at the time was the birth animation itself. Even that was the typical "lay on the table, flat on your back" thing. I provided him with diagrams, descriptions, you name it, and he's translate that to animations. However, I'd like to point out that he'd often alter things from a business/marketing standpoint. Although I had high hopes to use this as a vehicle to promote natural childbirth and a less medical view of the process with a bit of education and myth-busting thrown in, I wasn't the decision maker. His main goal was to make money (and I'm not blaming him, that was his job).

Perfect example: towards the end of the clinic's run (it closed suddenly about a year ago, when Noble Barnes up and left without warning), I was working on a realistic childbirth education class. I had the curriculum almost ready to go and needed him to start working on animations/programming...instead, he gave priority to programming some balloons for the lobby that would change from pink or blue.

Whereas he was in it for the money, I did it as a labor of love. When he left, he owed many people money, included me (roughly $150 in real world dollars, in back salary/reimbursement).

Anyway, that's just a bit of the story from behind the scenes. Please don't make the mistake of thinking that, as your article said, I "wanted to call myself a doctor". I most certainly did not.

There was a lot of potential here; very little of it was realized at this particular clinic. I hope the clinics that still exist do a better job.


Carolyn said...

Jenny, I am so glad you popped by my blog and cleared that up. I can see that you did have a very positive influence in what was happening there and I know that this clinic had many aspects of birth that were less medicalised than some of the other places I had seen, thanks to you. I am sorry you got your fingers burned but all a good learning experience for you and I am sure you have gained skills you would not otherwise have. Have a look at these postings on Sarah Stewarts blog, you might be interested in what has been happening in New Zealand in this respect in recent months.

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