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.