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"You don't know half the story": Deepening the dialogue with young mothers

Brand, Gabrielle (2013) "You don't know half the story": Deepening the dialogue with young mothers. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Pregnant and young mothers’ stories often go untold, neglected or misrepresented within the dominant community health and social care discourses. Consequently, narratives of young mothers are largely absent from social and health care literature, especially in relation to young women’s experiences of pregnancy and motherhood and the role community services play in supporting young women as they transition to motherhood. This research study was undertaken in response to a paucity of observational and contextually rich research that explores young women’s experiences of pregnancy and motherhood in the community. Fundamental to this study’s purpose was the premise that to improve planning and delivery of more appropriate health and social services for this group, we need to listen, consult, and consider what life is really like for young mothers in the community.

Using a narrative approach, this study explored through story how young women understand, experience and make sense of pregnancy and motherhood in the community. A period of seven months of participant observation fieldwork at a community service for young mothers was undertaken. In that time contextual observations of thirty-one informants and eleven in-depth, face-to-face interviews were completed with young women at differing points of pregnancy and motherhood. The central story behind the young women’s narrative accounts of becoming pregnant and becoming a mother was that it was a significant turning point in their lives, describing motherhood as opening doors to meaningful and positive experiences as they negotiated and creatively adapted to their changing circumstances and new motherhood roles.

The findings were captured in both short narrative portraits and six major metaphorical themes including: Picking up the Pieces; Walking a Narrow and Familiar Path; Jumping over Puddles; Riding the Rapids to Motherhood; Living with Dirty Looks; and Asking for Directions. The integral role a community service played in scaffolding the young women’s experiences as they transitioned to motherhood was captured in a further three themes: Finding a Circle of Friends; Weaving a Tapestry; and Turning the Page.

The alternative understandings that emerged from the young women’s storied experiences of motherhood present a strong argument for the radical re-visioning of young motherhood including re-framing community and social health policy, practice and service delivery for young mothers. This alternative vision is grounded in a narrative approach that values young mothers as the experts of their own lives and provides a model for a truly collaborative practice. Community services that provide judgment-free space where young mothers feel a sense of belonging and social support are vital in promoting a positive sense of self, identity and autonomy in young mothers. The findings revealed the power of narrative and social learning when working with young mothers, suggesting that social models of health that foster a relational approach are fundamental to young mothers finding their own voices and solutions and becoming active agents in re-authoring future narratives of hope, autonomy and agency.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Health Professions
Supervisor: Morrison, Paul, Down, Barry and McMurray, Anne
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