Listening to women : an ethnography of childbearing women living in poverty
This thesis examines the ways in which childbearing women living in poverty made sense of their lives and experiences. Based in the West Midlands, in an area of urban decay and major inequalities in health, the research focused on the lives of 25 women during their childbirth experience. The theoretical framework is feminist poststructuralism and throughout the study, I recognise that there is no single, unified woman's voice, and no universal solution to the problem of pregnancy and poverty. The thesis examines the different ways in which individual women experience pregnancy and poverty. The research draws on a range of ethnographic methods including interviews and participant observation. The fieldwork was undertaken over a two year period mainly through meetings with women in their own homes but also at the GP surgery and other more public places. The data discussed in the thesis illustrate the private stresses and strains of poverty related to how women cope with pregnancy and the demands of small children. I was especially interested in how childbearing women living in poverty were alike and how they were different. The women who contributed to this study shared a well developed sense of responsibility, doing what was right and putting their children first. They worked hard to be seen as respectable, and balanced the needs of their children with the demands of a life dominated by poverty. I considered the networks of support and the importance of grandmothers in some women's lives. I have considered the changing and varied relationships that women had with the men in their lives and the different ways in which they resolved conflict in their relationships. Some women were determined to go it alone and to rid themselves of the men in their lives. For over half the women in the sample, domestic violence was an everyday reality of their lives and I examined the similarities and differences in their experiences. I have also found evidence of the adverse effect of some midwives' attitudes towards these women. Beliefs based on stereotypes and prejudice meant that women living in poverty sometimes experienced less than adequate care. The thesis concludes by making recommendations for further research and for improving midwifery practice for the benefit of women.