UMass Amherst Community Health Education doctoral candidate Ms. Christie Barcelos and Dr. Aline Gubrium, associate professor of community health education, recently published a journal article in Social Problems. Titled “Reproducing Stories: Strategic Narratives of Teen Pregnancy and Motherhood”, the article examines the results of interviewing 19 young mothers residing in a low-income northeastern city about their attitudes around the issue of teen pregnancy.
Though prevailing cultural connotations surrounding teen pregnancy are negative, casting teenage pregnancy as a burden for the young women, their children, and society in general, the subjects in the study viewed themselves as separate from those attitudes. Their views represented neither passive acceptance of the dominant cultural stereotypes nor a clear rebellion against them.
For example, write Ms. Barcelos and Dr. Gubrium, “While becoming a young mother was a source of motivation, teen pregnancy was sometimes seen as a major social problem. Although young mothering can be empowering, it signaled a loss of adolescence. Poverty and a lack of opportunity might contribute to teen pregnancy, but sexual health education and contraception access aren’t necessarily the solutions. These tensions indicate a need to think differently about how we create knowledge surrounding pregnant and parenting young women.”
“This strategic move allows young mothers the space to construct their own non-problematic identities, largely without having to challenge the social problem construction of and contempt for early childbearing,” write Ms. Barcelos and Dr. Gubrium. “Participant narratives indicate that pregnant and parenting young women need more than access to contraception, job training, or GED preparation—they need us to work against the considerable social inequalities they face and a world that sees their existence as abject. They deserve policies that are responsive to their lived experiences of race and class inequalities, stigmatization, and marginalization, not policies based on how academics, professionals, and the media understand their lives.”
They conclude, “Our participants’ narratives illustrate the need to think broadly about the meanings of early pregnancy and motherhood in terms of how they play out in research and policymaking. We call for a discursive shift in ways of knowing about and doing research and policy surrounding teen childbearing.”