Perceptual contexts of pregnancy of women of Mexican-descent along the Texas-Mexico border

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Lucas, Faith Winklebleck

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Given their socioeconomic status and utilization of prenatal care, first generation women of Mexican descent have lower rates of low birth weight than expected, with these rates increasing in subsequent generations. Direct determinants of birth weight explain a portion of this variance. Researchers are now calling for qualitative studies to explore possible indirect social and cultural influences on birth outcomes.
This qualitative study explored the experience of pregnancy of 28 married and unmarried primiparous women of Mexican descent along the United States/ Mexico border. During semi-structured interviews lasting 60 to 90 minutes participants described social support, behaviors and attitudes related to pregnancy in their preferred language.
Text analysis of verbatim transcripts identified areas of similarity and difference in participant’s experiences of pregnancy.
Women experienced their pregnancies against the backdrop of their constructions of the mother role. Before and after the discovery of the pregnancy, positive or negative features of the mother role, along with associated roles or tasks, influenced its place in the constellation of available roles. Based on their constructions of this role, participants estimated their capacity to make the transition to motherhood successfully by anticipating changes in life plans, in other social roles, and in demands on time and energy.
Participants described social networks made up primarily of extended and immediate family members. Family members’ responses to the pregnancy initially reflected pre-pregnancy role expectations, followed by behavior suggesting integration of motherhood into their perceptions of the participant. Participants valued advice about diet and activity, the most frequently described form of social support, more as a sign of concern more than as a source of information.
Changes in relationships with the father of the baby reflected the permanence of the relationship prior to pregnancy. Married and cohabiting women described minor relationship changes. Relationships of unmarried women who were not living with the father of the baby either dissolved or were very tenuous.
Study results suggest the need to further explore women’s constructions of motherhood and related roles as possible indirect determinants of birth outcomes and as a potential source of culturally appropriate tools that promote successful adaptation to motherhood.