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Pregnant : healthy or sick? : "normal pregnancy complaints" and eligibility to protection

Author(s): Fredriksen, Eva Haukeland

In her thesis, Eva Haukeland Fredriksen has studied social constructions of pregnancy as health or sickness. Her work indicates that workplace and society in general often expect pregnant women with health problems to continue "business as usual", whereas the women themselves argue that rest and care are good coping strategies.


The aims of this study were to explore social constructions of pregnancy as health or sickness, and to study how women who experience health problems during pregnancy experience their situation and cope with conflicting responsibilities related to health, work and well-being. A constructivist grounded theory approach was employed. Women's perspectives were explored through (1) Internet discussions on pelvic girdle pain (PGP), (2) Internet discussions on pregnancy and work, and (3) interviews with women from a patient organization for PGP-sufferers. These perspectives were compared to the discourses in media and in advisory booklets on pregnancy, in which an ambivalence between discourses of gender-neutrality (perform as usual) and gender difference (special protection of pregnant citizens) was identified. This ambivalence was also reflected in policy.

A grounded theory was developed on the basis of the findings. The theory describes (1) how the ambivalence in policy and in the social constructions of pregnancy may result in a situation where pregnant women's eligibility to special protection is contested, and (2) how this eligibility was contested when women requested special protection or health care on the basis of PGP. The theory also describes the consequences of this situation; (1) how women who found themselves in a situation of contested eligibility used peers to receive support, (2) how they constructed a shared meaning of their symptoms and their situation, and (3) how they discussed coping strategies to control their health. These interactions between women revealed a strong discourse of rest and care, which questioned the biomedical knowledge and expertise. The support from peers was a vehicle in developing knowledge, self-management and negotiation skills, which resulted in increased health literacy, and increased agency of individual women to regain / claim control over their own health.

Year: 2012

Publisher: University of Oslo

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