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Remaining patient : a critical analysis of British Columbia health discourse on teen mothers Creighton, Genevieve

Abstract

Since the early 1970s the issue of teen pregnancy and parenthood has been the subject of vigorous public policy debate. Literature reports that becoming a teen parent increases the risk of abbreviated education, poverty, isolation, low self-esteem and economic dependency. Discourses within the health care system conceive of these adolescents as presenting health risk to themselves and their future child by choosing to proceed with their pregnancies. These stated risks include greater frequency of pre and post-natal complications, poor maternal diet resulting in foetal underdevelopment and increased risk of child maltreatment. While there is very little literature that solicits the experiences of teen mothers, research attests to the fact that they are reluctant to access the health care system because of the judgement and stigmatization they experience in these interactions. The ways in which the identities of teen mothers are constituted within the health care system, through the discourse of health promotion and the attitudes and practices of some health care providers, negatively impact upon health outcomes for this population. To further explore this issue engaged in discursive analysis of texts which centralized a discussion of teen pregnancy and motherhood in health care. My approach to research was grounded in a feminist, post-structural approach to discourse analysis, paying particular attention to power, authority in the process of creating subject positions for young mothers. I found that, despite relatively progressive government health policy regarding youth and sexuality, stigmatizing stereotypes of teen mothers continued to inform the ways that health care providers and researchers spoke about the teen pregnancy and motherhood. I argue that this is due to an interplay between the encroachment of American media representations of teen mothers, the presence of neo-liberal political ideologies and the lack of mandate for local sites to implement national policy. There was a strong tendency, within public health interventions, to de-contextualize teen mothers from social locations of class, race and gender in discussions about so-called risky lifestyles. Health interventions concentrated on improving diet, substance abuse and social practices, without consideration of the complexities behind these issues.

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