Theses Doctoral

Caught Pregnant: Wresting and Relinquishing Control Over Motherhood In Manchester UK

Edgecliffe-Johnson, Abigail Alice

Popular portrayals of drug-using mothers claim that they are just "not into mothering" or that they leave their children to "fend for themselves" in their relentless pursuit of their own pleasures. Yet a deeper reading of these statements, and others like them reveals that they are not simply a judgment on this specific group of deviant women, but form part of a continuum of strictures informing all women about what is expected of them as women and as mothers. They lay the foundation for the enforcement of particular modes of behavior for women, for pregnant patients and for mothers. In an attempt to explore how the cultural imperatives of mothering are influenced by the cultural strictures against drug use and drug users, this ethnography explored the lives of 14 drug-using mothers in the comparatively supportive environment of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Over the course of three years of fieldwork and in-depth interviewing two major themes emerged: Control and Fluidity. Control was most apparent in the persistent tension between the women's self-imposed need for control (over her body, her children, her drugs and herself) and the control both demanded and imposed by the state agencies that work with her. Fluidity, particularly of the mothering identity, quickly emerged as a key aspect of women's lives and their understanding of self. Drug-using mothers are criticized for supposedly violating the bonds of the mother-child relationship, but the bonds are already frayed by a system that forces them to confront the possibility of child loss before the child is even born. To capture the shifts in meaning and experience of motherhood for this population I developed a descriptive model that categorizes their experience of the mothering identity through the filter of child-loss: The Conspicuous Mother, The Latent Mother and The Abnegate Mother. The model shows that child-loss is not an all-or-nothing experience for these women, and goes some way toward understanding why, when some women lose their children they "go off the rails" while others use child loss as an opportunity for getting their lives back on track. The study also makes clear that in order to create sustainable change we must move beyond the notion that drug-use invariably leads to neglect and focus instead on creating systemic change in the women's lives, not just their drug-taking.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociomedical Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Vance, Carole
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2013