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Objectives: To explore the extent to which a specialist clinic meets the needs of chemically dependent women.

Design: A critical ethnography informed by theorists such as Habermas and feminists' interpretation of Foucault.

Setting: A specialist antenatal clinic for chemically dependent pregnant women at a major metropolitan women's hospital in Melbourne, Australia.

Participants: A purposive sample of twenty (20) chemically dependent pregnant women who attended the clinic.

Data collection and analysis included three taped interviews (two preceding the birth and one post birth), observation of the interactions between the women and the clinic staff over a 25-month period and chart audits.

Findings: Similar to other studies there were multiple factors influencing development and maintenance of chemical dependency in this group of women, including family instability, family history of drug and alcohol abuse, childhood sexual abuse, having a chemically dependent partner and having a dual diagnosis of both drug addiction and mental illness. Initially there was considerable variation between the women and the clinic staff's expectations with regard to attending for antenatal care and conforming to a set regime as the women struggled with the contradictions inherent in their lifestyle and that of the ‘normal’ expectant mother. Aspects of that struggle included their belief that their opinions and knowledge of their lives was largely ignored, leading to episodes of resistance. Several women alleged the clinics staff's relationship with them was influenced by a belief that the women were ‘hopeless addicts in need of expert medical and midwifery care' and that the clinic staff exercised control in an authoritarian manner. However, as they explored possibilities for collaboration, they realised they could exercise power and work towards a more equal relationship with staff. The quality of relationships in most instances improved over time, and if not always strictly collaborative, was situated at various points along a continuum from minimal to full co-operation, with concomitant varying levels of success in terms of outcomes. It was often the attitude of individual staff members, particularly midwives, that was the key to the way in which the women responded to care.

Key conclusions and implications for practice: Comprehensive history-taking and engaging women as early as possible in pregnancy; providing continuity of care – particularly midwife care – to assist in developing a collaborative approach to care; provision of an extended period of postnatal support to at least six months for those women able to parent their children was a key recommendation.


School of Nursing, Midwifery & Paramedicine

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Journal Article

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