Women’s experiences of communication with medical staff during complicated pregnancy

Daly, Zuleika (2015) Women’s experiences of communication with medical staff during complicated pregnancy. Other thesis, Middlesex University.


This study explored the ways in which women experienced non-facilitative communication with medical staff during a complicated pregnancy. Complicated pregnancy has been associated with a higher risk of mental health difficulties. The research was carried out in Ireland and focused on women’s relationships with medical hospital staff during this time as they are ideally placed to offer relational support, and potentially prevent longer term problems.

In-depth interviews were conducted with six women. The qualitative methodology of interpretive phenomenological analysis was used to understand their experiences. Four superordinate themes emerged. These were ‘Information difficulties' ‘Disempowerment', ‘Empathic failure’ and ‘Relational impacts’. Crucial information was withheld, private details were discussed in public spaces and key aspects of women’s experiences were omitted from their hospital notes. Participants spoke of feeling disempowered and manipulated by staff. All participants referred repeatedly to feeling that the majority of staff failed to demonstrate empathy. Women felt isolated and unseen, with staff focused on tasks rather than holistic treatment and their infant’s needs but not those of the women. Finally, women described how their relationships with themselves, partners, and crucially, their infants had been impacted.

Participants’ accounts may represent a gap in the care of women who experience the trauma of serious pregnancy complications. Findings suggest a role for counselling psychologists in providing training and consultation for medical staff in order that they might develop the capacity to offer improved support to women and infants during this time when they are more susceptible to mental health difficulties.

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