Life choices and life chances: pregnant and early parenting women who use substances.




Stengel, Camille May

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This thesis is a subset of a larger “parent” project under the direction of my supervisor, Dr. Cecilia Benoit. The purpose of the larger project is to seize an unique research opportunity that has emerged with the development and implementation of the HerWay Home (HWH) program, a community-based initiative for pregnant and early parenting women who face substance use and other challenges in the Greater Victoria Area. My research has capitalized on the pre-implementation phase of the HWH program between 2010-2011. Thirteen in-person semi-structured interviews were conducted with women who would likely be clients for the HWH program, based on their pregnancy experiences, substance use concerns and other life challenges. The goal of this research has been to explore these women’s pregnancy and postpartum narratives and investigate what, in their view, should be crucial components of the HWH intervention in the short and longterm. My findings indicate that, consistent with the literature on pregnant and early parenting women facing substance use and other life challenges, a range of complex, intertwined disadvantages exist in their lives that translate into multiple barriers to accessing continuous health and social care during their pregnancy and after the birth of their child. An adapted model of the Health Lifestyle Theory is used to frame the analysis of the data collected from this research. The results from this research support the argument that the life choices of the participants are constrained by structural life chances and socially determined inequities that systematically disadvantage and disempower them. The findings also reveal an implicit sense of agency in the women’s narratives, as well as key specifics about what they view as the main gaps in care and their desired program services. The findings will be relayed to HWH organizers, and used to inform the development and implementation of the program’s services.



social determinants of inequities, drug use, healthy lifestyle theory, pregnant women, community-based research, feminist methodology, sociology of health, women in Canada