Powerless responsibility: women’s experiences of caring for their late preterm baby/babies.
Authors: Cescutti-Butler, L.
Editors: Hemingway, A. and Hewitt-Taylor, J.
This study explores the experiences of women who are caring for late preterm baby/babies (LPBs). These women’s experiences are especially relevant to examine, as the number of babies born late preterm is rising. Traditionally mothers and their LPBs have been studied under the umbrella of the general preterm infant population, with all experiences extrapolated from within this group. Whilst there is a growing body of literature related to late preterm babies, the focus is on physiology and physical needs. There is minimal research exploring women's experiences of caring for a late preterm baby and their views largely unknown.
My aim was to privilege women's experiences, therefore a feminist approach to research was utilised. A feminist lens offered me an opportunity of understanding the world of women who care for LPBs, and what I learned from their experiences. To obtain in depth perspectives, individual qualitative interviews in two phases were carried out, with a purposefully selected sample of fourteen women who were caring for a baby or babies within the late preterm gestation in South West England. Template Analysis linked to Birth Territory Theory (BTT) was carried out to identify key issues and experiences of women.
The findings indicate women who become mothers’ of late preterm babies have a complex journey. It is one which begins with separation, with babies being cared for in unfamiliar and highly technical environments where the perceived experts are healthcare professionals. Women’s needs are side-lined in favour of their baby/babies, and they are required to mother with ‘powerless responsibility’. Institutional and professional barriers to mothering/caring are numerous.
The study recommends organisations and healthcare professionals listen to women, hear their stories and use their experiences of mothering/caring to direct developments in practice. Professionals need to accept late preterm babies do not belong to an institution and to the professionals that work within it, but instead recognise a mother’s prime relationship is with her baby and thus work with women to facilitate autonomous mother-work.