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Communication, Control, and Time: The Lived Experience of Uncertainty in Adolescent Pregnancy

Dalton, Elizabeth Dortch
Committee Members: 
Dr. Michelle T. Violanti
August 2014


This study qualitatively examined the lived experience of uncertainty among pregnant adolescents. Utilizing a phenomenological approach, long interviews were conducted with 10 pregnant adolescent women between the ages of 15-18 years. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed using the process of phenomenological explication. Data, emergent themes, memos, and a detailed audit trail were maintained using the qualitative data analysis package Nvivo 10 for Mac (beta version). Findings can be summarized with eight themes that underlie the essence of uncertainty in adolescent pregnancy: suspicion and denial, disclosure and reactions, controlling the flow of information, relational renegotiation, the emerging reality of pregnancy, information behavior, encounters with doctors and other professionals, and the future. From these themes, it is evident that the lived experience of uncertainty is about loss of control. Also of importance is the lack of uncertainty about life after the birth and how this may contribute to cultural and socioeconomic disparities in adolescent pregnancy. In addition, participants’ sense of control is both threatened by and surrendered to time; time, therefore, both enhances and mitigates uncertainty. Knowing this allows for recognition of where control can be reestablished to promote better self-efficacy among pregnant adolescents.

This study has implications for uncertainty in health communication, and makes the argument for further incorporating pregnancy into the health communication research agenda. In addition, this study compels the extension of research on uncertainty into areas like mental health, nutrition, exercise, and hygiene, where time may also play an important role. Implications for communication theory, particularly related to privacy management and relational turbulence, as well as home-visitation interventions in the public health sector are discussed.