“Exploring the complexity of pregnancy disclosure within social networks”
Pregnancy, a necessary part of the evolutionary process, is a unique gendered experience. Also, while many would not define pregnancy as a “disease”, there is an inherent etiology implicit to pregnancy that requires medical intervention to ensure a safer birthing experience. There are visible changes to the mother’s body that announce pregnancy to the public unless you ascribe to the “reality” presented by “I Didn’t Know that I Was Pregnant” or go to great lengths to hide the fact.. In regards to the mother’s health and that of her fetus, there may be discordance with the family’s desire to have intimate information about the pregnancy. Rather than solely exploring the boundaries of disclosure between the mother and her partner, posing the quandary of an objectified public pregnancy within the public and private disclosure boundaries of the family and a larger social network an interesting set of decision parameters. The personal sharing of medical information with family underscores the constant negotiation of information with individuals with whom the mother chooses to hold networked relationships.
While Durham (2008) posits that there is a dialectic imposed in “family-planning”, I purport that an ethical exploration should open the discussion to beyond the boundary of the mother’s partner. Petronio and her Communication Privacy Management (CPM) (2002) conceptualizes privacy within the confines of communicative acts that does not exist within a static bubble. Privacy is a publicly negotiated experience, an advancement of Petronio’s earlier conceptualizations of CPM that viewed disclosure as “the process of revealing private information” (Petronio & Durham, 2008). Disclosure must be seen as a dialectic, susceptible to the ebb and flow of life events and personal action, through deliberative choice and boundary negotiation. Disclosure required a public sharing of information to others. A dynamic flow of networked relationships must be navigated and negotiated. While it often a personal choice to keep private health information from family until need arises (possessing self-information), within the family there may be a trust and openness to discuss and reaffirm personal beliefs about health and wellness as the idea of self becomes compounded with the addition of a fetus.
Communication among family members may be instrumental in dealing with oft difficult issues that revolve with health (Vanderford et al., 1997). But it must not be assumed that every disclosure from a wanting family is beneficial. The mother in most cases may still exercise agency, if not coerced. Due to the inherent engendered aspect to pregnancy, Petronio would ascertain that women relinquish information as a function of trust (Petronio, 2002). Why must there be any relinquishment in the first place? In a network, links between connected individuals have directionality. Does the responsibility of trust fall on the mother as she is the one adding to the progeny of the family? How much must the family know and are there inherent rights to this information due to genetic connection. Does this trust have to be gained in reverse?
If the pregnancy information is thought to have collective ownership within a family, it would follow that there must be some “relinquishment” on the part of the family as well. There could be an infinite numbers of boundary “rings” that one must contend with at a given moment (Petronio, 2002). These rings are boundaries that a person makes a choice to navigate. For instance, is there information that the pregnant mother feels within bounds to share with her natural mother that is out of the boundary to be shared with her niece? What reluctance to share is there? It is a question to explore whether this issue is of consequence in terms of negotiating pregnancy based medical information. We selectively disclose. The mother might choose to whom to disclose and this disclosure might very well differ across family members. The evolutionary implications on pregnancy disclosure cannot be ignored in terms of understanding the process of conceal and reveal involving pregnancy. Is there a reconceptualization of ownership of information due to the progeny question? How is selfhood affected? A study of over 900 pregnant mothers found that the vast majority preferred the title of “patient” over “other” or “mother” (Denning et al., 2002). This could have possible implications on how these boundaries are even created during this time of pregnancy. Would the boundary differ if she sees herself as “patient” or “mother”? There has been wide debate over the level of responsibility that family holds in reproductive choices such as initiation of abortions (Stone et al., 1970). Within familial bonds, we have discourse in varying degrees. From discourse, one may begin to reconceptualize what we want to disclose.
Denning, A., Tuttle, L., Bryant, V., Walker, S. & Higgins, J. (2002). Ascertaining women’s choice of title during pregnancy and childbirth. The Australian & New Zealand Journal of obstetrics & gynaecology, 242(2), 125-129.
Durham, W.T. (2008) The rules-based process of revealing/concealing the family-planning decisions of voluntarily child-free couples a communication privacy management perspective. Communication Studies, 59, 132-147.
Petronio, S. (2002). Boundaries of privacy: dialectics of disclosure. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Petronio, S. & Durham, W. (2008). Communication privacy management theory: significance for Interpersonal communication. In Baxter, L. & Braithwaite, D. (eds.) Engaging theories in interpersonal communication: multiple perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Stone A., Greenblatt, M., Ewalt, J. & Curran, W. (1970) “To whom does the child belong?” In Sloane, R.B., (ed.), Abortion: changing views and practice. New York, Henry M. Stratton.
Vanderford, M., Jenks, E., & Sharf, B. (1997) “Exploring patients’ experiences as a primary source of meaning.” Health Communication, 9(1), 13-26.