Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Where is their network?

Today I had another interview with one of the volunteers for our project. Something she mentioned to me in our conversation was that she is a private individual. She has no family who live in the area. It’s just her boyfriend and her. She admitted that they have no friends really… no one they share experiences with, commiserate with, and celebrate milestones with. I asked her what encouraged her desire to be private. Pride. She and her boyfriend do not want to make widely known their tough circumstances. She doesn’t want others to feel like she is relying on them for anything that, perhaps, they are also struggling to maintain. While the strong sense of pride is unique among the three interviews I’ve been involved with so far, the lack of a network is not.

My interview with this woman took place shortly after I had read the article on breastfeeding. In this article, Cripe discusses the difference in privileged, educated women/mothers and low-income mothers. She offers a quote from USDHHS that states, “The lowest rates of breastfeeding are found among those whose infants are at the highest risk of poor health and development: those 21 years and under and those with low educational levels.” Cripe also refers to the Healthy People 2010 Report, which states that college graduates (women, of course) demonstrated the highest rates of breastfeeding, with 78 percent breastfeeding after birth and 40 percent still breastfeeding after six months.

Her research examines the experience of breastfeeding mothers through a breastfeeding support group. This, of course, is a network of mothers who actively want to better their understanding of available options and gain knowledge through others’ experience. This is a network for them in this particular area. She didn’t state what SES these participants fell within, but I would venture to guess that the majority of them fell in more the average/middle income bracket.

So, as I write this, my intent it to not provide an explanation, but more so to offer a question that I believe needs more exploration. Does the presence or absence of a social/support network have a significant impact an individual’s ability to negotiate the available resources in their environment and develop a better understanding of (and even increased confidence in) how to successfully utilize those resources?

We all work our way through circumstances because we actively collect feedback from peers and trusted sources who have similar experiences. If this were not the case, then the example that Cripe offered regarding the mothers of the support group who encouraged co-sleeping with their babies (and minimized the doctors warnings against it) would not have led to other mothers feeling more at ease for their choice to do so.

Do families who are food insecure lack social networks more often than those who are food secure? If so, then is this something that needs to be examined more critically? If research has been there and done that already, then please forgive me for my lack of knowledge about it.

1 comment:

Christina J. said...

As I’ve been witness to two cases of close friends who have delivered children in recent months with serious health issues, and considering my status as an expectant mother, the chapters in the Zoller and Dutta book by Cripe and Lupton were extremely insightful and relevant. Throughout my engagement in the process, I’ve been surprised by how much responsibility (and pressure) is put on the mother in the act of carrying a child, both by those in the medical profession as well as those with child-rearing experience. Women have a tendency to place pressure on other women to conform to expectations regarding maternal responsibility. Accordingly, as Lupton notes, “To give birth to a baby with health problems may not be seen as the unfortunate outcomes of a fickle fate, but rather as the failure of a mother to protect her child adequately.” I’ve greatly enjoyed being pregnant thus far, and I’m extremely anxious to meet my child in 135(ish) days. However, the underlying pressure I’ve experienced to consistently monitor my behavior for its ability to affect my unborn child adds an additional layer of stress (which is likely equally harmful) to my existing stressful lifestyle. In this, I’m lead to Abigail’s reaction, and I think she poses an extremely insightful question regarding the impact that social support and interpersonal networks can have on an individual’s ability to navigate resources. It’s my presumption that social capital can be extremely helpful in aiding isolated individuals to find access to needed resources and services in a community. And, in the few interviews I’ve conducted with the food insecure, it seems like a consistent problem in this community may be the poor availability of such information to those who are in need of help, whether that be through the use of the media or through word-of-mouth. However, I wonder if receiving information from social networks in particular health contexts can be harmful? Where is the tipping point of too much information, such that agency is inhibited by information overload? Similarly, could misinformed informational or emotional support be harmful to some positive health outcomes?