Saturday, November 29, 2014

I Hate One-Way Streets

My research project was about adolescent mothers and their education levels, in comparison with the education levels of women who have never been pregnant. We asked each participant about their education, and about their experiences with different social factors, such as stigma and social support, that could have affected their educational outcomes. We interviewed both mothers and non-mothers who were more or less our age; even though our age range was from 18-27, the average of age of each participant was 22 years old.
Each woman's story was different, not only between the previously teen mothers and the young women who have never been pregnant, but from each woman to woman. Even between two women who have never had children and are currently studying in university, one may have very poor parents who work on a farm while the other woman might have a nurse as a father. Because of all of these vastly unique stories, not only was it difficult to point out how one specific social factor affected the women's education in our results, but that also meant that we could never combine these women together solely into two groups. From this realization, it should have been easier to accept the fact that our lives are so very different from the women we interviewed, because they're all unique and different in their own respect anyway, right? But that was not the case. I could not – and still cannot – wrap my mind around the strange feeling I possessed while both conducting interviews with women my age, as well as watching other members of my group do the same.
Up until actually meeting the women we were about to interview, we had been sifting through numbers upon numbers in the database, trying to find a substantial number of participants with the only information we knew about them as numbers. Even when we called our potential participants, the ATAPs did it for us, and every person that said yes was another number we could add to our list of participants. We were excited to get that sufficient sample size – for so long, that was our goal; what was in our heads was getting to that golden number of 40 total people to interview.
So it didn't become comprehensible that these participants are real people who lead very real lives until we walked onto these ladies' porches and began to speak with them. I believe it was when we grasped this that a strange, strange feeling crept up. I distinctly remember interviewing a 19 year old teen mom (I'm also 19) with another member of my research group who is 20 years old, alone in her living room with no one else present but us. When she told us she was 19, I immediately wanted to tell her that I was too, and start sharing our lives and having a conversation as three young women of the same age would normally do. But instead, I went through the motions of reading our research questions fairly methodically, as we did with all of our participants, while all I felt like doing was hanging out. When we interviewed random members of the community door-to-door about dengue, or when we spoke with the Ngöbe community, it felt normal having that slight divide between us as researchers/students and them as the people we are learning from. But speaking to only women who were only more or less our age made that research/participant barrier feel like it shouldn't have been there. I wanted to really get to know them, and also share information about myself, but that's not how this research works. What makes it all okay, though, is that we still learned from these women, and I am hopeful that they can learn by community awareness from what we did as well РI just hope that the initial one-way street of interviewing them can ultimately be translated into a sort of two-way relationship.
Rachel Brown

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