Anna Leppo defends her PhD thesis on February 10 2012 at 12 pm at the University of Helsinki main building (Fabianinkatu 33), lecture room 5.
Since the 1970s alcohol and drug use by pregnant women has become a target of political, professional and personal concern. The present study focuses on prenatal substance use and the regulation of risks by examining different kinds of societal responses to prenatal alcohol and drug use. The study analyses face-to-face encounters between professionals and service users at a specialised maternity clinic for pregnant women with substance abuse problems, medical and political discourses on the compulsory treatment of pregnant women as a means of FAS prevention and official recommendations on alcohol intake during pregnancy. Moreover, the study addresses the womens’ perspective by asking how women who have used illicit drugs during pregnancy perceive and rank the dangers linked to drug use. The study consists of five empirical sub-studies and a summary article. Sub-study I was written in collaboration with Dorte Hecksher and Sub-study IV with Riikka Perälä.
Theoretically the study builds on the one hand, on the socio-cultural approach to the selection and perception of risks and on the other on governmentality studies which focus on the use of power in contemporary Western societies. The study is based on an ethnographic approach and makes use of the principles of multi-sited ethnography. The empirical sub-studies are based on three different types of qualitative data: ethnographic field notes from a maternity clinic from a period of 7 months, documentary material (medical journals, political documents, health education materials, government reports) and 3) interviews from maternity clinics with clients and members of staff.
The study demonstrates that the logic of the regulation of prenatal alcohol use in Finland is characterised by the rise of the foetus , a process in which the urgency of protecting the foetus has gradually gained a more prominent role in the discourses on alcohol-related foetal damage. An increasing unwillingness to accept any kinds of risks when foetal health is at stake is manifested in the public debate on the compulsory treatment of pregnant women with alcohol problems and in the health authorities decision to advise pregnant women to refrain from alcohol use during pregnancy (Sub-studies I and II). Secondly, the study suggests that maternity care professionals have an ambivalent role in their mundane encounters with their pregnant clients: on the one hand professionals focus on the well-being of the foetus, but on the other, they need to take into account the women s needs and agency. The professionals daily encounters with their clients are thus characterised by hybridisation: the simultaneous use of technologies of domination and technologies of agency (Sub-studies III and IV). Finally, the study draws attention to the women s understanding of the risks of illicit drug during pregnancy, and shows that the women s understanding of risk differs from the bio-medical view. The study suggests that when drug-using pregnant women seek professional help they can feel that their moral worth is threatened by professionals negative attitudes which can make service-use challenging.