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"…Society is, at the end of the day, still going to stigmatize you no matter which way": A qualitative study of the impact of stigma on social support during unintended pregnancy in early adulthood.


Unintended pregnancy in adolescence and early adulthood is stigmatized in the United States because it deviates from social norms that consider young people's sexuality as a social problem. While limited, prior research has found that this stigma prevents young people from telling people in their lives about their pregnancies, for fear of judgment or negative reactions. We hypothesized that this selective disclosure of unintended pregnancy due to stigma would reduce the social support available to young pregnant people at a particularly vulnerable time-social support that we know is important for optimal physical and mental health of the young person, and the pregnancy (should they choose to carry to term). To explore this hypothesis, we conducted a qualitative study among young people to understand if and how they experienced stigma in relation to an unintended pregnancy, how this stigma shaped patterns of pregnancy disclosure, the implications for received social support, and participant thoughts on how to alleviate the influence of this stigma on their lives. In in-depth interviews with 25 young people in the San Francisco Bay area who had experienced at least one unintended pregnancy, using a thematic analysis approach, we found that the stigma of unintended pregnancy led participants to selectively disclose the pregnancy to limited people, which in turn cut them off from needed sources of social support. Black and Hispanic women disproportionately described this experience. Participants expressed a desire for programs that would connect young people who had experienced unplanned pregnancy to each other-either via the internet, organized groups through clinical care sites, college or high school campuses, or other forums-as a way to alleviate stigma, share perspectives and lessons learned, and otherwise build emotional and informational support networks for themselves where their usual support had fallen away.

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