Health care professionals (HCPs) often view obesity in pregnancy as a condition associated with numerous adverse clinical outcomes and procedural difficulties. In contrast, patients characterize their challenges encountered because of stigma, their desire for a normal pregnancy, and may feel weight is overemphasized. The study's objective was to explore stories of patients and HCPs in tandem, in order to understand communication challenges within obesity-in-pregnancy clinical encounters.
Employing narrative inquiry, we conducted in-depth interviews with 16 patients and 19 HCPs. Stigma theory informed our research approach. Dialogical narrative analysis of interview transcripts was conducted.
We identified five narrative tensions that contributed to communication challenges during clinical encounters. The first three tensions related to contrasting views on obesity: 1) obesity as a detriment to health versus acceptance of obesity; 2) a result of personal choice versus a result of uncontrollable circumstances; and 3) a regular pregnancy versus a high-risk diagnosis. Two further tensions related to characterizations of communication within the clinical encounter: 4) typical and problem-free versus a tremendously difficult clinical encounter; and 5) talking openly about obesity versus sidestepping the topic. How participants positioned themselves relative to prevailing societal discourses regarding obesity and being a “good” HCP/patient influenced these tensions.
This study identified five narrative tensions and revealed specific areas where communication in the obesity-in-pregnancy clinical encounter is vulnerable to breaking down, accounting for the complexities in this interactive space. These findings can inform clinical practice and education and may be applicable to other clinical contexts.