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The need for trust and safety inducing encounters: a qualitative exploration of women's experiences of seeking perinatal care when living as undocumented migrants in Sweden

Journal article
Authors My Barkensjö
Josephine T. V. Greenbrook
Josefine Rosenlundh
Henry Ascher
Helen Elden
Published in Bmc Pregnancy and Childbirth
Volume 18
ISSN 1471-2393
Publication year 2018
Published at Institute of Medicine, School of Public Health and Community Medicine
Institute of Health and Care Sciences
Language en
Keywords Undocumented migrant women, Clinical encounters, Perinatal care, Pregnancy and childbirth, Human, health-care, pregnancy, immigrants, stillbirth, mortality, outcomes, Obstetrics & Gynecology
Subject categories Prenatal and perinatal research, Obstetrics and gynaecology


Background: Studies from around the world have shown that women living as undocumented migrants have limited and deficient access to perinatal care, increasing their risks of both physical and psychological complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Failures to provide equal access to healthcare have been criticized extensively by the United Nations. In 2013, undocumented migrants' rights to healthcare in Sweden were expanded to include full access to perinatal care. Research surrounding clinical encounters involving women living as undocumented migrants remains largely lacking. The present study aimed to provide a composite description of women's experiences of clinical encounters throughout pregnancy and childbirth, when living as undocumented migrants in Sweden. Methods: Taking an inductive approach, qualitative content analysis was implemented. Thirteen women from ten different countries were interviewed. Meaning-units were extracted from the data collected in order to identify emergent overarching themes. Results: In clinical encounters where healthcare professionals displayed empathic concern and listening behaviours, women felt empowered, acknowledged, and encouraged, leading them to trust clinicians, diminishing fears relating to seeking healthcare services. Conversely, when neglectful behaviour on part of healthcare professionals was perceived in encounters, anxiousness and fear intensified. Vulnerability and distress induced by the women's uncertain living circumstances were apparent across themes, and appeared exacerbated by traumatic memories, difficulties in coping with motherhood, and fears of deportation. Conclusion: The present study contributes unique and important knowledge surrounding women's experience of being pregnant and giving birth when living as undocumented migrants. The overarching findings indicated that the needs of undocumented migrant women were largely similar to those of all expectant mothers, but that due to vulnerabilities relating to their circumstances, flexible and informed care provision is essential. Being knowledgeable on undocumented migrants' rights to healthcare is vital, as clinical encounters appeared highly consequential to the women's well-being and help-seeking behaviours. Negative encounters inflicted emotional distress and fear. Contrastingly, positive encounters promoted trust in clinicians, personal empowerment, and relief. Positive clinical encounters could provide rare opportunities to assist an otherwise elusive population at increased risk for both physical and psychological complications, highlighting the crucial need for adherence to ethical principles in clinical practice.

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