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TitleCommunication, Control, and Time: The Lived Experience of Uncertainty in Adolescent Pregnancy
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                            University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Trace: Tennessee Research and Creative Exchange
Communication, Control, and Time: The Lived Experience of Uncertainty in Adolescent Pregnancy
	Elizabeth Dortch Dalton
		Recommended Citation
Microsoft Word - Dalton Dissertation FINAL_.docx
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University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Trace: Tennessee Research and Creative

Doctoral Dissertations Graduate School


Communication, Control, and Time: The Lived
Experience of Uncertainty in Adolescent
Elizabeth Dortch Dalton
University of Tennessee - Knoxville, [email protected]

This Dissertation is brought to you for free and open access by the Graduate School at Trace: Tennessee Research and Creative Exchange. It has been
accepted for inclusion in Doctoral Dissertations by an authorized administrator of Trace: Tennessee Research and Creative Exchange. For more
information, please contact [email protected]

Recommended Citation
Dalton, Elizabeth Dortch, "Communication, Control, and Time: The Lived Experience of Uncertainty in Adolescent Pregnancy. " PhD
diss., University of Tennessee, 2014.
mailto:[email protected]

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Aria was also concerned about the health of her baby, due to her previously described

marijuana smoking and her inability to feel the baby moving. Jade, however, stood out among

the participants as being completely overcome with fear. She spoke very little during the

interview, eventually becoming too emotional to continue. As she describes, “First son I had

passed away. And second one…kind of scared of this happening again.” She was later prompted

to elaborate on her feelings when she found out she was pregnant again:

B: Did you feel surprised?

J: Yeah. And scared.

B: Yeah…why were, what were you scared about?

J: Making it, going all the way through and then it’s gonna pass away again.

She seemed to have disassociated herself from the pregnancy, feeling extremely uncertain about

whether this baby will survive. She even referred to him as “it,” despite knowing that it was

another boy.

The reality of the pregnancy begins to solidify at different points along the participants’

pregnancies. This is an extremely nuanced pattern of experiences. Whereas the previous theme

of relational renegotiation captures the pregnancy-related uncertainty that is outside of the

participant, the reality of the pregnancy is the struggle to assign meaning to pregnancy

experiences occurring within themselves. The ebb and flow of uncertainty in their descriptions

points to the importance of understanding experiences such as ultrasounds, weight gain, and

pregnancy loss among pregnant adolescents. Moments where the viability of the pregnancy is

confirmed can reduce uncertainty, as can the participants’ behavior changes giving them a sense

of agency over their bodies. Finding out the sex of the baby may increase or decrease

uncertainty, depending on whether the desired sex matches the actual sex. Physical changes, too,

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can go either way, decreasing uncertainty if the changes match expectations and increasing

uncertainty when they are more severe than expected or are not happening at all. Fears about the

health of the baby, which can happen at various points along the pregnancy trajectory, increase

uncertainty along with the number of possible adverse outcomes. These instances of finding out

information, making choices, and being swept along with change are fundamentally about

control: gaining control, losing control, and accepting what cannot be controlled in pregnancy.

Information Behavior

Each participant was asked to imagine a hypothetical situation where another pregnant

teenager asked her for advice, and about where and how to get information about pregnancy and

parenting. These questions were intended to elicit how participants interact with information and

what types of sources they deem valuable. In the context of illness episodes, people seek out

information to help them make decisions. Health information can be exchanged through face-to-

face or mediated channels, with sources varying from healthcare providers, family, friends,

peers, the media, and healthcare organizations (Brashers, Goldsmith, & Hsieh, 2002). To manage

uncertainty, people interact with information in different ways, engaging in behaviors that

include seeking, avoiding, providing, appraising, and interpreting environmental stimuli

(Brashers, 2001). In the current study, participants provide evidence of heavy reliance on

interpersonal face-to-face channels when managing information. They also provide some

evidence that they view their future selves as useful information sources, which points to the

perceived value of personal experience in generating knowledge.

Reliance on interpersonal sources. The interpersonal information sources described by

participants include healthcare providers, social services personnel, family members, and the

participants themselves. Participants believe that healthcare providers, including doctors, nurses,

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may refuse even if you consent. Your child can also refuse to answer any questions and may
withdraw from the study at any time without penalty.


Any identifying information collected will be kept in a secure location and only the researcher
and a professional transcriber (also bound by confidentiality) will have access to the data.
Participants will not be individually identified in any publication or presentation of the research
results. Your signed consent form and your child’s assent form will be kept separate from the
data, and nobody will be able to link their responses to them.

Audio and Video Taping

The researcher requests permission to audio record your child during the interview. The digital
audio recording will be used solely for transcription purposes, and all audio files will be deleted
when the study is complete.

Contact Information

If you have any questions, you may ask them now or later; if you have questions after
completing the interview you may contact the researcher (Betsy Dalton) at (615) 478-0555;
[email protected]; 98 Communications Building, 1345 Circle Park Drive, Knoxville, TN 37996-
0332. The faculty advisor for this project is Dr. Michelle Violanti ([email protected]), (865) 974-
7072. This project has been reviewed and approved by The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Institutional Review Board. If you have any questions about your child’s rights as a research
participant, you may call the IRB at (865) 974-7697.


I have read the information provided above and all of my questions have been answered. I
voluntarily agree to the participation of my child in this study. I will receive a copy of this
consent form for my information.

Parent / Legal Guardian Name Parent / Legal Guardian Signature

Name of Child _______________________________

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Elizabeth (Betsy) Dalton was born in New Orleans, Louisana to Mary Jo and William

Dortch, Jr. She has a younger sister, Claire. Betsy grew up in Nashville, Tennessee where she

attended St. Henry School and St. Cecilia Academy. From there, she attended the University of

the South (Sewanee) where she received her Bachelor of Arts in English with a psychology

minor. While at Sewanee, she studied abroad at Oxford University where she met her now-

husband, Robert Dalton. After college, Betsy moved to Wyoming to work on a ranch.

Subsequent moves led her back to Nashville and then to Atlanta, where she worked in

advertising. She returned to Tennessee and earned her Master’s degree in Mass Communication

at Middle Tennessee State University, during which her research focused on hate speech. But her

first love was health communication, which led her to pursue a doctorate in Communication and

Information at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. During her time at UTK, she has taught

Communication Theory, Communication Research Methods, Interpersonal Communication, and

Public Speaking. She has also kept up an active research agenda on topics including adolescent

motherhood, nursing communication, and health literacy. She married Rob during her second

semester of the program, and they had their first son, Will, in June 2013.

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