Focus Groups with Women: Things Left Unsaid

I started focus groups with contraceptive users yesterday. It’s been providers only before, gathering data for my practicum. Women, contraceptive users, clients – however you call them, are completely different. Their stories get into your heart, their words are less precise, their qualms don’t fit into charts and tables.

It’s draining. I had two groups today, maybe that’s why I want to crawl into bed and eat Rocky Road ice cream with potato chips. For a week. While watching addicting bad tv.

Maybe it’s because I had a million things I wanted to tell them, clarify, provide resources. But focus groups aren’t about that. I can observe and try to improve things later on, but in the moment I am helpless to change anything. I agree and accept all sorts of responses, reactions I wouldn’t dream of encouraging if I were presenting, teaching, training.

The things I wish I could have said pile up throughout the hour or two, linger in my head at the end, when the women leave alone or in pairs, thanking me or walking out quietly. This happened in DR too, when I did life story interviews there. (Much messier, completely unstructured, unsupervised, ultimately unused.) So much I wish I could have said, could say.  If wishes were horses…here is what I would have said, were it possible, were it up to me:

1. Your body is yours. Not your lover’s, not your husband’s, not your children’s. Yours. You are responsible for it, for doing what is right for you, for ensuring – at times, forcefully – that others respect this right, your decisions, your needs.

2. Whether or not you want to be pregnant is your choice. Yours alone. My heart aches for you that your experience has been one of disassociation, abandonment, fear, resignation. You deserve to be happy.

3. I don’t know how to help. I very much wish I did. I am working on things that might maybe end up helping you, or women like you, sometime in the future. But this moment? I am at a loss.

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7 thoughts on “Focus Groups with Women: Things Left Unsaid

  1. Hey, I love this post, and I think it shows both how carefully you’re listening in your focus groups and how thoughtfully (and viscerally) you’re keeping analysis and empathy in the fine balance good qualitative research calls for. Don’t forget this post in work you write from this — it’s the behind the findings method work readers should see, even in a final product. Keep researching well.

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