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Being a woman, being a soldier, being a mother: a qualitative analysis of perceptions of pregnancy on working lives of women in the Spanish Armed Forces


Introduction Thirty-two years after Spain first allowed women to join the armed forces, 12% of active troops are women, although there are no data on how many of them are mothers. There is a lack of research related to the impact of motherhood on their careers and the challenges they face as well. Previous quantitative research, within North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces, has focused on the increased vulnerability and reduced performance of women returning to service after childbirth. However, no study to date has examined the narratives of these women.

Methods A qualitative, cross-sectional study was carried out by means of individual interviews which were subsequently analysed employing the interpretative approach of hermeneutic phenomenology. All the interviews were conducted by videoconference, being recorded for subsequent transcription and analysis with MAXQDA v.2018.

Results Servicewoman reported experiencing fear of informing their command chain of their pregnancy. Many women described feelings of constantly having to prove their worth, and thus perceived the physical restrictions associated with pregnancy and/or postpartum as a threat to their previous achievements. This sometimes led to behaviours that posed a risk to the health of mothers and babies, or eventually resulted in both acute and chronic conditions.

Conclusions Some restrictions put in place to protect them during their pregnancies become a source of additional anxiety. Returning to active service, we found that women’s desire to fulfil their duties can cause long-term damage to their physical and psychological health. The attitudes servicewomen perceive towards pregnant women and mothers seems to exert a strong influence on the risks they are willing to assume. Understanding and addressing the needs of servicewomen after childbirth, either now, as active members of the Armed Forces, or in the foreseeable future, as veterans, is crucial to both military and civilian healthcare providers.

  • organisational development
  • risk management
  • maternal medicine
  • qualitative research

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