We’ve nearly completed the first round of interviews with heterosexual couples, exploring the emotions and motivations associated with planning for a first child. Notable to us was the fact that in all cases, we were contacted by the women in the couples first, who were often keen to participate. It was a requirement of the study for both members of the couple to participate. While several of the men were also keen to take part and learn the findings from the study, some were less invested in being involved, although they still shared a lot during the interviews.
Members of each couple were interviewed separately to explore their views and feelings in depth. Existing research suggests that individuals within couples are likely to have different investments in and desires to have children, and thus participants were able to talk more freely without the presence of their partner. We suspect this turned out to be an important decision, given that, for the most part, men spent more time thinking about their responses before speaking, and needed more follow up questions than women. If both members of the couples were present it would have been difficult to explore all of the questions in the same depth with the women and the men.
During the interviews it became apparent that, for the most part, women talked for longer and with less prompting than men. This was the case even for one man in particular who had a lot to say but seemed to be able to talk more when prompted than when responding to the initial open-ended question. In contrast, the women generally responded in more depth to the open-ended questions, although were still asked to elaborate on their answers.
These gender differences prompted Clare, as the person doing the interviewing, to adapt her interview style to mirror to a certain degree the interactional styles of the men she interviewed. Whilst this was of course true for all participants, it was most noticeable to Clare in regards to the interviews she conducted with men. An example of adapting involved asking men more prompting questions than women in order to draw out more responses. This included asking questions like ‘could you expand on that a bit?’ or ‘could you tell me a bit more about that?’ or asking specific questions in relation to the content of their responses. This approach was productive, as evidenced by the fact that towards the end of some of the interviews some men were ready for a prompting question and, after giving a short answer, would immediately ask if Clare wanted them to elaborate.
The context of the interview setting also seemed to occasionally interfere with how much men spoke. In particular, one of the men chatted much more freely once Clare had turned the audio-recorder off at the end of the interview.
As a final note, it’s important to recognise that the topic itself was one which many participants may have not reflected on much prior to the interviews. Previous studies about desires and motivations to have children have tended to focus on people who face challenges to becoming parents because they cannot have a child via sexual reproduction for social or medical reasons. By necessity, such couples have undertaken a significant amount of reflection and planning in attempting to become parents. In contrast, having children via reproductive heterosex in the context of a relationship is to a certain degree more straightforward (though some of our participants challenged the normative assumption that reproductive heterosex is ‘easier’). Thus, it was also important to acknowledge to participants that some of the questions might be hard to answer. In the upcoming second interviews when women are 6 months pregnant and the idea of becoming parents is more tangible, we anticipate that the participants, and the men in particular, will be able to talk and reflect more on their feelings associated with having a child.