From my 19 interviews, 13 took place in an outpatient unit where the treatment was based on peer group support. Consultation services with social workers were available in the same unit. Six women were interviewed in an inpatient unit that was aimed at parents, in most cases mothers, with young children. The inpatient unit uses a multidisciplinary type of treatment, which is based on medical care, principles of community treatment and cognitive-behavioural methods.
The length of the interviews varied from 1 to 2.5 hours. The youngest mothers were 20 years old and the oldest 49. All had regularly used illegal drugs such as opiates or amphetamines. The time from the latest instance of use varied from a few weeks to several years previously. Some of the women had also received opioid substitution treatment. All of the women participated voluntarily and did not receive compensation. At the outpatient unit, the staff asked all clients who visited between May and August if they wished to participate in the study, and those who consented were interviewed. At the inpatient unit, the same procedure was carried out during the period of September to December. The interviews were audiotaped and transcribed, and those used in this text were translated into English.
In Finnish society, the differences between race, ethnicity and class are not as remarkable as, for example, they are in British society. The number of ethnic minorities is very small, and even though the economic differences are considerable and have recently increased (Moisio 2010), race or ethnicity does not play an important role in reports concerning Finnish well-being (see Vaarama, Moisio and Karvonen 2010). The participants' ethnic background is not even mentioned in most studies when describing interviewees. In my study, all the participants
were white women who were born in Finland. One interviewee was half-Romany, which was mentioned in her interview, but the connection was not obvious: she did not dress like the Romany or follow traditional Romany customs.
The Context of the Research Interviews
In the feminist qualitative research tradition, interviews of women have been understood as an opportunity to 'give voice' to women who have suffered from a lack of attention in male-defined social science (Reinharz and Chase 2001). Critical views on the ideology of giving space to women's true voices have been presented, for example, by Kitzinger (2007). According to her, feminist research has been selective about what kind of experiences and which voices have been endorsed as authentic. She points out that the relationship of women's voices and their 'reality' is 'a complex and contested issue' in which the one solution is to study the talk 'as a form of action in its own right' (Kitzinger 2007, 126).
I share the idea of complexity between true experience and talking about it in my study. However, I do not think that the 'experiences' and talk about experiences are completely different. According to Miller and Glassner (2004, 135), interviews 'have the capacity to be interactional contexts within which social worlds come to be better understood'. Furthermore, people with different backgrounds have variable resources with which to produce biographical narratives. For a female drug abuser, a client of child welfare services or women prisoners, for example, there are certain limitations to being able to produce themselves as 'good mothers' due to conventional expectations of the role of motherhood in Western societies (see Hardesty and Black 1999; Baker and Carson 1999; Granfelt 2009; Väyrynen 2009; Virokannas 2011).
Two women, a researcher and a client of drug treatment services, who were also a pregnant woman and a mother, composed the face-to-face interaction context in this study. When the first interviews were carried out, my pregnancy was not obvious, but during the later interviews, my interviewees might have seen me as a pregnant mother as well as a researcher. I did not know the interviewees in advance, and there was no opportunity to create any 'sisterly bonds' (Reinharz and Chase 2001, 228–30) outside the interview situation.
Altogether, my interviewees' social location and mine differed somewhat, but we also shared similarities as our cultural backgrounds were composed of white, Finnish working-class families. The main differences between my interviewees and me were my inexperience of drug use, drug treatment programmes and vulnerable life experiences, such as past experiences of trauma, family disruption and foster care. In addition, I had a university degree, and most of my interviewees had no education other than comprehensive school.
The treatment institution as a place for the interview might have some impact on how I as an interviewer planned my questions and how the women shaped their stories. Their history of drug abuse was a self-explanatory starting point for
the interviews. As the women were receiving therapy as part of their treatment, they had been constantly rethinking their parent relationships and childhood experiences. They had learned some skills for analyzing their life experiences, and talking about these issues might have been routine for them. They also used some of the terminology that therapists use. For example, my interviewees reported their 'needs to please everybody', that they are 'co-dependent' and have different fears. One interviewee said that her 'illness was strengthened by her mother's milk'. Further, there was talk of 'social heredity' and 'the lack of building blocks for normal life'.
A research interview differs from therapy interviews in that the former is conventionally understood as a method of collecting information and the later of fostering change in clients' lives. Still, there are similarities as well, as the research interview might give new perspectives both to the interviewees and interviewer (see Miller, de Shazer and De Jong 2001, 406–7). When the researcher is a trained social worker – as was the case in this study – or a therapist and the interviewees are clients of ongoing therapy or counselling, the conversation may easily include similar elements of shaping experiences. Still, I did not find any apparently memorized forms of telling one's story but rather variations of individual experiences. I found myself not as a social worker but more like a researcher who felt empathy for her interviewees and who also reflected on (non-verbally) her own life as a daughter and mother-to-be.