Experiences of pregnant women exposed to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the US Virgin Islands: a qualitative study

Noelene K. Jeffers, Deborah Wilson, Hannah Tappis, Desiree Bertrand, Tener Veenema, Nancy Glass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall in the US Virgin Islands (USVI) in 2017. To date, there is no published literature available on the experiences of pregnant women in the USVI exposed to these hurricanes. Understanding how hurricanes affect pregnant women is key to developing and executing targeted hurricane preparedness and response policies. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of pregnancy and birth among women in the USVI exposed to Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Methods: We employed a qualitative descriptive methodology to guide sampling, data collection, and analysis. Semi-structured interviews of 30–60 min in length were conducted with a purposive sample of women (N = 18) in the USVI who were pregnant during or became pregnant within two months after the hurricanes. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and data managed in MAXQDA. Team members developed a codebook, applied codes for content, and reconciled discrepancies. We thematically categorized text according to a socioecological conceptual framework of risk and resilience for maternal-neonatal health following hurricane exposure. Results: Women’s experiences were organized into two main categories (risk and resilience). We identified the following themes related to risk at 3 socioecological levels including: (1) individual: changes in food access (We had to go without) and stress (I was supposed to be relaxing); (2) household/community: diminished psychosocial support (Everyone was dealing with their own things) and the presence of physical/environmental hazards (I was really scared); and (3) maternity system: compromised care capacity (The hospital was condemned). The themes related to resilience included: (1) individual: personal coping strategies (Being calm); (2) household/community: mutual psychosocial and tangible support (We shared our resources); and (3) the maternity system: continuity of high-quality care (On top of their game). Conclusions: A socioecological approach provides a useful framework to understand how risk and resilience influence the experience of maternal hurricane exposure. As the frequency of the most intense hurricanes is expected to increase, clinicians, governments, and health systems should work collaboratively to implement hurricane preparedness and response plans that address pregnant women’s unique needs and promote optimal maternal-infant health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number947
JournalBMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Cyclone
  • Disaster
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy outcome
  • Resilience
  • Risk
  • US Virgin Islands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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