Methodology used in main study

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The data which contribute to the observations, arguments and reflections

developed in this book were generated by following seventeen women

through a year in their lives in which they became mothers (see appendix

for sample characteristics). This detailed, iterative research process

involved women being interviewed on three separate occasions, contact

by telephone and an end-of-study questionnaire, which was used to

collect data on the participants’ experiences of being researched. The

first interview was timed to take place antenatally, between seven and

eight months, once the pregnancy was well established. The second

interview was scheduled to take place between six and eight weeks

postnatally, following what in the UK is a routine six week postnatal

health check with a health professional (usually a general practitioner).

The final interview was scheduled to occur between eight and nine

months postnatally. In effect, the research was largely defined by reference

to the public events in the childbirth process. Similarly, descriptions

of the different phases of childbirth have relied on public (usually

medically defined) language.

The decision was taken to access potential participants through the

technique of snowballing, using mothers at my local school as potential

gatekeepers. Although access through more formal channels such as

antenatal clinics or health professional contacts would probably have

been quicker, these means of access were rejected. I wished to capture

women’s own accounts of their experiences and did not want the women

accessed to feel obliged to present their experiences in a way thatmirrored

public accounts given by health and medical professionals. One result of

using my own social networks to access a sample was that the women who

finally participated in the study were from backgrounds which most

described as professional or middle class and married or partnered. The

sample were all white heterosexuals and the mean age of the participants

was 30 years at the time of the first antenatal interview; ages ranged from

21 years to 36 years. This was slightly above the national average age for

first birth in Britain which at the time was 28.6 years (Social Trends 28,

1998). However, it is typical of the trend among professional women who

delay decisions about reproduction until a later stage of their lives, usually

once their careers are established. In many ways this sample conforms to

stereotypes that are held in wider society about those who are positioned

as ‘goodmothers’. These women were white, predominately middle class

and either married or in partnerships. Yet the data reveals how diverse

and complex their experiences of becoming mothers were. Even for this

apparently homogeneous group, presenting a (convincing) self as a

mother, especially in the public sphere, could be problematic. This led

some of the women to confine themselves to the home in the early weeks

following the birth of their child. The relationship between narrative

construction and social action will be explored in later chapters.

Separate interview schedules were compiled for the antenatal and

postnatal interviews. Interviews were carried out in the home of the

participant or a location of their choosing (one interview was carried

out in my office and another in the home of a relative). The longitudinal

component of the research mirrored the period of transition, giving the

data collection period a fluidity not achieved in one-off interviews. Access

was renegotiated before each of the interviews. Before returning to carry

out the postnatal interviews, extracts from the respondent’s previous

interview were incorporated into the interview schedule. In this way

participants were reminded of the ways in which they had previously

constructed their accounts. This process also enabled developing concepts

to be further explored. All interviews were tape-recorded with

permission and at the end of the study the tapes were returned to the

participants who wanted them. The tapes were transcribed verbatim.

During analysis, the complexity of the narrative enterprise soon became

clear as the data revealed the ways in which ‘individuals react to pressures

to conform to dominant social narratives which are available to them’

(Andrews 2000:1). At one level, asking women to speak about their

experiences of becoming mothers, listening to their accounts, and

analysing and interpreting these accounts, seems straightforward. Yet it

is because the event of childbirth and becoming a mother are both highly

significant for private lives and personal biographies, and simultaneously

a very publicly defined affair, that difficulties are encountered and

narratives produced shaped and regulated in particular ways. In the

data analysed over the course of forty-nine interviews, the ways in

which different, multi-layered narratives are produced to serve different

purposes was explored. These multi-layered narratives comprised public,

private and sometimes personal threads, drawing on a range of public

knowledges and private experiences. The components of a shifting sense

of self were highlighted through the analysis of these rich accounts. As the

women in the study attempted to make sense of their shifting sense of self,

they used different strategies to construct what they perceived to be

acceptable accounts of becoming a mother and new motherhood. The

complexities of producing culturally recognisable and acceptable

accounts of early mothering were revealed through the longitudinal

dimensions of the research. Over the course of the research the women

embarked on what can be seen as narrative trajectories. During this time

the types of accounts produced changed as confidence in their own

mothering enabled the women to retract and revise, retrospectively,

the accounts they had given. So, whilst other research has contributed

much needed broad-brushstroke pictures of mothering and motherhood,

this contribution takes a more detailed approach, focusing on the

complexities, coherences and contradictions in individual narratives

constructed through a period of significant transition: becoming a mother

in late modernity.