Narratives: making sense of personal transition

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As note d in chapt er 1, the need for ind ividua ls to mak e connecti ons

between the personal and the social, and thus make sense of their

experiences, is increasingly regarded as a feature of changing Western

societies in which choices have becomemore complex. In the face of these

greater uncertainties and complex choices, there is an increased need to

create and maintain ontological security and ‘new certainties for oneself ’

(Beck , 1994:14; Lupton , 1999 ). This is achiev ed by the p roducti on of

biographical or ontological narratives. Through these a recognisable

sense of self is shaped and maintained, through a process of continual

reflection and reworking. Individuals, then, make sense of experiences

and project particular self-identities through narratives that are shaped by

the material, cultural and political circumstances in which they live. As we

have seen, during pregnancy the themes of late modernity are clearly

played out as trust is largely placed in experts, and expert knowledge is

ranked above that emanating from the experiences of family and friends.

Ontological security is maintained throughout this period of transition

based on a relationship of trust in experts and the knowledge that appropriate

and responsible preparation, which implicitly diminishes risk, is

being undertaken. But at this stage it is important to note that women

anticipating the birth of their first child do not have the reflexive grasp

that comes from experience. They are anticipating motherhood but are

not yet mothers and so can only appeal to idealised notions of motherhood,

or accounts from family and friends. Ideas about the type of mother

women want to be are formed at this time from an array of sources, but it

is the birth of a first child that is a crucial turning point. The experience of

giving birth and being a mother usually leads women to reflect that their

lived experiences are different from their expectations and to question

their ‘expert’ preparation. They do not necessarily feel like the type of

mother they had envisaged being, and shifting identities involving a

temporary loss of an old, recognisable self, can add to this period of

confu sion (see chapt ers 5 and 6).

At some point during the early weeks and months of becoming a

mother, early experiences of mothering that do not resonate with expectations

have to be made sense of and reconciled. For a woman reflecting

from this newly held position, the trust placed in experts during the

antenatal period can gradually come to feel misplaced. Becoming a

mother usually turns out to be different from what had been anticipated,

as expectations are replaced by experiences. Plans that had seemed

plausible before the birth have to be rethought as a sense of a pre-baby

self (the old you) becomes subsumed within the new identities associated

with being a mother. The conflicting and sometimes overwhelming feelings

of love, guilt, exhaustion, joy and fear are not uncommon experiences

in the early weeks and months of becoming a mother. But they need

to be understood, and made sense of, recognised and accepted as normal

responses to early mothering experiences and motherhood. For the many

women who find that their experiences are different from what they had

expected, the need to produce culturally recognisable accounts of early

mothering, demonstrating that they are ‘good’ mothers who are coping,

can appear paramount. Women may feel that they must conceal difficult

or contrary experiences because of the morally underpinned context in

which we mother. This also has implications for social action and women

may confine themselves to the home, where new mothering is easier to

manage. The birth of a child instantly leads others to identify women as

mothers, and yet for the individual the process may be much more

gradual. It is clear, then, that the powerful knowledges and practices

that shape the context in which women become mothers, provide a

challenging backdrop against which to make sense of and narrate early

experiences. Cultural scripts and expectations do not necessarily fit individual

experiences and yet women are expected to naturally know how to

mother. It is only after the passage of time, leading to a shift in perception

of who is the expert around reproduction and childbearing and the

regaining of sense of a pre-baby self, that difficult and challenging

acc ounts of trans ition eventual ly can be voiced (see chapter 6). Over

time, women come to know their babies and feel able to differentiate

between competing expert and lay knowledge claims. Eventually, they

become the experts in relation to their own children, and they know that

they are doing ‘good enough’ mothering.