Conclusion

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Contemporary constructions of motherhood, discernible in the women’s

anticipatory narratives, are clearly shaped with reference to dominant

ideas about doing the right thing. Such notions are morally, socially and

culturally underpinned. They are played out in terms of being seen to act

responsibly, and to narrate experiences and expectations in culturally

recognisable and acceptable ways. Acting responsibly and thereby diminishing

risk involves engagement with those in whom cultural authority is

vested: the experts, and expert bodies of knowledge. It also involves

elements of self-surveillance, which extend to the ways in which anticipating

being a mother is narrated, and what can, and cannot, be voiced.

Clearly, reflexivity becomes particularly salient in relation to events which

are perceived to be risky, for example first-time pregnancy and childbirth.

As Lupton had observed, reflexivity ‘involves the weighing up and critical

assessment of institutions and claim makers, including those who speak

with expert voices abou t risk’ (19 99:15). In this chapt er we have se en the

ways in which women carefully and tentatively weigh up various and

sometimes competing claims and construct anticipatory narratives

around their experiences of transition to motherhood.

Clearly, the location of childbearing and motherhood at the interface of

the social, cultural, moral and the biological, has critical implications for

the ways in which women anticipate and narrate their experiences of

transition. Narratives are both coherent and contradictory, constructed

in relation to largely medical, authoritative knowledge and at the same

time appealing to instinct and essentialist ideas about birth and women’s

‘natural’ capacity to give birth and to mother. Women, then, tentatively

make their journeys into motherhood through a gamut of public expectations

and assumptions and private experiences, and these may not always

coincide. The resulting narratives reflect both the wish to be seen to be

preparing appropriately to become a mother and the uncertainty that a

period of personal transition can bring. And, rather than there being a

diminished reliance or seeking out of expert knowledge or a breaking

down of ‘expertise’, this period of transition is characterised by active

engagement with experts, actions which are equated with acting responsibly

and avoiding unnecessary risks. In the context of childbearing this is

achieved through the regular, expert monitoring of a pregnancy.

Responsibility also involves some level of self-governance. Over twenty

years ago Reissman argued that women have not simply been passive

victims of medical technology (but) rather they have actively collaborated

‘in the medicalisation process because of their own needs and

motive s’ and this cont inues (1 983:3). Me dicalisa tion might very well

have contributed to heightened perceptions of risk in relation to childbearing.

But whatever the order of events, women continue to seek out

and acc ept med ical expert ise and techn ology (Lupton , 1994 ). Sim ilarly,

with the hospital regarded as the appropriate and ‘natural’ place to give

birth, the ‘cultural dependence on professional health care’ appears complete

(Oakley , 1979 ; Davis- Floyd, 1992 ).

Uncertainty and perceptions of risk help shape women’s expectations

and experiences around childbearing, and translate into practices involving

engagement with experts and expert bodies of knowledge. The ways

in which preparation for motherhood is engaged with have implications

for perceptions of women as future mothers. Similarly, becoming a

mother can lead to greater reflexivity, over and above that which is

intrinsic, as changes in a life are anticipated and heightened by embodied

change and interactions with others. The narratives explored in this

chapter begin to reveal the tenuous and shifting dimensions of self and

offer insights into the ways in which selves are experienced, maintained

and narrated. But this is just the beginning of the journey into motherhood.

(Compare for example these antenatal accounts with those in

chapt er 6, the late postn atal accounts .) In these antena tal narr atives the

personal is only very occasionally voiced; telling your story during this

period is all about presenting an acceptable and culturally recognisable

narrative of preparing appropriately and responsibly for motherhood.

Yet, as we shall see in the next chapter, birth changes everything.