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Narratives produced during these early postnatal interviews are both

complex and contradictory. Whilst antenatally, women tentatively construct

and produce narratives of anticipation, the experience of giving

birth and being responsible for a child precipitates both an ontological

shift and a narrative turning point. The narratives produced in this early

postnatal period are grounded in experiences of giving birth and early

mothering. These experiences differ from or challenge previous expectations

and dominant cultural and social ideas which permeate motherhood.

The struggle, then, can be to reconcile individual experiences with

earlier expectations and assumptions, whilst managing a competent performance

as a coping mother, a performance which is highly gendered,

embodied and contingent on dominant representations of mothers’

responsibilities and meeting children’s needs, and essentialist notions of

women’s capacities to mother. The act of giving birth did not necessarily,

or often, lead the women to identify themselves as ‘natural’ mothers or

chi ldcare expert s. Rather, m ost expe rienced confusi on and stru ggled to

produce recognisable narratives of mothering when they had not yet had

time to deve lop a ‘motheri ng voice’ (Ribbe ns, 1998 ). A sense of who the y

now were and had been, and the connections between the two, had to be

made sense of: a shifting and tenuous self eventually becoming integrated

int o an alte red ‘schem a of self unders tanding’ (La wler, 2000 :57–8) .

Almost overnight they were expected to become experts on their children.

And whilst over the early weeks the women felt able to fulfil the practical

aspects of mothering, many did not recognise themselves as mothers.

Normal ‘difficulties’ associated with early mothering were compounded

by confusion, as professional support was reduced: the experts and the

new mothers worked with competing frames of reference around coping

and a return to normal. One was task-based and normative and the other

grounded in the everyday experiences of mothering and motherhood.

Narratives of early mothering, then, draw on, and are shaped by,

dominant moral discourses of maternal responsibilities and intensive

mothering, and representations of children’s needs, which must be met.

There is risk involved in not being seen to achieve these maternal

demands. So, if normal difficulties are voiced it is always in the context

of things now being better, ‘fabulous’ and under control. When narratives

contain experiences that challenge or resist these dominant constructions

of motherhood, more publicly recognisable ways of talking about being

a mother are also interwoven. Narrating experiences of early mothering

and motherhood involve reconciling unanticipated experiences

and potent ideologies. As reflexive social actors the women employ

techniques of resistance and self-governance, in order to conceal

unhappy or difficult experiences, which ironically only serve to perpetuate

the myths that surround transition to motherhood. As we shall see in

the following chapter, it is only when the women have moved through and

survived this early and intense period of mothering and motherhood that

they feel able to retrospectively and safely voice contradictory accounts of

their experiences.