6 A return to normal: becoming the expert

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But yes, I feel much more like a mother now than I did . . . I suppose I do

feel like a mother . . . You’re a person with a baby, you become a mother

and you feel like a mother. (Gillian, final postnatal interview)

For women who have survived, and coped with, the early months of

first-time motherhood, new opportunities for narrating experiences arise.

In this chapter we trace the ways inwhich a stronger sense of a recognisable

self is gradually regained. This is achieved as most of the women both

re-enter the world of work and come to position themselves as the experts

on their babies. The passage of time enables thewomen to (re)construct and

present challenging narratives of mothering. Over time, they reflect on

andmake sense of their experiences and now feel able to disclose unhappy

and difficult experiences, which had previously been withheld. In particular

this chapter draws attention to the shifts that occur around perceptions

of expert, authoritative knowledge as control in a life is felt to be

regained. Women become the experts, through practice, in recognising

and meeting their children’s needs. Similarly, professional constructions

of normal transition to motherhood and child development are also

challenged. Perceptions of risk are re-evaluated from this more accomplishe

d stage in the women’s mothe ring care ers (Ribbe ns, 1998). This is

in relation to their children, and how they manage their ownselves and are

judged by others as mothers. The ways in which a sense of a recognisable

self, reflexivity and voicing experiences are interwoven forms a backdrop

to the chapter. Once again the ways in which women collude in perpetuating

myths around motherhood, through practices of self-surveillance

and se lf-govern ance, will be ret urned to (Lawler , 2000 ). If early difficulties

cannot be voiced as they are lived, or are not voiced, then the myth of

motherhood being intrinsically biological and essential, and therefore

natural, continues unchallenged.

In the previous two chapters the women engaged with ideas that were

rooted in essentialism as they prepared to become mothers. They later

produced accounts of ‘doing the right thing’ as many struggled to come

to terms with early mothering experiences which were not felt to be

instinctive. It is only now, after the passage of time that the extent of

earlier (normal) difficulties can be disclosed. It becomes clear that distance

from an event facilitates narration, that ‘for a person to gain such a

reflexive grasp of her own life, distance is a prerequisite’ (Frank,

1995 :98). The featu res of late modern ity – unc ertainty and risk, trust in

expert bodies of knowledge and reflexivity – are played out differently in

these later accounts of transition to motherhood. Risks, of course, have

not gone away, but they are now differently perceived and interpreted by

the women after they have successfully met their young children’s needs

over the first nine months of life. Cultural constructions of risk will

continue to shape mothering and parenting experiences, but do not

translate into dependence on experts or expert bodies of knowledge in

the same intensive ways they had done during pregnancy and early

motherhood. Disclosure of unhappy early mothering experiences can

now be risked, although elements of self-governance will always shape

the ways in which women feel able to talk about the everyday experiences

of meeting children’s needs in a morally charged climate. As Romito has

noted, ‘mothers still do not dare to admit how burdensome the constraints

and difficult ies of their conditio n can be’ (1997:172) . The large ly

private endeavour that constitutes childrearing in the West can be seen to

perpetuate self-reliance. So, doing the practical things of mothering over

time, and largely alone, leads the women to become the experts on their

own children. Shifts in a sense of self are also discernible in relation to

women gaining confidence in their mothering abilities, and for some

returning to the world of work. Managing their own selves as mothers,

women and workers leads to a greater sense of control in a life with

glimpses, and sometimes more, of a pre-baby self and life. So, how are

selves differently experienced, maintained and narrated during this later

stage of the journey into first-time motherhood? How is reflexivity

engaged with and played out in these final accounts?