Narratives

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The communicating of meanings that we give to our actions, and the ways

in which these are made sense of, through some level of reflexive engagement

– intrinsic or more intensive – are the constituents of the narratives

that we produce about ourselves and present to others. We are, then, both

the actor and the author (MacIntyre, 1981). Attention was drawn to the

links between narrative construction and social identity in chapter 1. The

narratives produced by the women in this book show the ways in which

we can use accounts strategically to present versions of our selves, for

example, as coping mothers and competent workers, and how these

accounts are, over time, revised and re-edited. This again may be a

heightened practice when going through and making sense of a period

of personal transition, especially one which is lived out in a moral context

and involves embodied changes that shape the ways in which we feel able

to present particular versions of our selves. Holstein and Gubrium have

noted that ‘there’s a persistent interplay between what is available for

conveying a story and how a particular narrative unfolds in practice; it’s

from this interplay that both self coherence and diversity develop’

(2000:107). Yet in relation to mothering this ‘interplay’ is circumscribed

in particularly perplexing ways. These draw upon essentialist ideas of

women’s natural capacities to mother and a limited repertoire of possible

ways of talking about experiences, which do not fit essentialist story lines.

In the early postnatal interviews, for example (chapter 4), the women

produced accounts of coping and meeting their children’s needs.

However, many of them revised these versions of their early mothering

experiences in the final interviews, or the end-of-study questionnaire,

saying that they had not actually felt that they were coping or feeling

maternal in the ways they had expected and voiced at the time. Life events

can offer new narrative opportunities, and ‘the resources available for

constructing identity’ become enhanced as a result. However, these

remain circumscribed in particular ways in relation to mothering practices

and obdurate constructions ofmotherhood (Holstein and Gubrium,

2000:116). So, we make sense of experiences and produce and present

accounts of our selves through narrative construction. Yet narratives can

be reworked and selves be experienced as tenuous, and this is especially so

in relation to periods of personal transition such as becoming a mother.

Making sense, and producing individualised biographies of our selves as

new mothers, can be a particularly confusing path to tread, as we juggle

how we think we should feel – and are probably expected to feel – and how

we actually feel.