1 The storied human life: a narrative approach

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I’m doing all the practical things of a mother. But it hasn’t actually sunk

in, it’s like I’m living this part in a play and in fact I’m going through all of

the motions, but is it actually reality and is this what motherhood is all

about? (Abigail, interviewed eight weeks after the birth of her first child)

This book explores women’s journeys into motherhood in late modernity.

It brings together research carried out in the UK and fieldwork observations

from Bangladesh and the Solomon Islands in order to illuminate

women’s experiences of becoming mothers and motherhood. In many

Western societies patterns of reproduction discernible in previous generations,

and practices associated with childbearing, have changed.

Increasingly, if women choose to become mothers at all, they come to

motherhood either much earlier in their lives as teenage mothers, or later

once careers have been established, in partnerships or alone. These

changes in timing and frequency of childbearing have been mirrored by

changes in the meanings ascribed to, and women’s experiences of,

motherhood. Becoming a mother changes lives in all sorts of ways. It

has major significance for individual biographies, yet expectations and

experiences will be shaped by the social and cultural contexts in which

women live their lives. Indeed there is some irony that women becoming

mothers can experience their transition as confusingly uncertain and risky

at a time when biomedical, expert knowledge has apparently provided

greater scientific certainty than at any time before. By focusing on

women’s experiences of transition to motherhood in contemporary

society we can see the ways in which the biological is overlaid by the

social and cultural in the Western world: and how motherhood is differently

patterned and shaped in different contexts. In addition, by taking a

narrative approach, the ways in which women make sense of and narrate

their experiences of transition to motherhood in late modern society can

also be explored. The particular social, cultural and, importantly, moral

contexts which underpin contemporary motherhood simultaneously

shape what can and cannot be voiced in relation to experiences of being

a mother and associated responsibilities. This chapter will provide the

theoretical, conceptual andmethodological framework for the book. This

will involve engaging with contemporary debates on how human life is

storied and selves constituted and maintained. In relation to mothering

and motherhood this requires us to tread a tricky path that on the one

hand engages with ‘fleshy, sensate bodies’ and at the same time avoids the

ever-present risk of falling ‘back into essentialism’ (Jackson and Scott,

2001 :9).