Sex Roles

, Volume 76, Issue 1–2, pp 1–16 | Cite as

“Totally in Love”: Evidence of a Master Narrative for How New Mothers Should Feel About Their Babies

Original Article


Master narratives, or prevailing cultural storylines, of motherhood provide a framework for new mothers to make sense of their experiences and to develop a coherent maternal identity. The present mixed methods study developed a theory-driven methodology to systematically identify a master narrative and examined whether one is present in 32 U.S. first-time mothers’ accounts of developing feelings for, and connection to, their newborns. In coding these mothers’ 95 episodes, we found that just over half of the mothers exclusively described positive feelings/connection toward their babies that were present in pregnancy or at birth (“At First Sight”; AFS), whereas 31 % exclusively described feelings/connection that took time to develop, or were negative, questioned, and/or tentative (“It Took Time”; ITT). To identify the presence of a master narrative, we compared these groups’ accounts on several theoretical indicators; the episodes of mothers who exclusively described ITT experiences were longer, more often contained talk of expectations, and were more likely to have a mismatch between expectation and experience than those of mothers who exclusively described AFS experiences. This suggests that ITT experience accounts countered a master narrative that mothers should have overwhelming, positive, and immediate feelings for/connection to their babies (AFS). Using discursive analysis, we then examined how the master narrative was actually invoked in the accounts of two mothers, one who positioned her experiences as aligned with, and one who positioned her experiences as counter to, the master narrative. Implications for supporting mothers in making meaning of their experiences, whether by aligning with the master narrative or co-constructing an empowering counter-narrative, are discussed.


Mother child relations Master narratives Discursive psychological approach Love Maternal development Motherhood 

Supplementary material

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ESM 1(DOCX 54 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sexuality StudiesSan Francisco State UniversitySan FranciscoUSA

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