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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

Our work was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship awarded to the first author under Grant no. DGE1339067. We wish to thank the women who participated in the UCSC Transition to Motherhood Study and the study’s research assistants: Jose Mariscal, Lisa Nunez, Wendi Pacheco-Lopez, Karen Piñon, Kylie Sloan, and Catherine Spurrell. Special thanks to research assistants Diana Rivas and Itzel Soto-Liu for conceptual discussions on this topic. We are also grateful to Avril Thorne, Virginia Thomas, amd Anjali Dutt for their thoughtful comments on prior drafts.

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Correspondence to Madeleine R. Kerrick.

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This work was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship awarded to the first author under Grant no. DGE1339067. The authors declare no other funding or conflicts of interest. Written informed consent was obtained from all participants prior to their participation in the study.

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Appendix

Appendix

Transcription Conventions

=:

a latched statement

[:

overlapping speech or paralinguistics

((text)) :

paralinguistic data, such as laughter

(#):

a pause with the number designating the length of the pause in seconds

(.):

a micropause lasting less than .2 s

::::

prolongation of sound

-:

an abrupt halt or interruption in utterance

(hhh):

audible exhalation

(.hhh):

audible inhalation

text :

emphasis

TEXT:

increased volume or loud speech

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Kerrick, M.R., Henry, R.L. “Totally in Love”: Evidence of a Master Narrative for How New Mothers Should Feel About Their Babies. Sex Roles 76, 1–16 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0666-2

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Keywords

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