Transgressing the skin : a phenomenological study into the transition to motherhood
The aim of this study was to illuminate the experience of early mothering for a small group of first-time mothers from the Southof England in 2001. Central to this were the detailed descriptions, as recounted by the women, of the way in which they gradually adapted to being mothers. In this phenomenological inquiry seven women shared their stories with me. The interview took place at a time and place of the women's choosing and they were asked to describe,in as much detail as possible, the way in which they had experienced "becoming a munf'. Each womantook a unique and circuitous journey to mothering and their narratives were rich and evocative, revealing the complexity of the transformative process. The datawere analysed using a descriptive phenomenological approach, which revealed seven constituents contained within a general structure. Although the women interviewed provided notably contrasting descriptions,underlying and uniting their individual experiences was the general structure. This can be summarised as, "Becoming a mother for the first time introduced some fundamental changes into the woman's manner of being in the world. Essentially,this concerned the development of a new becoming-a-mother-change-of-body subjectivity in which the woman was required to re-order her way of being in all its existential dimensions. The new mother sought to integrate and authenticate this challenging life event within her biography-she manifested both an openness to the beloved child and a resistance to the truncation of her existential possibilities." This is not to say that the women all experienced the phenomenon in the sameway, instead there were particular essential constituents through which each woman negotiated her transforming journey into motherhood. Some women assimilated these changes to their embodied self with ease, others struggled and resisted, feeling assailed and overwhelmed. The seven constituents are: " Welcoming the intimate stranger " Anxious loving " The baby fills her vision " Acceptance:from crisis to comprehension " Exhaustion,recovery and the physical body " Relationships:re-evaluation and conflict " Isolation, ambivalenceandtears The data also challenged mainstream understanding of postnatal depression as a discreet, diagnosable illness. Becominga mother is a transition that compels women to make radical re-adjustments to every aspect of their manner of 'being-in-the-world'. It would be extraordinary if this did not cause significant levels of distress,dis-equilibrium and a sense of chaotic disorganisation.I propose that distress in early mothering is understood as a normal reaction to a significant life-changing event. Implications for clinical practice and further research are also discussed.