The Moral Landscape of Modern Motherhood: Ideology, Identity, and the Making of Mothers




Moore, Sara B.

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This qualitative interview -based study explores how women experience the transition to motherhood with an eye toward how self-identity is constructed within a broader, socially mediated moral landscape in which ideas about good motherhood are embedded. Drawing on 39 in-depth interviews with new and expecting mothers, I describe women’s expectations for pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood and how those expectations take shape; how the support new mothers receive, or do not receive, from others affects their experiences with motherhood; and how mothers’ self-identities change and take shape over time. Throughout, I examine how ideologies around parenting shape new mothers’ expectations and experiences with motherhood, how factors like education and income in fluence how women think about motherhood, and the role of cultural and scientific authority in late modernity. Finally, I make some tentative recommendations about how a more nuanced cultural analysis of motherhood might inform the work of health researchers, public health experts, doctors, midwives, and other health practitioners. I suggest that a deeper understanding of how women experience the transition to motherhood, one that acknowledges diffused authority around pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting, will help researchers and practitioners better understand new mothers’ expectations, needs, and experiences and ensure their and their families’ well-being.