'They've forgotten that I'm the mum': Constructing and practising motherhood in special care nurseries

Pergamon-Elseveir Science Ltd.
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Social Science and medicine, 2001, 53 (8), pp. 1011 - 1021
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
Files in This Item:
Filename Description Size
Thumbnail2004004460.pdf1.12 MB
Adobe PDF
Little sociological research has sought to investigate the ways in which women with hospitalized newborn infants construct and practice motherhood. This article seeks to address this lacuna, using data from a qualitative research project based in two Australian neonatal nurseries. Thirty-one mothers of hospitalized newborns and 20 neonatal nurses were interviewed, and other data were obtained via observations of the nurseries, tape-recorded verbal interactions between parents and nursery staff and casual conversations with mothers and nurses. The data revealed that while the mothers and nurses discourses on what makes a `good mother in the context of the neonatal nursery converged to some extent, there were important differences. The mothers particularly emphasized the importance of physical contact with their infants and breastfeeding, while the nurses privileged presence in the nursery and willingness to learn about the infant's condition and treatment. There was evidence of power struggles between the mothers and nurses over the handling and treatment of the infants, which had implications for how the mothers constructed and practised motherhood. The mothers attempted to construct themselves as `real mothers, which involved establishing connection with their infants and normalizing them. In time, many of the mothers sought to position themselves as the `experts on their infants. For their part, the nurses attempted to position themselves as `teachers and monitors of the parents, `protectors of the infants and `experts by virtue of their medical training and experience. Differences in defining the situation resulted in frustration, resentment and anger on the part of the mothers and disciplinary and surveillance actions on the part of many of the nurses, both covert and overt.
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: