Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Heather Dillaway


In this dissertation, I sought to give postpartum women their own voices so that they could help define the postpartum experience on their own terms. It fills important gaps within the literature on new mothers’ experiences. A phenomenological approach was used, emphasizing the lived experiences of the women, with an overlay of autoethnography, where the personal experience of the researcher becomes important primarily in how it illuminates the phenomenon being studied. Thus, my personal experience of pregnancy into early motherhood is interwoven throughout this dissertation. Forty-two women participated in the in-depth, face-to-face interview, followed by a questionnaire. The qualitative data was analyzed, specific themes became prominent, and were coded for this study. Little of the quantitative data obtained by the questionnaire was used for this study. The following are forefront in this study of understanding how do women learn to navigate the “new world” of motherhood. First, throughout pregnancy, labor, postpartum, and early motherhood women experience control in a variety of ways, specifically a lack of control. Secondly, women are often afraid of doing something wrong, during pregnancy, labor, birth, and motherhood, such as differing from the norms put forward by friends, family, and the medical field, leading to feelings of guilt. When things do go right, they can feel pride, but were not likely to express this in my study. The third area of study in this dissertation, is that mothers are judged in both appearance and motherwork. In a sense, two ideals, “The Motherhood Mandate” and “Beauty Mandate,” are fighting against one another, that of being and ideal mom in terms of mothering and of being an ideal woman in terms of beauty is intertwined. These three themes are discussed in relation to three sociological theories. Medicalization and Foucault’s “docile bodies” thesis both aid in explaining women’s thoughts and experiences, as well as constraints in the postpartum stage. The social constructionist approach of “doing gender,” is applicable as well, as a general framework under which women think and act.