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In Chapter 1, we provide an overview of the project, starting by exploring how we came to conduct a study on heterosexual first-time parents. We situate the study within our own histories of research on family diversity and highlight why a focus on heterosexual couples contributes to our understanding of norms about reproduction and kinship. We also include a brief overview of the Australian context when it comes to the composition of families. We then outline some of the major studies that have been undertaken previously on heterosexual first-time parents, before then outlining the conceptual frameworks that we utilise within the book. These include the concepts of social flesh, the ways in which feelings get institutions under the skin, and the use of juxtaposition as a way to highlight social norms within a critical kinship studies framework.
In Chapter 9, we turn to consider the interviews we conducted with some of the parents of the couples. Some of these parents were already grandparents many times over, and some were looking forward to becoming grandparents for the first time. In focusing on these interviews, we explore three different aspects. The first relates to whether or not the arrival of a grandchild might change the relationship with an adult child. The second explores the role that grandparents or intending grandparents expected to play in the lives of their adult children and grandchildren. And third, we look at whether or not the arrival of a grandchild changed how the participants viewed themselves. What we see is a marked difference between new parenthood and new grandparenthood. The former is marked by normative assumptions and social restrictions, while the latter appears to accord greater agency in terms of making decisions about what it means to be a grandparent.
In Chapter 6, we explore how the participants came to understand themselves as parents, and what this meant for the development of a parental identity. Specifically, we explore the difference between becoming a parent to a child and feeling like a parent, suggesting that the first does not automatically lead to the second. To explore this topic, we differentiate between people’s views during the pregnancy and their views after the birth of their first child. In terms of unborn children, some people viewed an unborn child as an abstract concept and hard to conceptualise as a child. Other people already saw their unborn child as part of their family. After the birth of their child, some people struggled to develop a sense of a parental identity, while other people had a very clear sense of themselves as parents.
In Chapter 7, we turn to consider the views of the participants in terms of whether or not they would have more children. Framing the chapter is research from the field of demography, which suggests that rather than parents making predetermined decisions about an ideal family size, actual family size is typically decided ad hoc, based on experiences with a first child. This was certainly the case for the participants. One couple had previously thought they would have just one child, and remained committed to one. Some had thought they would have more than one and after the birth of a child felt that one was enough, and conversely some thought they would only have one and after the birth of a child felt that they might have more. Some of the couples had yet to decide, and one had already had a second child and another was pregnant with their second child. These diverse decisions highlight how experiences of new parenthood differentially shape decisions about ideal family size.
In Chapter 3, we focus on the women we interviewed, specifically paying attention to their expectations about first-time motherhood as compared to the reality of motherhood after the birth of their child. To do this, we explore three areas that for many of the women provided a stark contrast between expectation and reality. The first pertained to conceiving a child, with this being more difficult for some women. The second pertained to navigating breastfeeding, with some women experiencing significant challenges. Third, we focus on experiences of postnatal mental health issues, and how this related to idealised expectations about new motherhood. As a whole, these three areas speak to normative moral claims that are often associated with new motherhood, and how the women we interviewed grappled with these.
Building on Chapter 3, in Chapter 5, we explore the emotion work that women undertook in becoming parents. Using the work of Hochschild (1979,1983/2003), we focus on how new parenthood creates feeling rules that women are expected to adhere to, and are also compelled to encourage men to engage with. To examine feeling rules associated with new parenthood for women, we first return to the topic of breastfeeding and explore how women are expected to persist with breastfeeding and expressing milk, and what it means when it comes as a significant challenge physically and emotionally. We then turn to consider the emotion work that women engage in to encourage their male partners to contribute to caring for a newborn child. Finally, we look at the moral work associated with caring for a new child, and how for some women the expectation that this would be a joyous time was in stark contrast with the monotony of new parenthood.
Chapter 2 outlines our approach to the study in detail. It provides an overview of the study participants, how we sought participants, and some of the challenges we faced in finding participants. The chapter also explores what it means to undertake qualitative longitudinal research with a relational focus. We explore time and emotional burdens on participants, the emotion work of interviewing people trying to conceive a first child, the gendered dimensions of the project, and our rationale for interviewing women and men separately. The chapter also explores how we analysed our data, focusing on sharing the detailed narratives of the participants across time and between and within couples and their parents.
In Chapter 4, we consider both women’s and men’s accounts of the birth of their first child. In our focus on birthing experiences, we consider both women’s and men’s experiences separately and explore similarities within couples. For women, we reflect on orientations to ideas of ‘natural’ birth, and for men we focus on accounts of emotional responses to the birth of a child, and their experiences of cutting the umbilical cord (or not). For both women and men, we focus on issues with receiving support while in hospital, experiences of traumatic birth, and men’s involvement in the birth of their child. Overall, this chapter highlights similarities between women and men within some of the couples, as well as marked differences for some couples. The chapter explores how in some instances birthing is naturalised, while in other instances it is seen as highly mediated.
In Chapter 8, we consider how the arrival of a first child impacted on or shaped the couple relationship. Specifically, we contrast the assumption that having a child will bring a couple closer together with the reality of the many challenges that a new child can bring with them. To do this, we look closely at three of the couples we interviewed, as broadly indicative of the range of the experiences of the couples. For some, the couple experienced a strong supportive relationship across the transition to new parenthood. For others, the arrival of a baby exacerbated existing challenges, and for some new challenges arose. Often these challenges were specifically gendered, related to women’s expectations about men’s involvement, and men’s shifting views about how they would be involved. While these challenges often resolved themselves with time and after increased communication in the couple, they presented the couple relationship with an often unexpected weight that had to be grappled with.
In Chapter 10, we begin by summarising the key areas of focus and concepts addressed within this book, exploring our analytic focus on juxtapositions between expectations and reality, and our conceptual focus on social flesh and feelings as a way that institutions are internalised. We then turn to consider how the participants experienced the process of being involved in the qualitative longitudinal study. Specifically, we look at whether or not participants shared their experiences of being interviewed with their partner, and what that meant for the couple relationship. We also look at what the participants felt they had gained from being involved in the study, which emphasised participation as a way to remember things that might be forgotten, and a way to reflect on the reality of new parenthood. The chapter concludes by considering what the study can tell us about future research on family diversity.
All too often heterosexual first-time parents are treated as the unmarked norm within research on reproduction. First-Time Parenting Journeys maps out what it means to be situated within the norm, while providing a critical account of how social norms about parenthood shape, regulate, and potentially delimit experiences of new parenthood for heterosexual couples. Based on qualitative longitudinal research, this book tells the story of journeys to parenthood, highlighting the impact of gender norms, moral claims, emotion work, and generativity. While drawing on Australian data, the critical conceptual framework has broader applicability across Western contexts in terms of understanding normative family structures and parenting practices. By focusing on expectations about, and the reality of, new parenthood, it explicates the ways in which institutionalised norms about parenthood are internalised and explores what this can tell us about the broader contours of parenthood discourses.
In this chapter, we problematise the simplistic assumption that change in regard to gender is made more tenable or positive for humans as a result of the continuity that animal companionship offers. Instead, we argue that animals are not passive recipients of human change. Rather, we suggest that animals are closely attuned to human change. In the context of gender transition, continuity is rendered far more complex than might be suggested by cisgenderist narratives circulating about transgender and non-binary people. Liberal accounts of gender transition suggest that ‘the person doesn’t change’. Yet animal responses to gender transition suggest that the person does change, even if the nature of the human–animal relationship remains constant. By considering human accounts of how animals engage with change in their lives, this chapter suggests that animal companions are active agents in the context of human gender transition, speaking to their own awareness of, and contribution to, human–animal relationships.