Making mothers, making fathers: the transition to parenthood in Edinburgh
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date30/11/2021
McInnes-Dean, Hannah Julia
This thesis investigates women and men’s experiences of the transition to parenthood in Edinburgh, UK, in the context of changing laws on parental leave and notions of ‘new fatherhood.’ In the UK, policies and care in the perinatal period have generally focused on expectant and new mothers, with fathers and partners relatively overlooked. At the same time, a widespread popular narrative – also found in the academic literature – asserts that new fathers are more involved in pregnancy and parenthood than in previous generations. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with expectant and new parents in Edinburgh, and a comparative interview group comprised of their parents, this thesis describes participants’ experiences of and narratives about the perinatal period, from experiences of early pregnancy, antenatal care and education, birth, parental leave, and adjusting to life as new parents. Expanding on kinship and gender theory, I investigate how women and men (in heterosexual couples) are made into different kinds of people through the transition to parenthood. Despite widespread expectations that fathers will share in infant care, various forms of policy, practice and broader social relations encourage women into the position of primary caregiver, with men taking a supporting role. Women’s bodies are foregrounded in antenatal care and social relations during pregnancy, naturalising women’s connection to the unborn baby; participants’ narratives of birth and the postnatal period emphasise women’s embodied experiences; by law, women have greater rights and decision-making power in relation to parental leave; and new parents draw on ideas of nature and economic metaphors in explaining their decisions around parental leave, justifying women’s ‘time off’ as both ‘natural’ and ‘earned.’ Having expected to share in parenting, most participants described surprise at the amount of parenting labour borne by women; however, new mothers frequently stressed how lucky they were in having a partner who was more involved than men of previous generations. Together, the chapters argue that women and men participate in the making of specific forms of kinship in which mothers are primary parents and men supporting parents. Through a seemingly progressive narrative of ‘new fatherhood,’ new parents actually continue to naturalise strongly gendered divisions of parental labour.