The sentimentalization of children during the late 19th and early 20th centuries not only had a profound effect on how children are viewed and valued in the United States, but also was related to changes in the social status and cultural expectations of mothers, in particular the economic roles that middle-class American women played. In recent years, scholars have noted the sentimentalization of children even before they are born. This study will examine the relationship between this phenomenon and the social status and cultural expectations of mothers, who continue to work during and after pregnancy in greater numbers today. In particular, it will develop the central argument that metaphors of work shape middle-class American womens expectations and experiences of childbearing and child rearing today. It also will develop the argument that middle-class American women conceptualize and use pregnancy practices as parental care, producing not only valued children, but also valuable mothers.
To this end, my dissertation research is an ethnographic study of pregnant, middle-class American women who are first-time mothers. It will describe and analyze their beliefs, expectations, and experiences of childbearing and child rearing. It will involve approximately 16 months of ethnographic research in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Commencing in September 2002, this study will be conducted in three phases:
The first phase will involve exploratory observations at prenatal care appointments, exercise classes, childbirth preparation workshops, and other relevant settings.
The second phase will involve repeated, in-depth interviews with first-time mothers to their collect and analyze narratives regarding childhood, motherhood, kinship, and work.
The third phase will involve systematic, structured interviews to compare beliefs, expectations, and experiences among middle-class American, first-time mothers.
This study, which addresses an emerging phenomenon, will contribute to discussions in anthropology, history, sociology, and psychology regarding work, reproduction, kinship, gender, and personhood in the United States.