Motherhood transition through an existential lens: meaning-making among Danish first-time mothers

Publikation: Ph.d. afhandling/ kandidat/ diplomPh.d. afhandlingForskningpeer review


Motherhood transition is a significant life event. Research from various disciplines outlines pregnancy, birth and the initial period of motherhood as a period of life in which a woman might experience disruption and gain new perspectives in a bodily, psychological, social and existential way. This may be even more relevant for women giving birth preterm, since research suggests that mothers of premature babies undergo an experience of loss, crisis and unpredictability. This PhD project aimed to identify whether motherhood transition actualises considerations on how to make meaning of life existentially among Danish first-time mothers, and whether they differ among mothers of full-term children (FT) and mothers of preterm children (PT).

The thesis consists of three individual, still interrelated papers, first a scoping review among mothers having given birth at full term, identifying existing research about the significance of motherhood transition through the lens of existential psychology. For the second and third study, a nationwide questionnaire survey among Danish first-time FT and PT mothers was conducted. In the second study attitudes about making meaning of life existentially was explored, and in the third study prayer and/or meditation practices were explored.

Through the analyses of the included interview studies in the first study, we suggest that motherhood transition is considered a pivotal yet paradoxical life event both bodily, psychologically, s-cially and existentially. No Danish studies were found during the literature search. The questionnaire survey among Danish mothers was thus conducted in 2011 and had a response rate of 57%. There were no statistically significant differences between the responding FT and PT mothers in terms of age, cohabiting status, educational level or birth method.

Study 2 concerns attitudes related to secular meaning measured through five core items: Meaning and purpose in life, vulnerability of life, responsibility, thoughts about life and death and ‘something bigger than myself’. Contrary to our hypotheses we found Danish mothers’ attitudes related to existential meaning to be intensified during motherhood transition almost to the same degree among FT and PT mothers.
Study 3 concerns practices of prayer and meditation, and having had moments of prayer and/or meditation was reported by 65% of the respondents. We found no differences in affirmative responses between FT and PT mothers. Contrary to our hypotheses, prayer was practiced more than meditation.

The findings in the thesis indicate that motherhood transition is considered a life event of profound significance also among many Danish mothers, regardless of time of birth. Considerations and practices related to making meaning of life existentially are brought to the fore in this thesis, although it seems disregarded in the maternity services. Motherhood transition seems biomodified, diminishing perspectives related to an existential dimension to almost oddities. When moth-erhood and childbirth are modified into being primarily a biological or medical event, the status of being an existential life milestone is reduced as well. Thereby potential possibilities of for example growth and authenticity related to the commonplace miracle of childbirth and motherhood transition are not utilised.
StatusUdgivet - 19 mar. 2015


  • fødsel