Millions of women around the world have given birth to children with the help of IVF and related medical procedures. Many of them will have lived through difficult times, first as they struggled to conceive without help, and then as they rode the journey of hope and uncertainty brought by medical intervention.
Psychologists have begun to explore how these experiences influence women’s feelings about becoming a mother, and the way they relate to their children. In the latest contribution to the field, a team of researchers in Iran has conducted in-depth interviews with nine mothers who gave birth thanks to IVF and related procedures*. Noreen Mohammadi and her team call these women “super-mothers” because of their heightened concern and attachment to their children. The participating women were aged between 28 and 45, and their children between 9 months and 7 years.
The semi-structured interviews were conducted in the privacy of the women’s homes and each one began with the interviewer asking “Please tell me about living with your baby”, after which the discussion was directed towards issues related to mother-child relations and the mothering role. The interviews were transcribed and the researchers immersed themselves in the data looking for recurring themes.
The most dominant theme, the researchers labelled “super-mothering” – the way that the experience of motherhood was intensified as a consequence of having lived through the difficulties of conceiving. This then gave rise to several sub-themes, including the tendency for these mothers to be hyper-vigilant, incredibly protective and intensely emotional, as conveyed in these quotes from different mothers:
“Every second I think about him [my son], I’m totally obsessed with his future.”
“I frequently visit my doctor and ask him to checkup my baby even when she is not sick. I want to make sure everything goes OK with her.”
“She [my daughter] is my life and I cannot imagine being alive without her.”
“When he [her child] is playing with other kids in the yard and my husband is looking after him, I must keep watching him too.”
The mothers also described having exaggerated expectations of themselves and other people in relation to the care of their children. “I would like to be a perfect mother,” said one. “It could be selfish, but I expect my relatives and friends to like my child more than other children because he is special,” said another.
This study comes with the usual caveats associated with qualitative research – the interpretations are subjective and the sample was small, and it was restricted to a specific culture, in this case the Iranian-Islamic culture of Tehran. With so many psychology studies usually conducted on Western samples, this is a refreshing a departure, but still we must be careful not to overgeneralise. Mohammadi and her colleagues explain how in Iranian culture there is a huge pressure on married women to have children and this my have contributed to the themes that emerged in these interviews.
From a practical perspective, the researchers noted their findings may be useful to health professionals who care for IVF mothers and their children. “It is important that healthcare professionals learn as much as possible about the specific needs that emerge from the lived experiences of this group of mothers,” they said.
Mohammadi, N., Shamshiri, M., Mohammadpour, A., Vehviläinen-Julkunen, K., Abbasi, M., & Sadeghi, T. (2014). ‘Super-mothers’: the meaning of mothering after assisted reproductive technology Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 33 (1), 42-53 DOI: 10.1080/02646838.2014.970152
*the study used the umbrella term “assisted reproductive technology” including IVF, embryo transfer, egg donation and gestational surrogacy, but excluding artificial insemination.