Jennifer DeMella, PsyD, is a 2022 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, Seattle.

Dissertation Committee

Michael J.Toohey, PhD, Committee Chair

Michael Sakuma, PhD, Committee Member

Sandra P. Thomas, PhD, RN, FAAN, Committee Member


phenomenology, motherhood, social expectations, anger, guilt, grief, loss, COVID-19

Document Type


Publication Date



The literature on motherhood is dominated by topics on the roles of attachment, prenatal care, and childrearing. Research on the negative effects of motherhood is typically described in terms of postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum mood disorder (PPMD). However, anger is a prominent component in motherhood, which may not be seen through the criteria of PPD or PPMD. Additionally, angry mothers conflict with the mythos of the Good Mother. In this phenomenological study, the thematic structure of mothers’ experience within the first year of their newborns’ life are examined. Data from interviews with seven women who were four to ten months postpartum were analyzed for thematic similarities and variance. In this study, the four themes emerged from the mothers’ experiences within the context of expectation that was evident in both the mothers’ own perception as well as the perception of others’ expectations. The identified themes emerged from Merleau-Ponty’s existential grounds as follows: The first was the visceral nature of motherhood, both physically and mentally. Four subthemes emerged, including the Intensive Labor of Motherhood, Motherhood is Hard, Loss of Control, and the Language of Anger. The second theme noted the Changes Surrounding Motherhood, where ideas emerged about the temporal nature of how women become mothers, such as the suddenness of that transition and when mothers begin to “get their lives back.” Three subthemes emerged surrounding Identity, Transition into Motherhood, and Grief. An interesting secondary subtheme of Older Motherhood also arose around the theme of transition. The third theme emerged around the Connection to Others about the support systems and how those near and far supports undergird their experiences as mothers. A subtheme arose of Loneliness and Isolation with a secondary subtheme of Lack of Information, with a tertiary subtheme of Looking for Support, and Comparison. The final theme was about the Pressure and Expectation, which discussed the societal constructs that influence how they become mothers. Within this area, five subthemes emerged: Motherhood During Covid, Guilt, “Shoulds” and Supposed To, Judgment, and Societal Implications of Motherhood. The results from this study provide a unique contribution to how motherhood is conceptualized as well as how support is defined for mothers. The implications for this study are that there are a number of moments of distress often hidden in the “joy of motherhood.” In their experiences, the mothers indicated that they felt episodes of anger. They directed their anger at themselves, their situation, their loved ones, caregivers, and sometimes society at large. This study is the first study of becoming a mother during COVID-19. Additionally, this is the first study to include substantial feelings of grief and loss during motherhood that does not relate to the loss of a child. In their experiences, the mothers indicated that they experienced episodes of anger. This anger emerged at themselves, their situation, their loved ones, caregivers, and sometimes society at large. Moreover, the mothers noted anger emerging when faced with the perception that discussing their struggles would ultimately mean that they would lose that support that was so necessary. This led them to censor themselves when discussing their struggles, exacerbating feelings of isolation, grief, guilt, and anger. Mothers noted an increase in isolation as they confronted a lack of information and support. The noted an increase in anger as they sought to navigate comparison, and the resulting guilt that emerged. Finally, the mothers expressed feelings of judgment, pressure from the ever present “shoulds,” and the overarching societal implications that accompany motherhood. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA, and Ohio Link ETD Center,


Jennifer DeMella, PsyD, 2022

ORCID Scholar ID# 0000-0003-1837-3043