The day you were born: Maternal birth narratives over time

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Barbara H. Fiese


Coherence, Parenting, Maternal birth narratives

Subject Categories



Narrative coherence, the ability to recount a self-relevant story in a clear and consistent manner, is viewed as an indicator of an individual's capacity to make sense of and integrate affectively laden memories, thereby forming a cohesive sense of self, and forming a working model of self in relation to others (Bruner, 1987; Main & Goldwyn, 1984; McAdams, 1987). In this study, markers of narrative coherence were examined in a sample of mothers and their four- and five-year-old children (40 dyads), who participated in a similar study five years previously. In this follow-up study of maternal birth narratives, and socio-emotional developmental risk, half of the sample was comprised of children who were premature and of low birth-weight as infants, while the second half of the sample were children who were born at full-term. Each mother was asked to relate the story about the day her child was born (Oppenheim, Wamboldt, Gavin, Renouf, & Emde, 1996), and these stories were rated by coders utilizing the Narrative Coherence Scales (Fiese, Sameroff, Grotevant, Wamboldt, Dickstein, & Fravel, 1997). The scales outline narrative coherence as a multidimensional construct, which can be rated utilizing several characteristics, such as Organization, Internal Consistency, Congruence between Affect and Content, and Interviewer Intimacy. The purpose of the present study was to examine the continuity or discontinuity of maternal birth narratives collected at two points in time during a five-year period, to examine variables (maternal depression, parenting stress, and life events) that could potentially mediate the relation between narrative coherence at two points in time, and to uncover potential risk factors pertinent to child socio-emotional development. The results of the study suggest that the development of narrative coherence over time may be a continuous process, with an increase in coherence over time. Maternal depression, parenting stress, and life events were not found to mediate the relation between narrative coherence at two points in time. In regard to child behavior measures, teacher report of behavior problems were predicted from narrative coherence and maternal I.Q. scores. However, maternal report of behavioral difficulties could not be predicted from the same variables. Risk analyses revealed that the preterm children within the sample demonstrated a significantly higher incidence of behavior problems in school than did full-term children. In addition, those children whose mothers told stories rated to have poorer narrative coherence (disorganized stories with poorly moderated affect) demonstrated more behavior problems in school by teacher report. These results highlight the utility of further study of narratives as markers of personal change, self-understanding, and developmental risk. Narratives may also provide a conceptual framework for clinical intervention with parents and children at risk for behavioral and relationship difficulties.