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Over the past decade, the transition to parenthood has been the focus of several studies in social and clinical psychology (Belsky, 1985; Grace, 1993; Mercer, 1981). This transition represents a period of life change and stress for parents (Brown, 1986; Mercer et al., 1988b; Newman & Newman, 1988). The birth of a baby implies a certain disorganization that involves many individual and relationship adjustments. For example, the parents of a newborn are faced with the task of redefining their identities, their relationship with one another, and sometimes their relationship with their other children (Hackel & Ruble, 1992; Kreppner, 1988; Partridge, 1988). Contemporary researchers therefore agree that the outcome of this major transitional period is complex and multi-determined (Brown, 1986; Parke & Beitel, 1988).
The transition may be complicated by problems associated with a high-risk pregnancy. Such a pregnancy is diagnosed when there is a significant possibility of foetal anomaly, foetal death, or a serious health risk for the unborn child or for the expectant mother (Kemp & Hatmaker, 1989; Mercer, 1990; Paquet, 1991). A high-risk pregnancy encompasses a broad spectrum of conditions both for the mother and the foetus, such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, multiple gestations, risk of premature labour, heightened probabilities of chromosomal aberrations or of congenital malformation, and possible foetal growth retardation (William, 1986; Easterbrooks, 1988). Moreover, high-risk pregnancies have been reported to account for approximately half of all foetal and neonatal deaths (Kopp, 1983; Pernoll et al., 1986). During the past decades, there have been many innovations in prenatal management technologies (Easterbrooks, 1988; Gregg, 1993). These improvements have increased the possibility of giving birth to healthy babies. Nevertheless, research suggests that even when the high-risk pregnancy ends with the birth of a fun-term healthy infant, these prenatal high-risk conditions may interfere with the developmental processes of parenthood (Priel & Kantor, 1988). Few studies have investigated this issue, and the results have been mixed. For instance, some researchers report that high-risk pregnancies do affect the course and the outcome of the adaptation process in parenthood (Mercer & Ferketich, 1990a, b) while others have found no difference in the adaptation process of high- and low-risk parents (Mercer et al., 1988b). Accordingly, further research is needed to provide a clearer picture of the implications for couples living through a high-risk pregnancy. Since gender differences have often been noted during the parental adaptation process (Belsky et al., 1984; Mercer, 1990), the issue of gender similarities and differences during high-risk pregnancies will also be discussed.
Gender may also affect the perception of life changes since parental responsibilities continue to be globally assigned according to gender (Woonett, 1991). For example, most people still consider the mother as the principal caretaker of young children. Therefore, during this transition into parenthood, women may experience more and different life changes than do men.
Parental role attainment process
Parental identity and attachment
Parenting role attainment: developing a sense of competence
Predicting how a high-risk pregnancy may influence the development of a man's sense of competence as a parent is more difficult. Men's principal source of support during this period appears to be their spouses (Brown, 1986). Men also tend to rely on their partners to develop their parental competence (Gage & Christensen, 1991; Palm & Palkovitz, 1988). Under high-risk circumstances, however, women are less likely to be available since they are preoccupied with the health risks for themselves and their unborn children (Mercer et al., 1988a). It has been suggested that women may remain in this state of preoccupation for a brief period after their infants are born (Mercer, 1990). As a consequence, it is possible that fathers in the high-risk condition develop a lower sense of parental competence. Nevertheless, it is possible that high-risk fathers feel more competent than their low-risk counterparts because the former had to be more self-reliant during the development of their parenting skills.
Differences may also exist between genders regarding parental sense of competence. Johnston and Mash (1989) have reported that women often demonstrate more confidence in their parenting abilities than do men. For most women, being a parent remains a very important goal in life. A woman's biological role in the care of her unborn infant, coupled with the social perception of mothers being the principal caretakers of young children (Jordan, 1990; Woollett, 1991), makes it likely that a woman will experience a greater sense of competence and more satisfaction in her role as a parent than will a man.
Reflection Exercise #11
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 25
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