Becoming the mother of a second child: an experience of the encounter and the (re)encounter of family identity

  • Joana Rodrigues
  • Maria Antónia Rebelo-Botelho


Becoming the mother of a second child as a transition in parenting requires a shift to new roles and responsibilities (Gage, Everett & Bullock, 2006; Mercer, 2006), impelling emotional, behavioral, and cognitive responses that can support the implementation of adaptive efforts and new patters of life (Mercer, 2004; Meleis, 2010; Martins, 2013; Tavares, 2014), with implications for the health and well-being of the family and for the healthy physical and emotional development of the child (Gage et al.,2006).

"Being a mother of one child is different from being a mother of two" (Vivian, 2010, p.28), as the particularity of each child is associated with a particular moment in the life of the woman, who needs to become a mother of a new being and to accommodate each child in his or her own life and in the family (Mercer, 2004; Salmela-Aro, Nurmi, Saisto & Halmesmäki, 2000). In addition, the birth of a second child also gives birth to the fratria and can trigger intragenerational conflicts, insofar as it makes relationships more complex (Vivian, 2010). Being the mother of a second child is thus a unique and qualitatively differentiated experience (Kojima, Wakita & Irisawa, 2005), which requires restructuring, which can lead to changes in the woman as a result of the various changes that occur and in which she is involved (Salmela-Aro, et al., 2000; Vivian, 2010).

According to O’Reilly (2004) mothers of two children tend to report more stress, than first time mothers or, than mothers with three or more children. These women report maternal feelings of ambivalence, sadness and guilt, somehow related to mourning, by a decrease in the intensity of their relationship with their first child. Moreover, as a process built in interaction, it persists in the present time as a feminine problematic, since it unleashes gender roles and contributes to the greater overload of women (Martins, 2013).

In this sense, becoming the mother of a second child leads to health needs, as women are pushed to incorporate new knowledge, to mobilize new skills and resources, to adapt to their new role and new identity in the search for an encounter with a new equilibrium in a family and social system that is increasingly complex and vulnerable (O’Reilly, 2004).

The transition to parenting for the first time has been investigated in a number of disciplines (Vivian, 2010; Holditch-Davis e Miles, 2012), namely nurses (Holditch-Davis e Miles, 2012). Parenting in at-risk children, parental responses to children with acute or chronic illness, parenting in children and adolescents, and problematic parenting have also been the focus of attention in several studies (Holditch-Davis & Miles, 2012).



The review of the literature shows that research into the phenomenon, becoming a mother for the second time, is scarce, focuses predominantly on gestation, postpartum or the weeks immediately after birth and does not allow in-depth understanding of this human experience, from the perspective of women, therefore pointing to the need to explore this area of ​​knowledge (O’Reilly, 2004; Rodrigues & Velez, 2018).

Understanding how this phenomenon is experienced by women, given the complexity inherent in being a single person, and as “being-in-the-world" (Heidegger, 2001, 2006; Watson, 2002, 2012) in a given time, will allow women to live this moment. This aid facilitates, on the one hand, the care of the child and the integration of this new being within the family, as well as the adjustment of the woman to this new condition, in order to overcome the anxiety and stress experienced at this moment of vulnerability (Mercer, 2006; Martins, 2013).

Given the problem, arises as a research question: What is the lived experience of women becoming the mother of a second child ?, and as objective, to contribute to understand, from the woman's point of view, the lived experience of becoming mother of a second child. It is important to access the singularity of the lived world (s), given the centrality of the person in the space of a relationship and a temporality, which leads to the exploration of the phenomenon essence, so that person-centered ways of caring can be found attending to both the person’s complexity and their uniqueness. The ethical requirements necessary for its accomplishment have been fulfilled.

The research adopted a qualitative methodology with a hermeneutic phenomenological approach. Data collection was carried out in two day care centers in the Leiria area. Experiential material was collected from phenomenological interviews with eleven women, with a second child, aged between 18 and 24 months. The activities developed in the data analysis process took into account the guidelines of van Manen (2003, 2014).

Becoming the mother of a second child presents itself as the experience of encounter and (re) encounter. The encounter between the woman and the second child, occurring at the time of birth, is an intimate moment of enchantment presented as "just me and him." This is an emotionally intense encounter, in which warmth, smell, gaze, crying and love are lived and felt deeply.

The encounter between the first and second child is, in turn, a meeting in tenderness and love, but in which also the occupation of space by another is felt and lived.

All these encounters lead to the (re) encounter of the family as a whole, because in the present there are four beings. In this way, this is also the experience of the (re) encounter of the family identity, in which the woman, at the same time, when she looks at the whole, through the family, wants to attend to the individuality of each child, in respect to its uniqueness, its oneness, its being.

Through this study, nurses can better understand the lived experience of these women and improve their intervention. The exploration of the phenomenon of becoming the mother of a second child, as a source of knowledge for the decision-making process inherent in an evidence-based nursing practice, contributes to the affirmation of the profession and discipline, as well as to the improvement of the quality of care to these people.