Grieving for my former self: a phenomenological hermeneutical study of women’s lived experience of postnatal depression

Denise lawler, Marlene Sinclair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abstract Aim. The aim of this study was to provide a deeper insight into the life world of women who have lived through postnatal depression (PND). Objectives. Gain insight into women’s lived experiences’ of PND and describe the meaning of the illness from the perspective of the people who have had experience of the illness. Method. A phenomenological, hermeneutical approach was used to describe women’s experiences of PND. A purposeful sample of seven women agreed to participate in the study. In-depth unstructured interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim with consent from the participants. Transcriptions were processed using the hermeneutic circle: dialogue, fusions of horizons and metaphors to understand the meaning of the experience adapted from Dicklemann et al, (1989) and the participants confirmed the transcript interpretations. Findings/results. The findings were presented under the four existential lifeworlds – lived space, lived body, lived relations and lived time (Van Manen, 1990). All of the women experienced a loss of their former self after they went through a process of being a known person in a known world to an unknown person in an unknown world (Rubin, 1984). The women vividly described their brokenness and sorrow as they struggled to come to terms with their new image and their new role as a mother. It was after they had experienced a cycle of grief that they were able to accept their new self and new role as a mother. These women came to accept their experiences as normal. They felt they had to experience death of their former self before giving birth to their new persona. Implications. This perception of normal experience challenges midwives and mental health workers to redefine the meaning of normal and to review the consequences of labelling women as suffering from PND. The study calls for a review of current antenatal preparation for parenthood and challenges midwives to review commonly accepted beliefs that almost every woman naturally adjusts to the role of motherhood when their baby is born. New approaches are required in order to prepare women for the possible event of experiencing this sometimes ‘natural’ metamorphic state after giving birth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36
JournalEvidence Based Midwifery
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • Hermeneutical phenomenology
  • grief
  • rebirth
  • postnatal depression
  • midwifery
  • women


Dive into the research topics of 'Grieving for my former self: a phenomenological hermeneutical study of women’s lived experience of postnatal depression'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this