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Parents’ experiences of conceptualising and relating to their unborn child : a constructivist grounded theory

Borg Cunen, Nicole


Nicole Borg Cunen


Julie Jomeen

Rita Borg Xuereb


Antenatal thoughts and feelings about the fetus are thought to be somewhat predictive of the later parent-child relationship. The parental-fetal tie is, however, poorly understood. The field is plagued by disagreement in existing conceptualisations, conflicting results in efforts to identify predictors, correlates and consequences of the tie, and a dearth of research looking into the phenomenon from a paternal perspective. In response to these issues, the purpose of the current study was to construct a substantive theory of expectant parents’ fetal conceptual and relational experiences.
Following the receipt of ethical approval, constructivist grounded theory was used to explore data generated through semi-structured individual interviews conducted with a purposive and theoretical sample of nine first-time expectant mothers and their male partners, in early, middle and late pregnancy. Data analysis, involving techniques of coding, constant comparison and memo-writing, resulted in the development of a theoretical model.
The parental-fetal tie is characterised as an evolving phenomenon which takes a convoluted and individualised path to reach maturation. Coming to think of the fetus as a known other and as part of the intimate family unit are vital in achieving a sense of relatedness. An increasingly tangible fetus facilitates such an outlook. Nevertheless, the development of the tie is limited by restricted access to the unborn child, as well as by difficulties in perceiving fetal reciprocity.
The results suggest that expectant mothers and fathers conceptualise and connect to the unborn child in comparable ways, despite physical disparities in the pregnancy experience. Given the nature of the tie, it is thought that assessing it through self-report instruments may not be feasible. Providing inclusive care to the parental dyad will encourage engagement with the fetus. Further longitudinal research spanning the transition to parenthood is needed to understand the postpartum sequelae of the processes observed antenatally.


Borg Cunen, N. (2020). Parents’ experiences of conceptualising and relating to their unborn child : a constructivist grounded theory. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Apr 8, 2021
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Midwifery and child health
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Midwifery & Child Health, The University of Hull
Award Date Aug 1, 2020


Thesis (13.6 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2020 Borg Cunen, Nicole. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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