The way that expectant parents think and feel about the fetus during pregnancy is thought to be somewhat predictive of their later relationship with the child. However, efforts to identify determinants, correlates and consequences of the parental-fetal tie have had conflicting results. This is likely to be partially attributable to issues in existing conceptualisations of the phenomenon.
The purpose of the study was to construct substantive theory of expectant parents’ fetal conceptual and relational experiences.
Constructivist grounded theory was used to explore data generated through individual, semi-structured interviews conducted with nine first-time expectant mothers and their male partners residing in Malta, in early, middle and late pregnancy. Analysis included techniques of coding, constant comparison and memo-writing.
Expectant mothers and fathers conceptualise and connect to the fetus through comparable processes, despite physical disparities in the pregnancy experience. Coming to think of the fetus as a known other and part of the intimate family is vital in achieving a sense of relatedness. An increasingly tangible fetus facilitates such an outlook. However, the extent of accessibility to fetal palpability and reciprocity consistently fail to satisfy parental yearnings.
Given the convoluted and individualised nature of the parental-fetal tie, accurate measurement of this through the use of self-report instruments is likely to remain challenging. Instead, midwives can talk to expectant parents in-depth about their feelings regarding the unborn child and seek to address any concerns. Further longitudinal research spanning the transition to parenthood is needed to understand the postpartum sequelae of the processes observed antenatally.

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