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This paper presents the results of a qualitative study conducted by midwife researchers into women's experience of new motherhood. Data were collected using focus groups involving 55 first-time mothers and analysed using grounded theory method. The analysis produced six categories: ‘realizing’, ‘unready’, ‘drained’, ‘aloneness’, ‘loss’ and ‘working it out’. The core category, ‘becoming a mother’, integrates all other categories and encapsulates the process of change experienced by women. Also explained are factors mediating the often distressing experience of becoming a mother. The analysis provides a conceptualization of early motherhood enabling the development of strategies for midwives, nurses and others helping women negotiate this challenge.