Pregnancy is a very special time for a woman and the people around her.
The nine months of developing of an embryo inside the womb, the period between conception and birth, is much more than just a physical transformation that is happening inside of a woman’s body. It is like an earthquake, a period of changes that have significant psychological consequences that most women naturally do not understand or interpret. Many women do not know how to approach these changes and a lot of them do not even want to take them into consideration.
This is because the gestation period (un)consciously brings up topics that have never been touched upon before. Topics that can make a woman feels “exposed“ and vulnerable, topics that provoke confusion, ambivalence, aggressiveness, loneliness, fear, pain and other feelings that might have been locked down safely somewhere deep within their psyche even before the pregnancy began.
A backpack full of history
A pregnant woman is not only a pregnant woman. She is a woman that is carrying a big backpack on her shoulders with many things inside. She is carrying her whole history. Her young self and her adult self, her life experiences, her social interactions, her happy moments and her sad moments. She is carrying memories of a daughter, maybe a granddaughter, she might be a sister, a partner, a wife or already a mother. In addition, during pregnancy her child has already been born in her mind, she has been developing her maternal feelings towards the baby, who is becoming more and more real through her past experiences, thoughts, desires and fears.
A process of transformation
As a result, her transformation from a woman to a mother does not happen like a clean straight line, but more like a rope with many threads, some of them loose and others neat. G. F. Mori (2015, p. 107) describes this process as “[…] a process of deep transformation that re-activates mental representations strictly connected to the previous relational history, from which past experiences of attachment with one`s own parental figures and childhood memories re-emerge, from which branch off the threads and wefts to weave a space that will have to host the future representations of the self as a mother, of one`s own partner as a father, and the future child. Therefore pregnancy and birth are not just facts, subject to a historical truth, but are, primarily, Events, characterized by the conscious and unconscious representations of those who participate in them, starting with mothers and fathers. Thus they are dynamic Events that have a location in time and are based on a project (Iori, 2006); they are subject to a narrative truth that continuously changes according to time and place. Precisely because of this they need to be listened to; they need sharing and containment.“
An example from everyday life
A woman in her early thirties. Before she got pregnant she had been in therapy for some months to address feelings of anxiousness, being close to burning out, feeling restless and not being able to rest properly. At the start of her therapy she was already in a longtime relationship with the father of her future baby. The pregnancy was not planned, even though not undesired. At the beginning of her pregnancy she was fairly reserved on her fantasies about the baby and motherhood. It was hard for her to imagine herself as a mother as it was too distant of a thought. However, a change occurred once she started feeling small movements of the fetus in her womb that would start strong but then slowly relax. Instantly it reminded her of an event from her childhood that she has not thought of before that moment. She was about five years old and her father left her alone in her room for few hours on a snowy winter day, while he went to visit a neighbor for a drink. She was surprised how clearly she could remember feeling scared, abandoned and angry at him. She felt helpless until she decided to play with her dolls in an attempt to stop feeling those heavy feelings and to calm herself down. It seemed that she identified herself with the movement of her fetus and, by touching the walls of the womb, its attempt to calm itself down, to be contained, even though its containment was limited to a specific amount of time (pregnancy). What is more, this fantasy brought her childhood memory to the surface.
The event from her past played a very important part in the development of the symptoms that brought her to therapy in the first place. She started realizing how the feelings of not being protected and contained had been a constant part of her life. On the outside, she was a strong woman and a very successful corporate worker but on the inside she felt alone with her worries, as if there was no one who would listen to her problems. She realized she had ambivalent feelings when it came to seeking help. On the one hand she wished to be helped but on the other, she did not let her partner and her friends help her because she felt she must do it on her own. She felt that her problems were not important enough and that she could “work them away“, the same way she tried to deal with her feelings as a little girl by playing with her dolls in her room.
The birth of the mother and the child
The purpose of this example is to illustrate how strongly past personal history, social experiences and past relationships intertwine with the present experiences of the pregnant woman. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that a woman during her pregnancy has a chance to discover the depths of her inner world as a future mother. In that way, as R. M. Mori (2015, p. 109) beautifully writes “[…] she will be able to be born as a mother and let her child to be born. Therefore, if during pregnancy the woman is supported in her couple and environment context, she can create a physical and mental space for her baby; she can prepare her physical and psychic womb to bring her desire and her need to become a mother to light.“