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Mothers—Defining Motherhood!!!

In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge 2017) author JoAnn Ponder writes as follows:

The chapters in this section of the book focus on whether to become a mother, and the psychological processes of becoming one. Until the mid-twentieth century, it wasn’t always easy for women to prevent pregnancy. Things changed in 1960, when the Federal (United States) Drug Administration approved the oral contraceptive that came to be known simply as “the pill.” It is a highly effective form of birth control that a woman can choose to take in private, thereby giving her control over reproduction or the freedom to engage in heterosexual intercourse without becoming pregnant. Women subsequently embraced the pill not only to aid in family planning, but also to challenge the authority of doctors, lawmakers, and men in general (May 2010). In this sense, I believe that birth control pills heralded the second wave of feminism in the U.S. Whereas first-wave feminism focused on voting and property rights, the second wave emphasized a wide range of issues, such as sexuality, reproductive rights, family, workplace, and legal and de facto inequalities (Dicker, 2016, 2008).
The childfree women’s movement, as described in the chapter by Adi Avivi, is associated with second-wave feminism. As the second wave brought more options in roles for women, along with improved contraception, an increasing number of women have chosen not to have children. These women typically refer to themselves as “childfree” rather than “childless” in order to denote their choice and liberation as opposed to their lack or lesser status. Nonetheless, Avivi’s research and personal experience revealed that there is still a tendency in American culture to pathologize them. The prejudice may be as subtle as questioning their choice, though we seldom question a married or adult woman’s choice to have a child. It is as if childbearing is the normal baseline not to be questioned or considered, even though most theorists view the desire to have children as having both biological and social (antecedents?) contributions (Chodorow, 1999, 1978). A contemporary and innovative intervention for childfree women is Internet chat groups. Avivi found these groups to be a viable, accessible means of providing emotional support and consolidating identity.
The birthrights movement, as described in Helena Vissing’s chapter, also is associated with second-wave feminism. The movement challenges the authority of obstetricians and advocates for natural childbirth free of medical intervention. In prior centuries, children were valued as farm and factory laborers. According to Chodorow (1999, 1978), birth rates were high, but so were infant and maternal mortality rates. With the development of capitalism and industrialism, birth rates declined, and medical care and mortality rates improved. According to birth rights advocates, however, there are too many unnecessary medical interventions for a mother giving birth, which may dampen her joyousness in the occasion and potentially her bonding with the baby. Based on a careful reading and analysis of the literature, Vissing contends that the advocates essentially are restricting maternal choice by substituting their dogma for medical dogma. She further suggests that the birthrights rationale serves to defend against the expectant mother’s underlying fears about the dangers of childbirth by idealizing the experience.
Medical advances over the past half-century include not only improved contraception but also assisted reproduction techniques. Nevertheless, many women postponed pregnancy until it was too late. My chapter explores women’s reactions to infertility and their transformation to motherhood following adoption. I interweave memoir, clinical material, and professional literature to explore how the adoptive mother’s psychological journey is the same and different from that of a biological mother. Whereas most of the adoption literature focuses on adopted children, this chapter focuses on adoptive mothers. Traditionally, psychoanalytic literature emphasized mother as object, referring to her role as a selfobject or someone who provides a facilitating environment for the baby to develop. It is only recently that psychoanalysis has considered maternal subjectivity, or the mother’s own coming into being through a relationship with the infant (Bariatser, 2008). This chapter will add to that body of psychoanalytic literature, as well as the adoption literature.
The three chapters in this section provide only a small sampling of the possible range of topics about women and their relation to mothering. Like appetizers that whet the appetite for more, each author speaks in her own voice from her unique vantage point, doing so in a culturally sensitive manner. A major criticism of second-wave feminism is that it fails to consider the voices of women of color, working-class women, and lesbians (Dicker, 2016, 2008). Unfortunately, that same criticism could be levied against this section of the book. While these women were not purposely omitted, they did not respond to the call for proposals, and several declined direct invitations to submit. Hopefully, their voices will be heard in another volume in the future. In the meantime, these chapters offer engaging ideas and satisfying food for thought.

Mothers—Defining Motherhood!!!

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.

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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2018). Mothers—Defining Motherhood!!!. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 30 Nov 2018
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