The final section of our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017) discusses the impact of preganancy and childbirth, post-partum depression and its impact, not only in the lives of therapists but for all of us. I will begin with my own experience of being a “rainbow baby.”
A Reproductive History
Truth be told women’s reproductive issues affect all of our lives. A difficult birth, numerous miscarriages, an unwanted pregnancy—all significantly impact a mother’s relationship to her child and our unwillingness to address and assimilate these issues remains a cloud that only obstructs our vision. My understanding of my own life would have been greatly diminished if I had never been able to process my mother’s reproductive history. She was married at thirty and tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant for several years. She became pregnant at thirty-five but gave birth to a still-born full-term child. We were told that the cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck, cutting off her air supply, but in retrospect it was likely a strangulated umbilical cord. My mother had my sister a year later, a subsequent miscarriage, and then me when she was almost forty-one.
A Still-born Baby
The still-born baby, named Elizabeth Lynn, was a very active presence in our lives. We often heard that she would have been a perfect child and that we—my sister and I—fell far short with our pranks and antics. “If Elizabeth had lived…” my mother would say and then follow with a commentary on what we had done wrong. The results for me were consequential. I played the replacement child—the “dead baby”—until a gifted analyst was able to help me bring this adaptation into consciousness. But my mother suffered as well. She had no one to talk to about it because at that time no one even recognized the tragedy of losing a baby. Women might have whispered about it, but it certainly never reached public consciousness. Erik Ericson stated that “everyday miracle, pregnancy and childbirth, have disquieted every man through childhood, youth and beyond. In his accounts and historical periods, man acknowledges this as a probably necessary sideshow” (p. 264).
Not a Sideshow
The last two chapters [of A womb of Her Own] cast a blazing light on the “sideshow” and illuminate the very real suffering that accompanies pregnancy and birthing as well as its unpredictable aftermath. Both authors are also psychodynamic therapists and both have addressed the ways in which their pregnancies and subsequent births became a palpable presence in the consulting room. Darcy explores the impact of her pregnancy on a very difficult patient. She quite accurately points to her psychically and culturally determined role as the too-good mother being a factor in the patient’s inability to express her rage at her displacement by the new-born child. Darcy illustrates the tenacity of our image of the nurturing mother as it constricts her—both the woman herself and the woman as therapist—in her ability to tolerate the full range of emotion in her patients.
Erikson, E. H. (1968) Identity youth and crisis. NY.NY. Norton.