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The Idealization of Birthing

In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017) author Kristin Reale writes as follows:

The Pregnancy: Planning and Preparation

It was the summer of 2009. It had been raining in Brooklyn, New York for a record number of days, 18 to be exact. I loved it–I was going on ten months pregnant and didn’t feel like being out and about in the world — especially if it was a hot summer day. The cool weather and rain felt just right for my mood and need to hibernate. My swollen ankles looked as wide as the feet of an elephant, my belly like a bursting balloon, and my interest in the world minimal. I was turning very inward preparing to give birth. As Winnicott (1989) would say, the maternal preoccupation was at a fever pitch intensifying. I had taken maternity leave from my thriving private practice where I treat adults, couples and children, and also my teaching post, two weeks prior.  I had decided to exit a bit earlier than expected. I was finding it hard to concentrate and allow myself to be emotionally affected by my patients, let alone trek on the subway and around New York City each day. I had done my best to take care of everyone’s needs to prepare for my planned four month leave and I was…done.  I was looking forward to beaching myself on my couch, shopping for my last nesting materials online, and waiting; waiting for the signs of labor and the beginning of what I did not realize was the shocking journey into birth and motherhood. I thought I was prepared.

Home Birthing.

I had planned to give birth at home in my Brooklyn apartment: Birth pool, shower curtain on the bed, husband, doula and midwife in place. I felt ready. I was excited to take on this experience. I was more curious than scared and trusted the support I had in place. As I reflect, I realized how naively prepared I felt for the emotional experience of new motherhood and my launch into being a working mother. Not only had I always wanted children, and felt “naturally maternal”, I had spent my entire career thus far dedicated to understanding attachment, parenting and mothering, primal needs, and human development. I was teaching in the Master’s Social Work program at New York University and loved talking and teaching about Winnicott, Bolby, Fonagy, holding and containing. I understood so much and felt a mirage of control over my future experience as a mother.

The Idealization of Birthing    

No matter how much one tells you about the pain in childbirth, or what is it is “like”, or that “you just don’t know until you go through it”, a first time pregnant woman cannot truly hear them. I thought I had an idea, true to my desire to always be one step ahead, an over compensator, wanting to feel a bit in control. It was uncomfortable for me to imagine that there was no way in knowing unless I went through it. I had already been through so much.  You mean I can’t just learn about it, prepare for it and know? This thought made me feel insecure, and so I think pushed away my fear of the unknown, and fear of being out of control. I had read as much as I could about natural childbirth, the process of labor, and had attended a thorough six week home birth “class” which had also turned into a wonderful support group of smart and enlightened women outside of class. I was as intellectually prepared as possible.

Before going to bed most nights, I would read a few birth stories from a book written by midwives on a famous Virginia commune, “The Farm”, and marvel at the knowledge I was obtaining. Reading inspirational story upon story, I was captivated by the women’s reports of learning to trust their own bodies, believe in the power and process of labor, and how they let themselves experience birth without technological intervention. The mind-body connection was paramount in the births on “the farm” and I related to this notion wholly, and so desired to be in physical experience of birth and not numb. It was enlightening to learn about the process of un-medicalized birth: every woman in my family had an epidural and hospital birth, one at which I was present at, so there were no natural birth stories passed down in my family. The hospital birth I attended seemed traumatic: too much of epidurals, suction and forceps used: little to no attunement to the mother. No one had given birth and felt it.  I was learning more by reading what women actually go through if they are given the opportunity and time to give birth. While helpful, I felt a sadness that a book of strangers felt closer to what I was about to go through than people I actually knew and loved. I was entering unchartered territory. These stories from midwives and women would prove crucial for me in finding comfort while in the midst of my own labor.


Winnicott, D.W. (1989). Psychoanalytic explorations. In C. Winnicott et al (eds.). Cambridge,MA. Harvard University Press.



Photo by Igor Menezes Fotógrafo

The Idealization of Birthing

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. (2019). The Idealization of Birthing. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Dec 2019
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