Motherhood - The Most Pivotal Role A Woman Undertakes In Every Culture Or Society

Although motherhood is changing, where women are deciding not to have children or are deferring due to professional or personal reasons, most women ultimately become one

The process of being a mother begins as early as planning for a baby for some. For others it's when it dawns upon them that they are pregnant. And yet for some others towards the end of their pregnancy. But for all, becoming a mother is a life changing event, where a reorganisation of their lives ensues. Each mother's personal and social beliefs, economic conditions, cultural norms, and mental health conditions will lay ahead her ability to flow into her maternal role with ease or difficulty.

Dr D W Winnicott, a paediatrician and psychoanalyst, describes a  psychological state called 'Primary Maternal Preoccupation' (1956).  This phase begins towards the end of the pregnancy and continues for a few weeks after the birth of the child. He states that there is a preoccupation and an intense attunement that the mother develops for the special needs of her child. This is usually at the expense of all else. It may look like she is completely ignoring herself, her other roles and others, but Winicott proposes this is essential for the thriving of the new born.

The new mother also experiences a variety of emotions and states like confusion, instability, inadequacy in controlling day to day affairs, feelings of inconveniences, lack of self- assurances, capabilities and inefficiencies. There's also anxiety regarding the new babies health and upbringing and a lack of mastery over one's life affairs. The need for emotional and physical support from her environment is heightened. Some mothers go through a mental health condition, which affects 1 in 1000 mothers, called postpartum depression or 'baby blues'. Here the mother undergoes varying degrees of sadness, anxiety, feeling empty and in extreme cases hatred or a total rejection of the baby after  giving birth. In the extreme cases the new mothers feel disconnected with the newborn and and are grieving the loss of the baby inside them. The mothers go through a horde of symptoms like, confusion, anxiety and panic attacks, hopelessness, insomnia, restlessness, harming self or the baby, suicidal ideations, hallucinations and delusions, just to name a few. Here the body and brain are having a difficult time going back to a normal state. Consistent and intensive  psychotherapy can help the mothers regain a sense of themselves and reconnect with their baby. In moderate to severe instances, psychiatric intervention may be necessary along with psychotherapy.

Although, every mother adjusts differently at different time lengths, in the end each one starts to feel themselves again and are able to care and love their child. Despite all the hurdles, most mothers describe having her baby is worth all the toil and emotional upheavals. Eventually, the new mother gets more confident in handling the baby's chores. Furthermore she is able to decode the baby's behavioural signals and this in turn helps her develop maternal competence. She understands her baby and in turn the baby begins to understand her. This develops a positive mutual relationship between the mother and baby. The mother- baby dyad is strengthened. Newer hurdles arise, but with an experience of overcoming it, the mother is able to navigate motherhood with self-confidence, patience and empathy.  

About the Author - 

Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist 

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motherhood Dr. Mamta Shah


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