I just had the pleasure of being interviewed for the podcast Mom & Mind; a great podcast resource for mothers as well as anyone interested in Maternal Mental Health. The podcast is created and hosted by Dr. Katayune Kaeni, who is a fierce advocate for mothers and parents.
I was grateful for this opportunity to discuss some the things I am passionate about. I talk with Dr. Kaeni about the topic of maternal ambivalence and the bodily changes of motherhood. Yes, that can of worms, or tsunami of psycho-somatic stirrings, or wave of mixed pleasures and anxieties. Because the feminist psychoanalytic and somatically focused literature and research that inform my work offer a great deal of insight and, more importantly, hope for anyone going through the transition to motherhood.
We can broaden our understanding of parenthood by exploring the ambivalence, or rather the several areas of ambivalence that come with mothering. Maternal ambivalence is often understood as “the experience shared by all mothers in which loving and hating feelings for their children exist side by side.” (Parker, 1995, p. 1). However, ambivalence arises about almost any aspect of mothering, and not just in relation to the child. A mother’s attitude towards her new identity as a mother, towards the infant she herself once was, towards her own mother, or her partner; all these areas stir up intense conflicting feelings. And namely the body changes of motherhood can evoke this polarity of affect. Her body now forever changed, just like it was irreversibly changed by puberty, and like it will be changed again by menopause. These major transitions connect mind and body in the journey of the female life experience like nothing else. The bodily reactions, fantasies, concerns, or preoccupations often hold emotional content that is yet to be articulated. If we are able to unearth and unravel this emotional content, we might discover longings that seem raw, aggressive, infantile, brutal, primitive, or competitive. All of which do not make them less important. On the contrary, it makes them very important because they, more than anything, hold our humanness.
It is this concoction of bodily and emotional transitions that I am dedicated to exploring. But not just for the sake of exploring. The reason is one of offering hope, because through this exploration, mothers (and anyone close to a mother) might understand themselves better and thereby adjust and cope better. Or heal through what needs to be healed. There is always more to the story about the changes a woman goes through when becoming a mother. Her life story is imbedded in her psychological and somatic reactions to motherhood. That is why we need to listen closely and with an attitude of compassionate curiosity.
Take a listen and let me know what you think.
Parker, R. (1995). Mother Love/Mother Hate. New York: BasicBooks.