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Tessman, L.H. (2016). A review of The Dark Side of the Womb: Pregnancy, Parenting, & Persecutory Anxieties: by Joan Raphael-Leff. London, England: Anna Freud Center, 2015. 82 pp.. Contemp. Psychoanal., 52(4):668-675.
A review of The Dark Side of the Womb: Pregnancy, Parenting, & Persecutory Anxieties: by Joan Raphael-Leff. London, England: Anna Freud Center, 2015. 82 pp.
Lora Heims Tessman, Ph.D.
Don't you know, my son, the affection all mothers naturally bear their children? Our love is unbounded. … Do you forget that nine full months I carried you in my womb and nourished you with my blood?” (Schuster, 1940, p. 20). With these words Nero's mother, Agrippina (given to dark deeds), pleads to her emperor son for her own life. Unmoved, he had her strangled.
What ups the odds of darkening bonds, as imagined and actual, in the journey from the womb? Psychoanalytic theorists, infant researchers and clinicians have raised this question over the last 65 years. Now Joan Raphael-Leff alerts us all to The Dark Side of the Womb: Pregnancy, Parenting and Persecutory Anxieties. In refreshingly vivid, metaphoric and accessible language, with ample quotations from research interviews and patients in therapy, descriptions of normative and “dark” emotional development are interspersed with enlightening inclusions of facts and statistics about the changing social context in historical time; their impact on various difficulties suffered by parents and children, and the benefits of a range of programs for prophylactic intervention. Raphael-Leff is a persistent advocate of psychotherapy as helpful. She wants the writings to be companionable. She comments, “There are coffee table books. This is a bedside one.”
Raphael-Leff elaborates many of the formulations that had emerged in the 1950s, from Grete Bibring's “Study of the Psychological Processes in Pregnancy and the Earliest MotherChild Relationship” at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. It was then posited, “normal pregnancy evoked a “maturational crisis” in the mother to be.
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