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Birksted-Breen, D. (1986). The experience of having a baby: a developmental view. Free Associations, 1:22-35.

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(1986). Free Associations, 1(4):22-35

The experience of having a baby: a developmental view

Dana Birksted-Breen

Some moments in the life of a person necessitate change if they are to be lived, not just survived. It is from this perspective that I have been interested in the impact on women of becoming a mother.

There is a widely-held belief that preganancy is like an illness, that a woman will temporarily act and feel in odd ways and that after the birth of her baby she will get back to her old self again. This has its parallel in the psychiatric and psychological literature in studies whose models implicitly reflect a notion of the pregnant woman as temporarily disturbed, returning, in normal cases, to a previous prepregnancy state after the birth. This is what I have called the ‘hurdle approach’ (Breen, 1975). On the contrary I would argue, in line with a developmental approach, that the birth of a baby, as any major life event, offers an opportunity for a woman to work through internal conflicts and relationships, to modify her perception of herself and others and integrate this new experience, so that she will not be the same after the birth of the baby as she was before. Moreover it is those women who are unable to integrate the experience and change with it who will run into serious difficulties in pregnancy, childbirth or postnatally.

To my mind, there is a continuity from pregnancy to early motherhood and women make use of this time in different ways and at different paces. Also it is characteristic of conscious and unconscious thought processes that preoccupations come to the fore, then recede, only to come back again later in the same or a different form.


* This paper was given at a day of public lectures on ‘Pregnancy and Childbirth: Psycho-Analytical Views’ at the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, London on 2 November 1985.

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