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Bibring, G.L. Dwyer, T.F. Huntington, D.S. Valenstein, A.F. (1961). A Study of the Psychological Processes in Pregnancy and of the Earliest Mother-Child Relationship—I. Some Propositions and Comments. Psychoanal. St. Child, 16:9-24.

(1961). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 16:9-24

Contributions to Psychoanalytic Theory

A Study of the Psychological Processes in Pregnancy and of the Earliest Mother-Child Relationship—I. Some Propositions and Comments

Grete L. Bibring, M.D., Thomas F. Dwyer, M.D., Dorothy S. Huntington, Ph.D. and Arthur F. Valenstein, M.D.


Pregnancy, like puberty or menopause, is regarded as a period of crisis involving profound endocrine and general somatic as well as psychological changes. The crisis of pregnancy is basically a normal occurrence and indeed even an essential part of growth, which must precede and prepare maturational integration. It varies, individually, however, from woman to woman, according to her personality structure, her special kind and degree of adjustment and conflict solution with which she enters pregnancy, and the particular life setting and family constellation in which this event takes place.

An attempt is made to define the developmental process of pregnancy and motherhood in terms of the relationship of the woman to her sexual partner, to her "self," and to the child as it is expressed in the level, distribution, and vicissitudes of object libido and narcissistic libido. The woman moves through a phase of enhanced narcissism early in the pregnancy, until quickening undeniably introduces the baby as the new object within the self. The mother's relationship to her child, if it finally fulfills the maturational requirements, will have the distinctive characteristics of a freely changeable fusion—varying in degree and intensity—of narcissistic and object-libidinal strivings, so that the child will always remain part of herself, and at the same time will always have to remain an object that is part of the outside world and part of her sexual mate.

With these considerations in mind, an investigation was set up which centers around the longitudinal study of fifteen primiparae admitted consecutively for obstetrical care to the Prenatal Clinic of

a general hospital. A systematic and comprehensive set of variables was developed to provide points of reference concerning the psychological structure of each patient, with special consideration of those areas in which the signs of crisis and the signs of maturation could be recognized and recorded. In this article the methodology is only briefly described, since the details are reported in the companion article in this volume (see pp. 25-44).

Preliminary findings show that the character of crisis can be established in that a variety of meaningful elements become evident, especially in the evaluation carried out after quickening. Generally the observed changes involve an increase of previous signs of conflict, a regressive shift with the emergence of developmentally earlier patterns of behavior, attitudes, and wishes, or, as in women with predominantly compulsive character structure, a marked increase in the intensity of the defensive positions.

Maturational integration seems to occur later and more gradually than had been expected. The current impression is that crisis inaugurated by and specific to pregnancy continues on after delivery. It appears that maturation evolves slowly, in reciprocity with the child's development and with the growth of the family as an independent social unit. Subsequent pregnancies probably accelerate the maturational process. Speculative consideration was given to the special and relatively unambivalent attitude of the grandparent, as it is derived ultimately from the mature, even though complex, relationship of the parent to the child.

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