Emotional Health · Family & Friends

Being A Mother — The Role of A Lifetime

Of all the roles that women assume in life, none is more demanding, consuming, and important to us all as that of “mother.” That is not to say that women who do not become mothers lead less satisfying or meaningful lives. But there’s no disputing that becoming a mother is an essential change, one that entails a major identity shift, and one that can never be reversed.

In preparation for her new role as a mother, a woman is given lots of advice about how to stay healthy during pregnancy and what to do to ensure the delivery of a thriving baby. In the US, almost all pregnancy books focus on this angle (e.g. the ever popular What to Expect When You’re Expecting). I was amused to learn from a friend living in France that mothers-to-be there read books about how to dress well, keep their husbands happy, and enhance their complexions during these nine months. Here, it’s as if the minute you get pregnant, you are seen as a vessel for the baby first and foremost.

Most pregnant women can tell stories about strangers coming up to them and touching their bellies, as if the “bump” is public property rather than a part of one’s own body. Pregnancy is just the beginning of what is a profound identity change that occurs when women become mothers, both psychologically and in terms of what is expected of them.

After pregnancy, advice and books about motherhood also focus on the role of mother in terms of how it impacts the child—parenting advice. Until recently, very little attention has been paid to the deep and lasting changes taking place inside the mother.

I first became aware of these changes when I became a mother myself. I noticed in particular a certain phenomenon in myself and other new mothers, which I began to see as a manifestation of an essential shift. Women who have recently become mothers have an almost compulsive tendency to repeat the details of their birth experience to anyone who will listen. They will tell the story, in all its details, including intimate ones, to friends, family, and even acquaintances. The compulsive need to repeat the tale reminded me of the behavior of trauma survivors. If you have ever endured a sudden trauma—a car accident, for example (unless you are among the group of people who can’t talk about it at all) you may have noticed the need to repeat the story.

Psychologists think that trauma represents an assault to one’s identity, and the repetition of the trauma either in thoughts or words is our attempt to integrate the event into our self-image. So, for example, after 9/11, New Yorkers told the story of how they spent that day to each other, and some still do—the way our world, and our relationship to it changed forever that day.

Even though trauma is associated with negative and often violent events, a “positive” experience such as childbirth is, in a way, a sudden (and sometimes violent) introduction of a change in the way we relate to the world.

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  • Myriam Weinstein May 28, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    So true. I’ve always felt that I can be 3,000 miles away, but the emotional connection to my kids and now grand kids is constant .

  • Barbara May 18, 2017 at 7:53 am

    Love this article- it is true in every sense