For Maternal/Perinatal Mental Health Professionals: Somatic and Psychodynamic Consultation

Are you a Maternal/Perinatal Mental Health Professional interested in working somatically and psychodynamically? Or interested in getting help with the somatic countertransference that comes up in your work?

I have developed a somatic and psychodynamic model for Maternal/Perinatal Mental Health which also applies to consultation. I want to listen and understand the needs of you as a provider; whether you would be interested in a somatic and psychodynamic consultation group, and if so, what you would like for the format and content.

The group would focus on somatic and psychodynamic aspects of psychotherapy with the perinatal population, especially trauma treatment. This would be regardless of the modality you are using with the clients. In other words; you don’t have to do somatic or psychodynamic work to make use of the group. You can be working with other modalities and still make use of the group to address your own regulation and countertransference.

The focus would be on supporting participants processing their own somatic experiences related to the work and help participants regulate when working through challenging cases, especially trauma work. This also means the group would focus less on background details of the case and the “basics” of Perinatal Mental Health and more on the immediate experience you are dealing with as a provider. The idea is to create a group container and make use of the healing powers of group regulation to help participants navigate and understand the intense somatic countertransference that can occur in the work.

If you are interested in this, please fill out this form.


January Musings. Freedom, Mutual Recognition, and Mysticism

A monthly package of musings on readings, podcasts or videos, music/art, and psychology. I muse on psychology/psychoanalysis, somatic stuff, culture and art that has touched and inspired me.

Book: “Everybody. A Book About Freedom” by Olivia Laing

This month I finished “Everybody. A Book About Freedom” by Olivia Laing. I was made aware of this book because my husband had listened to an interview with Laing on Vox Conversations (lovely podcast). The book is a unique and well-executed work of writing about pretty much everything through the topic of freedom in the widest sense and specifically bodily freedom. Laing explores the topic of freedom by examining the lives of a bunch of both well-known and lesser known individuals who impacted liberation movements in their own ways, including Wilhelm Reich, Andrea Dworkin, Malcom X, Susan Sontag (also including some personal reflections on her own life). The person who gets the most focus throughout the book is Wilhelm Reich, a radical doctor and psychoanalyst from the 2nd generation of analysts. But the book is also a crash course in several areas like the early history of psychoanalysis, the sexual liberation movement, and civil rights history.

So why do I love this book? Because Laing demonstrates with loads of fascinating historical details what we should all know already: That the fights for (all forms of) liberation are not as straight-forward as we would like them to be and that the societal as well as individual transformative work that leads to freedom is messy and ambiguous. The world cannot be divided into good guys and bad guys on the question of freedom. The peculiar life of Wilhelm Reich is an incredibly good example of this. Laing takes us on a journey through his fascinating and tragic life and draws lines to other remarkable figures who, like Reich, gave their lives to liberation movements in ways that deserve examination.

The book takes on several questions: What does it mean to feel free? What does it feel like in one’s body? How is the body a force of freedom in its own right? Or a tool for resistance? What is the relationship between bodies and freedom? Why is the body such a battlefield?

One of the things that touched me the most from the book is the notion that all forms of oppression are brutal when (or because) they turn the body itself into a prison. “The body’s needs quickly become unbearable when they are not met”, as Laing puts it. This captures the essence of Laing’s project: “The political world can make bodies into prisons, but […] bodies can also reshape the political world”, p. 244. The “problem” with the body is its vulnerability. But Laing’s project is to show us how bodies are “full of power and […] their power is not despite but because of their manifest vulnarabilities.” (p. 15).

One of the big philosophical debates Laing illuminates is whether you believe the constraints of authority put on the individual by society are preferable to what the world would look like if humans had total freedom to unfold their nature. Freud believed so, but Reich disagreed. Laing thankfully does not impose an answer on me as the reader. I did get a sense of Laing’s political and philosophical leanings as I was reading (closer to Reich than Freud, but not clear-cut), but I did not feel lectured or nudged towards any political echo chamber. Laing makes use of storytelling as a thoughtful and competent historian. Through the stories of all the people she brings to the party, I was brought to reflections and insights on my own. Refreshing indeed. Reading Laing feels more like having a thoughtful conversation. It’s not a moralizing lecture. On the contrary, Laing does not tell the reader what to think. She offers a reflective experience using stories of lived lives; specifically, the stories of bodies, in their own language, “distant from speech but just as eloquent and meaningful.” (p. 21).

Podcast: “Think About It” Episode “Great Books 18: Jessica Benjamin’s “The Bonds of Love”

In my preparations for teaching (I teach an intro to psychodynamic theories class), I was researching resources other than readings for my students and found a most excellent interview with renowned psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin. I include texts by Benjamin in my syllabus, and while Benjamin is a great writer, this podcast is a gem. In her own words, in a warm psychoanalytic conversation with Uli Bauer, Benjamin explains her work and offers an overview of her framework.

Benjamin is arguably on the top 5 of most influential psychoanalytic thinkers of our time. She is a main contributor to the fields of relational psychoanalysis, theories of intersubjectivity, gender studies and feminism. Benjamin has examined the question of freedom and intersubjectivity in depth in her reinterpretation of psychoanalytic theory to understand the problem of domination (“Bonds of Love”). In other words, Benjamin is one of the key people who brought classic psychoanalysis into a modern egalitarian (feminist) worldview (PSA: No, Freud isn’t dead, he is more like reincarnated in a new form). I would dare to say that psychoanalysis would not have survived if it wasn’t for the feminist reinterpretation and transformation of it that Benjamin is a central representative of.

Psychoanalysis had to go through a reinterpretation for its full potential to be revealed. As Benjamin puts it, “feminism has provided a fulcrum for raising the Freudian edifice, revealing its foundation to lie in the acceptance of authority and gender relations.” (Bonds of Love, p. 7). In the authoritarian (sexist) world order, there are only the options of either domination or submission. A glaring issue with this thinking is that it overlooks the possibility of something other than the two positions of master and slave – the position of being equal subjects. This position is only possible if we can recognize each other as similar yet distinct centers of experience; subjects in our own right. Which means we need to look at the intricacies of relationships to understand any subject – as there is no such thing as a subject outside a relationship to other subjects. Benjamin explains how we must believe in the third option of mutual recognition to connect and stay true to the sharedness of our world. “If you believe in repair, you are more likely to create it”, Benjamin reminds us in the conversation with Bauer. We must believe that mutuality is an option for any repair to happen. In other words, we must believe in recognition of each other as the foundation of our subjectivity and therefore also the foundation of any repair happening between subjects.  

This is a far too short introduction to Benjamin’s work and does not in any way do it justice – which is why I recommend this podcast as an excellent way to get a sense of her work and how it relates to everything from the early infant-caregiver relationship to global issues of systemic inequality. Listen to it and get a sense of why it’s so hard to come into the world, to get a sense of yourself as a subject through your caregiver’s mirroring of and difference from you, why recognizing each other as separate subjects is a paradox, and why this paradox creates tension and struggles that lead to the conflicts of inequality that have existed as long as humanity.

Music: “Vulture Prince” by Arooj Aftab

This month I also discovered the musician and producer Arooj Aftab. I know nothing about South Asian music or the Sufi music tradition Aftab’s music is part of (I understand her work is unique in her reinterpretation of an old tradition). Maybe that is why it was a touching experience to discover her album, Vulture Prince, as an outsider. Without any prior knowledge of this music style or tradition, I was taken over and into a feeling state I rarely experience.

The track “Last Night” captures this feeling the most of all the songs on the album. The lyrics seem simple but turns out to have a mesmerizing meditative effect. It’s like Aftab moves down to deeper layers of felt sense for every repetition of the same sentence: “Last night my beloved was like the moon – so beautiful”. This phrase might read like simple or even naïve poetry, but in Aftab’s voice, it becomes clear that there is a deeper meaning – or rather feeling ­– hidden in the words. The Sufi spiritual tradition related to this music is based on “a form of devotional Muslim poetry and song that pursues enlightenment via a deep, mystical relationship with God”. That is exactly the feeling that “Last Night” brings up in me. A feeling that this composition has more to it than the sounds. A feeling that the almost 6 minutes of this track is more like a journey down through layers of consciousness, although there will always be something left outside of the realm of consciousness. Something hidden.

“Last Night” ends with the words: “Grace far beyond my grasp – The rest is silence”. Discovering things that can bring me to that sense of appreciation and pause is rare. And it should be like that. Taking in any art, thoughts, words, idea, or creative expression that offers “grace far beyond my grasp” will never be a thing in the everyday feed, nor should it.


Benjamin, J. (1988). The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and the Problem of Domination. New York: Pantheon Books.

Laing, O. (2021). Everybody. A Book About Freedom. New York: W.W.Norton & Company.


Transitioning to New Parenthood During a Pandemic

Many new parents are just now beginning to process the experiences of having been pregnant, delivered and/or gone through the postpartum phase during a pandemic. As we are coming up on the one-year mark, it will make many pause and look back at that pregnancy and first year postpartum. This can be quite heavy when the first year of your child’s life and your parental transition, or parts of it, occurred during lockdown and a global crisis. If you gave birth during hectic circumstances where labor and delivery care was not operating as usual. It’s a big loss to be mourned. It was not the year you had expected or had prepared for (how could anyone prepare for that?). Our transition to parenthood is a multilayered process where we discover ourselves through experiences, and new parents have been so limited in their options for discovering themselves as parents during the pandemic. It is like a whole aspect of your parental identity did not get to fully unfold. This takes a big toll on parents’ mental health and adjustment to parenthood.

In terms of decision fatigue, many new parents might also be very hesitant to get too excited about how things are “getting back to normal”. It’s a very common and understandable way to protect oneself emotionally; not get your hopes too high. It’s also difficult to navigate this decision process as friends and family will be responding in very different ways. Many new parents have worked hard to find some kind of agreement on negotiating different levels of comfort or straight up conflicts around safety measures, especially with grandparents, in-laws, or other family members. This baseline that they might have spent considerable emotional effort establishing (and maintaining!) is now being challenged and “reset” and a lot of the negotiations will have to be re-established.

For new parents who have been dealing with family conflicts, it can be exhausting to even think about. We’re all frustrated after a whole year of limitations, so everyone will be eager to get what they have been longing for, making the situation ripe for conflicts. New parents often end up in the middle, trying to make all sides of the family happy while also taking care of themselves. For expecting and new parents, my recommendation is always to ensure their own basic needs first. The pregnancy and first year after birth is not just a precious time, but also a very vulnerable time. We are particularly vulnerable to the stress from conflicts during this time, as we are transitioning to parenthood. 

Spring is indeed coming. But this doesn’t mean that new parents will automatically get all happy. I believe many new parents will feel mixed, understandably so. We are longing to go back to experiencing some sense of normalcy like our prepandemic lives, but if you became a parent during the last year, the pandemic has made it quite complex to understand your pre- and post-delivery life and your transition to parenthood. Without pandemics, new parents go through a natural process of comparing and processing the differences, looking back and mourning the loss of the pre-baby life while embracing and settling into the new normal with a child. This transition has become much more confusing and unclear for new parents.

I am thinking a lot about all the people who went through the transition to parenthood over the last year. It was already an intense process to become a parent; a process that requires time, space, support and compassion. The 2020-21 cohort of new parents deserve this in abundance.

Read more about the topic of “The Emotional Weirdness of Parenting as The World Slowly Opens Up Again” in this Huffington Post article I was interviewed for.

#MaternalMentalHealth #PerinatalMentalHealth #Matrescence #NewMotherhood #PandemicParenting


Somatic Therapy for Perinatal Mental Health

As of October 2020, I completed all training modules of the Somatic Experiencing trauma treatment training program, including all requirements for consultation and personal sessions. It’s been quite a journey to go through this training program, as it is much more than just a therapy technique. It’s an entire approach for living in a regulated way. During the training program, I have been adapting and developing the techniques specifically for one of my specializations; Maternal/Perinatal Mental Health. I continue to study somatic therapy and to adapt these techniques for new parents. I have been able to share some of this work recently.

  • I was interviewed for 10to12Babylounge where I offered concrete ideas for how new mothers can use somatic grounding techniques for self-regulation. Read the interview here.  
  • In the Spring of 2020, I did a webinar for Postpartum Support International (PSI). During the initial months of the pandemic, the majority of Mental Health Care transitioned to online/telehealth. PSI therefore launched a series of trainings titled “Teletherapy for Perinatal Mental Health”. Being experienced with both telehealth and somatic work, I offered a webinar on how to do online somatic work with new parents and how to work with grounding and self-regulation. My presentation is part of one of the webinars and is available for purchase for $30, with 20% off for PSI members and offering 2 CE hours credits. Read more here.
  • I recently did a webinar for Maternal Mental Health NOW for the 2020 Webinars Series. I presented with Dr. Alyssa Berlin who is also trained in Somatic Experiencing and specializing in Perinatal Mental Health. We talked about the somatic interventions for trauma-informed Perinatal Mental Health, the connections between trauma, self-regulation, and how to work with the particular conditions of the perinatal period. Read more here.


Advantages of Online Therapy for Expecting and New Mothers

I wrote a piece for Motherfigure about a thing that is huge in my field and my work right now: the particular advantages of online therapy, or Telehealth, for expecting and new mothers. Motherfigure is a maternal wellness startup that combines curated products with easy-to-access info, tools, provider reviews, and community to help women navigate motherhood. Their online magazine The Mothership offers articles on childbirth, postpartum, nursing, infertility and loss and much more. Packed with both first person accounts and evidence-based information from vetted professionals. Go here to read more about online therapy for new and expecting moms and explore the wealth of resources that Motherfigure offers.


Postpartum Anxiety, Coronavirus, and What You Can Do

We are all concerned about the coronavirus, and none of us knows exactly what the next months or year hold. If you are a new or expecting mother, especially if you are struggling with any type or level of anxiety, the concern about coronavirus is most definitely not what you need. Because expecting and new mothers are wired to be highly sensitive to any threat to their baby. Caring for an infant is already challenging enough when it comes to illness. Going through the common cold while pregnant or with a little one in the family can be highly stressful, both because babies and pregnant bodies need extra care and because we as parents are most likely already short on the energy that caring for a sick child requires. For first-time mothers, the first round of illness in the family can be incredibly anxiety-inducing. It’s the first time, so how do you know how do understand it all and what to do, how to care for your baby? It can be like fumbling in the dark as you are figuring it out and finding what works for you. For mothers with Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorders (PMADs), like Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Anxiety, any kind of illness in the family can exacerbate symptoms and the feeling of overwhelm. And many mothers are either themselves dealing with serious health issues or mothering children who have them. 

If you are experiencing heightened anxiety during this time, your reaction is very understandable. Anxiety is often like the tip of the iceberg, and so much is going on underneath; whatever the root of the anxiety is. You are not weak or wrong for responding with anxiety to this situation. You are responding for good reasons given what you are carrying in your body, nervous system, and mind. Being an expecting or new mother is already stressful, and this situation is particularly stressful when taking care of young ones. The good news is that children appear to be less susceptible to the virus than adults. But to a parent’s nervous system, wired for ensuring the survival of their baby, that might very well not be enough to calm down. And it’s very understandable. Especially if you are dealing with a PMAD. 

Acknowledgment and nonjudgmental support is crucial when we are anxious, especially in the perinatal period. We need care and support, not shaming (whether direct or indirect) of our anxiety. We don’t need to be told neither to “stop freaking out” nor to “start taking the situation seriously” (and any scrolling on most social media is an avalanche of these mixed messages). So I am here to tell you that it is so very understandable if you are feeling anxious about the situation. The drive to protect our children and families is extra heightened during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Maybe your anxiety is related to deeper underlying issues. Anxiety can be caused by a number of things including (but not limited to) trauma, medical issues, social or relationship issues, lack of access to support and care, discrimination. But whatever the root cause, it is very understandable if this situation is triggering your anxiety during the pre- or postpartum period; when we are most raw and open and vulnerable. 

I can’t tell your what the future holds for our public health, but I can tell you the good news that anxiety is treatable and can be reduced. There are many options for treatment and they need to be combined in a unique way to fit your personal needs and situation: therapy, medications, support groups, volunteer support, family or social support, yoga or other forms of movement, faith community support, online therapy, exercise, nutrition and life-style changes, getting access to community services, breathing and meditation exercises, self-regulation skills, somatic trauma therapy, addressing physical and health issues, art and creative activities, seeking experiences in nature, connecting with supportive communities. 

What You Can Do

  • Remind yourself that your reaction is UNDERSTANDABLE. If you have anxiety, it is no wonder that you are reacting to this situation. It would be absurd to expect you to not have a reaction. You are wired to be highly sensitive to any threats to your baby and your family’s safety. Of course you are reacting to this. And you deserve help and extra support while going through this. 
  • If you are working on reducing your anxiety, whether in therapy or other forms of treatment or support or by yourself, be gentle with yourself about your progress right now. Maybe you want to put your big goals a bit on hold for now? It would be unfair to expect you to progress and improve a ton and reach your goals during a time of this sudden new stressor. It’s okay. You will get there. It’s okay to put it on hold and just take it one day at a time. 
  • If you were wanting to reach out to your health care providers or maybe start therapy, but don’t feel safe about going to an office, consider online treatment. Online health care, or Telehealth, has pros and cons and are relevant for some. Some providers are already set up for providing Telehealth, some are in the process of it. More and more therapists are offering therapy online. Ask if your provider is certified to offer online treatment and set up for it properly. If you seek out Telehealth, ask the provider how they are determining whether it’s the right fit for you and your needs. Another form of online help is online support groups. Telehealth may or may not be a good fit for you, but you should know your options.   
  • If you are concerned about being in public with your baby, allow yourself to do what you need to do to make it work! So if you need to do moms groups without babies touching, that is totally understandable. If you are wanting to not shake hands with anyone at the moment, then so will it be. Don’t concern yourself with what others may think; that is their problem, not yours. If your concerns about being in public are overwhelming and limiting your life, there is treatment available. But right now might not be the time to conquer and overcome those anxieties. In time you will be able to address it and overcome and HEAL, but these are challenging circumstances. So don’t be hard on yourself. 
  • Reduce exposure to news and social media discussions. Prioritize a few sources of update from news outlet that you find credible and who offer concrete and useful information and guidance without sensationalism. Remember a certain portion of the media runs on over-dramatization. If certain media sources make you extra anxious, maybe mute or limit them for now. You will get the info you need without the sensationalism and drama. 


It is not your fault that you are suffering from a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder

You are not alone

With the right help you will get better


Postpartum Support International – leading organization for Maternal Mental Health. They offer a wealth of support, including:

Sliding scale therapy directory: Open Path Collective

Bringing Light to Motherhood: Free web-based app with lots of information and concrete self-help tools for planning the postpartum period, by Maternal Mental Health NOW. Available in English and Spanish.

Motherfigure: A maternal wellness startup that combines curated products with easy-to-access info, tools, provider reviews, and community to help women navigate motherhood.

Virtual Support Groups: For a low fee, The Bloom Foundation offers virtual support groups for mothers who are unable to attend in person or prefer the online format. Different groups for Loss, NICU Moms, Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, Moms of Multiples, and Birth Trauma.

Interview with Karen Kleiman: Alanis Morissette has a podcast titled “Conversations with Alanis”, and this episode is an interview with one of the leading experts in Perinatal Mental Health; Karen Kleiman.

Mom & Mind: Podcast on Perinatal Mental Health, hosted by Dr. Kat. Many amazing episodes with supportive information about any thinkable topic related to Perinatal Mental Health.

Postpartum Stress Center instagram account: Karen Kleiman’s Postpartum Stress Center has an educational instagram account with touching “comics” about the struggles of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Read more about the comics and Karen Kleinman’s work here.

Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance: Nonprofit raising awareness about Maternal Mental Health disorders to reduce stigma and improve outcomes for mothers and babies. Their website offers a wealth of information about everything in the world of Maternal Mental Health.

If you are in crisis and thinking about suicide, PLEASE REACH OUT! You matter! Your life matters! You do not have to suffer in silence! Call for yourself or someone you care about; free and confidential; network of more than 140 crisis centers nationwide; available 24/7: National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.


Somatic Therapy

I offer psychotherapy from several different schools of therapy (psychodynamic, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy), and I also offer somatic therapy either separately or integrated with therapy. You can read about the particular method of somatic therapy I use, Somatic Experiencing, here.

Somatic Experiencing is a trauma treatment method, but it is also effective for anxiety and self-regulation and a variety of issues. It is a very gentle approach and usually does not include touch (although some specialized Somatic Experiencing practitioners use touch. I don’t at this time). What the treatment is concretely is from the outside very similar to talk therapy: we basically sit and talk, but through guided exercises you are supported to develop body awareness, tracking of your nervous system, and grounding techniques, which can help alleviate anxiety, build resilience, and also resolve trauma. 

The training is a comprehensive and intensive program including six 4-day modules (3 Beginning and 3 Intermediate), two 6-day modules (Advanced), ongoing consultation and personal sessions. I have completed all training modules and requirements for consultation and personal sessions.

Somatic Experiencing integrate well with talk therapy. It brings in what is happening in the nervous system and the body, which is a crucial part of any psychotherapy meaning-making. I adjust the somatic techniques to your needs and goals.


Podcast Interview on Mom & Mind

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.






Zadie Smith, Having a Second Child, and Creativity

In 2013, author Zadie Smith made a bold and unexpected online appearance by commenting to a piece in The Atlantic by Lauren Sandler, that “the idea that motherhood is inherently somehow a threat to creativity is just absurd.” In said piece, it appears that Lauren Sandler presents the idea that female writers should ideally only have one child. Sandler describes the lives of several celebrated female writers like Susan Sontag, Joan Didion and Margaret Atwood, and zooms in on the question of the number of children they had and how it relates to their writing careers. She provocatively asks: “[how] do the rest of us mortals negotiate the balance between selfhood and motherhood? Is stopping at one child the answer, or at least the beginning of one?”

Smith and several of her colleagues fiercely criticized the article in the comments section. Smith brought in the question of equality, asking: “I have two children. Dickens had ten – I think Tolstoy did, too. Did anyone for one moment worry that those men were becoming too father-ish to be writer-esque?” She continued by stating that “two kids entertaining each other in one room gives their mother in another room a surprising amount of free time she would not have otherwise.” Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley commented: “The key is not having one child, it is living in a place where there is excellent daycare and a social world that allows fathers to have the time and the motivation to fully share in raising kids.” British novelist Louise Doughty also made an interesting comment, saying: “I think I have become a better writer since having children. It improves creativity, particularly because once you have children it makes you realise the story isn’t about you.” Several other writers also announced their harsh disagreement, some using snarky ridicule. The combative feel of this debate aside, it brings up the question of how maternal status and creativity are connected.

Smith’s stance against the idea that motherhood is threat to creativity and one’s professional life makes me bring up the works of the late psychoanalyst Rozsika Parker. Parker developed a thorough theory on maternal development emphasizing ambivalence as a key component of mothering, thereby making it a crucial question how ambivalence is dealt with by the mother. She argued that mothers have very limited room for expression and processing of the inevitable maternal ambivalence, both on cultural and societal levels, and internally, because of our extreme idealization of mothers. Parker emphasized how becoming a mother inevitably entails dissonance and tension between lived subjective experiences of mothering and normative ideals of motherhood. However, the good news from Parker is, that if ambivalence is acknowledged as opposed to blocked out, it actually holds great creative potential.

Parker and the Creative Potential of Maternal Ambivalence

Parker reworked the Kleinian model from the maternal perspective through her theory on maternal ambivalence. Like Klein, Parker emphasized the conflictual quality of the mother-child relationship with the purpose of illuminating the creative role of maternal ambivalence and possibilities for maternal subjectivity. Parker defined maternal ambivalence as “the experience shared by all mothers in which loving and hating feelings for their children exist side by side.” (1995, p. 1). It is frequently denied or shamed, or only partly acknowledged, for example through humor (1997, p. 17). Parker distinguished between manageable and unmanageable ambivalence (1997, p. 21). The unmanageable ambivalence arouses intolerable guilt and anxiety because the love is not felt to be strong enough to mitigate the hate. Manageable ambivalence is related to what Parker, re-reading Klein’s concept of the depressive position, constituted as the maternal depressive position: “it is the mother’s achievement of ambivalence – the awareness of her coexisting love and hate for the baby – that can promote a sense of concern and responsibility towards, and differentiation of self from the baby.” (1997, p.20). Parker suggested that maternal ambivalence is a new form of working through the capacity to contain love and hate, and not just a revisiting of the infantile depressive position. Generally, ambivalence is a dynamic experience of conflict. According to Parker, ambivalence has a special function in mothering: it is a necessity in order for the mother to know herself and acknowledge her less ideal characteristics as a mother. Parker (1995) argued that it is through the development of the capacity to accept ambivalence that a mother is able to let go of the omnipotent fantasy of the unity of the mother-child couple. Parker (1997) paralleled Klein’s idea of the baby’s feelings of loss during the depressive position with the mother’s feelings of loss. The ambivalence is not the problem in itself; it is the mother’s handling of the guilt and anxiety evoked by the ambivalence that can cause emotional disturbance.

Maternal ambivalence according to Parker is not just a reworking of the mother’s early life; it is a new developmental line with an important function. The purpose of ambivalence is that it draws the mother to struggle to think about, understand and know her baby. The suffering of ambivalence actually promotes the mother’s thinking about the baby and their relationship: “It is the troubling co-existence of love and hate that propels a mother into thinking about what goes on between herself and her child.” (1995, p. 7).

Returning to Smith, I believe she has captured the essence of maternal ambivalence in her essay “Joy”. In this essay, Smith presents her thoughts on the crucial difference between joy and pleasure. She uses her experience of mothering as an example:

Occasionally the child, too, is a pleasure, though mostly she is a joy, which means in fact she gives us not much pleasure at all, but rather that strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight that I have come to recognize as joy, and now must find some way to live with daily.

A perfect capture of maternal ambivalence. To Smith, joy is an inherently ambivalent feeling, and it is the feeling she strongly associates with mothering. In light of Smith’s assertion that her maternal status as a mother of two does not work against her creativity and professional life, I find it easy to connect it with Parker’s model. However, Parker did not specifically address the question of the number of children. Which brings me to a researcher who has.

Frost and Having a Second Child

Nollaig Frost is one of the few researcher who has looked at the specific situation of mothering a second child. She has pointed out how even newer developments in psychoanalysis that aim to create space for maternal subjectivity, like the works of Parker, or psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin, still don’t offer much on the subject of the specifics of mothering a second child. In her chapter, “Mothering the Other” in this year’s most promising book on mothering and psychoanalysis, she draws on Benjamin and Parker and adds her own qualitative research to further develop an understanding of the particularities of mothering more than one child. Frost references the research that, although sparse, confirms that maternal identity develops as family size increases (p. 344). Frost conducted her own research with qualitative interviews with mothers of two. Frost’s findings showed that with the addition of the second child, the mothers began to speak of the impossibility of being an ideal mother to two children: “These mothers describe how having a second child enables them to reappraise the reality of striving to meet the demands of two children and allows a relinquishment of attempts to be a perfect mother.” (p. 347). The situation of having a second child simply does not make it possible to keep up the idea of the ideal mother as it is perpetuated in culture.

So what I gather from Frost’s thinking, is that having a second child may actually propel a mother toward more acceptance of her ambivalence because of the way the fantasy of one’s maternal ideal is so forcefully challenged. In a positive outcome, this can promote the creative potentials of maternal ambivalence. Frost concludes her chapter stating that: “The accounts gathered from the women in this study suggest that the presence of two children enables mothers to express maternal ambivalence in a way that is permitted” (p. 354). However, as Parker emphasized, there is a big difference between manageable and unmanageable maternal ambivalence. It is obvious that having a second child may not necessarily promote acknowledgement or integration of ambivalence for all mothers. Still, in line with Frost’s thinking combined with Smith’s voice in mind, I would like to entertain the idea of the emotionally creative potentials of namely having a second child.

Frost’s findings demonstrated that the mothers often felt a split in their feelings toward their children, where the negative feelings often were directed toward the demanding toddler. To take Frost’s thinking further, maybe it’s possible for mothers to make use of the triangulated situation of having a second child to compartmentalize their contradicting feelings and thereby contain their ambivalence better? For example, all the negative may be directed toward the demanding toddler so all the positive can be directed toward the youngest, like several of the mothers in Frost’s study experienced. Of course this could also be the opposite for some mothers, where the newborn may become the cruel and demanding infant and the toddler is then the stronger child whom the mother already knows, which gives the comfort and predictability of a well-established relationship. There could be endless variations to this dynamic, and the constructive use of it would include some level of acknowledgment of the ambivalence as well as emotional flexibility of the defenses. I am speaking here of the creative potentials, and I recognize it also brings up the question of what “normal” maternal development is and how problematic that idea is. Saving that question for a later examination, what I want to focus on here is this: Smith and her colleagues eagerly made the argument, that it is not the number of children that hinders a woman’s creative career, but external factors like child care and social support. The theories and research presented here add a possible psychological argument; that from an interpersonal perspective that includes the mother’s subjectivity, having a second child may indeed not be a hindrance to creativity, but on the contrary, a promotion to it.

Returning to Sandler’s article, she later indicated that she was misunderstood by a “bogus headline” to an essay about how she found inspiration in female writers. She also added that she agrees with the need to improve policies that affect mothers. This brings up another big question (for later examination) of how media contributes to the infamous “Mommy Wars” or the riling up of motherhood debates. It is telling of the sensitivities of this topic that it apparently only takes a “bogus headline” to get a group of acclaimed female professionals to eagerly engage in online debates.



Frost, N. (2014). Mothering the Other. Psychoanalytic Understandings of Becoming a Mother to a Second Child. In: Bueskens, P. (Ed.) Mothering & Psychoanalysis, 342-356. Toronto: Demeter Press.

Parker, R. (1995). Mother Love/Mother Hate. New York: BasicBooks.

Parker, R. (1997). The Production and Purposes of Maternal Ambivalence. In: Hollway, W. & Featherstone, B. (Eds.) Mothering and Ambivalence, 17-36. London: Routledge.



Studying Mothers In Mommy Wars. Where Do Maternal Studies Start?

Motherhood is tricky business, and studying it is no different. I used to think it couldn’t be that difficult to zoom in on mothers as particular subjects to study, but it has turned out to be much more slippery and theoretically complex. The subjectivity of the mother; the mother as subject in her own right, is not something that can be taken for granted. The maternal is a subject position so conflictual that it has been proposed as a theoretical question in itself (Baraitser el al., 2009). To jump right into the disciplinary clash between psychoanalysis and feminism, Hollway (2006) has captured the core of the issue of maternal subjectivity by asking: “Can mothers be good-enough mothers and still be subjects in their own right?” (p. 65). Any answer to this will elicit a series of new questions. If the answer is no, we must continue to question the entire concept of “good-enough mothering”. If the answer is yes, I want to know what that subjectivity looks like. Because Winnicott’s infamous concept of “good-enough mothering” that was uncritically and tirelessly referred to all through my psychology studies, is met with substantial critique the moment one ventures out of the bubble that clinical psychodynamic psychology can sometimes feel like. A concept like “good-enough mothering” does not account for a mother’s subjectivity, but on the contrary only sees her in terms of her function and capacity as the mother. The concept only looks at the infant’s needs, and the mother’s autonomy is only included in terms of the infant’s needs to be adequately frustrated as s/he is developing (Bueskens, 13). So the question of maternal subjectivity; what it is, how we conceptualize it, and how we study it, is the place to start when venturing into maternal studies, (and this is by no means an exhaustive account, but more like a taste).

Winnicott was like a holy cow during my undergrad and Master’s program. I had never thought I would come to be critical of such a seemingly friendly and warm concept (but that is not to say that Winnicott is totally out the window; his works have been re-worked in maternal studies too, by analysts like Jessica Benjamin).

Maternal subjectivity becomes especially slippery in the so-called Mommy Wars. Readers may frown upon my using this phrase, but as a clinician and scholar informed and inspired by Kleinian theory, I appreciate the reference to heated conflict. Because much more is at stake than whether a picture of a toddler being breastfed will create social media buzz. The conflicts of the Mommy Wars are concerning namely in light of the problems with maternal subjectivity. The more polarized and sensationalized the debates get, the less room will there be left for spaces for honest expressions of maternal subjectivity. When these Mommy debates become ideological, it is at the expense of the acknowledgment of the subjectivity of those involved (Vissing, 2014). Mothers’ accounts of their mothering experience turn into arguments in the debate, and personal experiences will be perceived as underpinning for these arguments (I have written about this in a chapter that will be published this Fall).

I think the first thing to note about maternal subjectivity for now, is that acknowledging its theoretical and practical importance is in itself a significant stance because of the aforementioned implications for clinical concepts like “good-enough mothering”, or for how we approach research methodology. I often encounter research and theory, especially about infants and children that does not address the issue of the mother’s subject position (and I will be demonstrating examples of that in this blog as it develops). Bueskens (2014), in her introduction to Mothering and Psychoanalysis, argues that if we recognize the mother or “the maternal” as a valuable subject from which to generate knowledge, it may not only free women from the constraint of the institution of motherhood, but also shift our “epistemological, political, social and psychic horizons” (p. 4). How is that for a promising statement?

I welcome your thoughts on and questions about maternal subjectivity, whether academic or from personal experience. There is much more on this subject, but I had to just kick off this project.


Baraitser, L., Sigal Spigel, S., Betterton, R., Curk, P., Hollway, W., Jensen, T., Miller, G., Miller,    T., Parker, R., Pullinger, K., Raphael-Leff, J., Reynolds, T., Simic, L., Stone, A., and Tyler, I. (2009). Editorial. Mapping Maternal Subjectivities, Identities and Ethics. Studies in the Maternal, 1(1).

Bueskens, P. (2014). Mothering and Psychoanalysis: Clinical, Sociological and Feminist Perspectives. Toronto: Demeter Press.

Hollway, W. (2006). The Capacity to Care. Gender and Ethical Subjectivity. London: Routledge.

Vissing, H. (2014). The Ideal Mother Fantasy and Its Protective Function. In L. Ennis (Ed.), Intensive Mothering: The Cultural Contradictions of Modern Motherhood. Toronto: Demeter Press.