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Absolute Hospitality and the Imagined Baby
The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child  (IF0.089),  Pub Date : 2020-01-01, DOI: 10.1080/00797308.2020.1690906
Joan Raphael-Leff

ABSTRACT The author argues that pregnancy is the most radical coexistence of self and other. The meaning each woman ascribes to this bizarre two-in-one-body experience is a function of her psycho-history, drawing on unconscious sources and conscious experience imbibed and elaborated since her babyhood. In pregnancy, conceptualization thrives on ambiguity. Due to our own emotional complexity, depictions of others tend to be elaborated as multi-dimensional constructs. But when static fantasies of doom or desire predominate, anxiety reduces an expectant mother’s anticipation to fixed ideas, which permeate the intense experiences of gestation. Such rigid mental representations prime the birth-giving experience, and unless mitigated, spill over into caregiving, saturating the earliest relations with preconceptions that form and inform the infant’s inner reality. For most carers, mixed feelings prevail, especially under close and exhaustive conditions of hospitality, when the intimate beloved can rapidly turn into a persecutory stranger. However, such healthy maternal ambivalence cannot be freely admitted in societies where cultural imagery idealizes maternity. A variety of coping mechanisms then operate to deal with “forbidden” feelings, increasing the primary carer’s tendency to polarize by distorting, denying, splitting off and/or projecting some aspects of the new demanding reality in order to maintain a commendable sense of self or the baby. It is argued that perinatal disturbance arises in the inconsistency between the glamorized portrayal of pregnancy or baby-care, and its grueling aspects. As defenses fail, depression (self-blame) or persecutory disorders (blaming others) ensue when guilty disenchantment or grievance threaten to destabilize one’s own self-image of parenthood. Emotional distress may also indicate inadmissible disappointment at reality’s failure to replicate the imaginary baby. If this image persists in the parent’s mind, the new infant is inescapably burdened by pressure to live up to an unconsciously grasped but incomprehensible (enigmatic) double.