The process of becoming a parent involves a massive bio-psycho-social-shift that can shatter one’s previously formed sense of self. This can feel overwhelming and even traumatic without a compassionate space to process, repair and authentically integrate the birth of this “new” parent identity. Reva Rubin, one of the 1st specialists in maternity nursing, wrote, ”childbearing requires an exchange of a known self in a known world for an unknown self in an unknown world.”This, on top of the fact that 25-34% of birthing persons report a traumatic birth experience, can leave a new parent feeling disconnected from themselves, others, and their new baby.
Jungian analyst and art therapist Nora Swan Foster advocates for a systemic shift of naming and normalizing the often traumatic adjustment period of “matrescence,” or process of becoming a parent. She explains, “Birth is a normative experience of rupture and repair. What if we viewed pregnancy and birth through a lens of cultural humility and feminism that honors a woman’s desire to have control of herself throughout pregnancy and birth while holding the knowledge that these experiences may be out of control and traumatic?” She continues, “trauma is a natural part of life; the very genesis of life is a rupture. It is a part of how we live and grow…recognizing birth as a normative traumatic experience would…support the mother in moving forward, while honoring the loss of her previous identity and providing support to manage ongoing change.”
Traumatic memories are stored as images or within the body, so personal exploration within the safety of a therapeutic relationship in art therapy helps externalize negative emotions, trigger positive associations through pleasurable art-making moments, and decrease hyperarousal responses around difficult content. Swan Foster elaborates, through “mixed media, wet and dry, watercolors, and the process of tearing rather than cutting…” the birthing person is encouraged to familiarize themselves with an imperfect creative process that symbolically “repairs whatever mutations or traumas her body endured and finds wholeness within her changed body through telling her story and perhaps finding a personal symbol.”
Post by Sharon Itkoff Nacache ATR-BC LCAT PMH-C
Excerpts from “Art Therapy & Childbearing Issues” by Nora Swan-Foster
Original photograph by Greg Rakozy
Artwork "From Womb to Tomb" by Sharon Itkoff Nacache