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
When it comes to an infant's diet, there is no one "right" way. The primary caregiver’s mental health overrides any formula vs. breast milk debate. But in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, let’s review some nursing pros and cons:
The mother-infant bonding that happens during breastfeeding helps to build a secure attachment relationship while the physical touch, eye contact, and mirroring of facial expressions during a feed helps release the “feel-good” hormone of oxytocin. This can also help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. And breast milk itself is amazing! Skin irritations can miraculously be healed by a drop of breastmilk. A mother’s breast milk contains essential nutrients and antibodies to promote growth and cure illness in her infant, while the infant’s saliva contains microbes that are passed through the nipple during breastfeeding that target specific ailments in the lactating body. It is a process that is beautifully symbiotic.
On the other hand, breastfeeding can come with a cost, and is hardly a positive or easy experience for all lactating people. The unpaid labor of pumping and nursing an infant every 2-3 hours can be literally draining, demanding, and at times isolating and restrictive. In addition to an array of physical complications including supply issues, nipple pain, or mastitis, some women also experience overwhelmingly negative feelings while breastfeeding called D-MER, or dysphoric milk ejection reflex, which includes strong feelings of sadness, disgust, anxiety, or rage during the first 10 minutes of each feed. This syndrome was first coined in 2007, so research around the scientific etiology is still emerging around the hormonally-induced stress response to breastfeeding that involves fluctuating levels of oxytocin, prolactin, and dopamine. Weaning and decreasing the number of feeds throughout the day can also trigger an increase in anxiety, and lead to feelings of shame around the length of time breastfeeding a baby.
Sustaining a fully dependent human is hard work, regardless of how it’s done. Cheers to all those feeding littles world-wide.
Original photo by Lucas Mendes via Unsplash
Sharon Itkoff Nacache ATR-BC LCAT PMH-C
Just back from a month of travel throughout France visiting family, I'm reacquainting myself with the streets of my beloved city. I pass a compelling mural by collage artist Brittney DiMauro depicting actors of “The Handmaid’s Tale” on currency wearing their signature red uniforms with “Blessed Be My Basic Human Rights” written above in ransom-style lettering. Although the television series is dystopian and fictional, the street art response to the timeless fight for female bodily autonomy is striking.
Here in NY state, abortions remain legal up to 24 weeks of gestation, but the recent reversal of Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court case in the US essentially criminalizes unwanted pregnancy nationally, promoting forced birthing as the norm. France, on the other hand, has historically offered more comprehensive reproductive healthcare for women. This June, French legislation ensured that a women’s right to abortion until 14-16 weeks gestation was protected in their Constitution. They also offer supportive postpartum care that includes at least 10 visits of free pelvic floor “re-education or physiotherapy” for all birthing people. (Although I originally assumed this was due to progressive and feminist thinking, I recently learned it was a political move to address concerns around a dwindling population. Regardless, this is preferable to the American pressure to “bounce back” postpartum, with 1 in 4 new mothers returning to work within 2 weeks of birth according to a 2012 study.) Like most members of the EU, every expectant mother is eligible for paid maternity leave in France, though the exact length of leave depends on her current and expected number of children.
French feminist and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir is quoted as saying, “Never forget that all it takes is a political, economic or religious crisis for women’s rights to be called into question. These rights are never fully acquired. You must remain vigilant your whole life.” These NYC streets, too, serve as gritty visual reminders of what has and perhaps always will be at stake for birthing people.
Post by Sharon Itkoff Nacache ATR-BC LCAT PMH-C
Mural by Brittney DiMauro @eternalpossessions