Anxiety in maternity: the curse of the mummy

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Lavelle, Clianna
Issue Date
MA in Psychoanalysis
Dublin Business School
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The following study proposes to inquire into the phenomenon of anxiety as it manifests in the specific context of maternity (antenatal and puerperal). This paper is the result of a six-month placement in Dublin's National Maternity Hospital, during which innumerable cases of antenatal and postnatal anxiety presented to the Psychiatric Outpatients Department. As a student of Psychoanalysis, the author of this paper seeks to raise a number of questions on the matter of anxiety, firstly on its origins and secondly on the reasons for which its onset should occur in the experience of maternity and early motherhood. With a view to answering these two central questions, the primary task is to provide a suitable clinical backdrop, namely that of two cases of post-partum anxiety presenting to the Maternity Hospital, the details of which feature in our section entitled 'Clinical Case Fragments'. Against this clinical backdrop, the first chapter explores Jacques Lacan's theoretical arguments on the origin of anxiety, with a particular reference to his concept of the constitution of the human subject as a subject of language, subjected to law and order. The aim is to demonstrate the function of anxiety as a feature inherent to this constitutive process, but also as a crucial signal - at any time in life - that something of this process may not be completely assimilated. Consequently, we intend to indicate the reasons for which the constitution of the feminine subject in particular contributes to anxious conditions later on in life, most specifically at a time when the feminine subject becomes a mother. Finally, we hope to highlight certain pivotal ideas concerning the strong link between anxiety, feminine subjectivity and the experience of maternity. Elaborating upon the intricate structure of the feminine psyche, we shall conclude that the experience of maternity is one in which a woman's divided identity manifests in its most acute form, anxiety.