What happens when a woman becomes a mother?

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Kirwan, Leoni
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MA in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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This thesis explores the question ‘What happens when a woman becomes a mother?’ Many women find themselves in crisis following pregnancy. The question of this thesis is important to an understanding of what may be involved in triggering such a crisis. The thesis examines psychoanalytic literature on female sexuality and femininity as these topics are intricately linked to the question at hand. This paper highlights that when a woman becomes a mother she may be influenced by a number of aspects of female sexuality, including her relation to her mother during early female sexuality, her relation to the phallus, the Oedipus complex and biologically. The thesis is structured in relation to the 1920’s-1930’s controversial debate on female sexuality. Sigmund Freud is the principal representative of the side that argues female sexuality and consequently ‘what happens when a woman becomes a mother?’ are to be addressed in terms of the phallus. According to this view what happens is connected with the girl’s relation the phallus. It is influenced by the Oedipus complex whereby the wish for a penis is symbolically exchanged for that of her father’s baby. A number of Freud’s papers from the 1900’s-1920’s are outlined to represent this view. Papers by Helene Deutsch and Joan Riviere support and expand on Freud’s phallic position. Ernest Jones is the principal representative of the opposing side of the debate that suggests the question should be viewed in biological terms. According to Jones what happens when a woman becomes a mother may be connected to a fear of aphanisis due to Oedipal wishes from early sexual development, rather than a fear of castration. Becoming a mother may trigger anxiety and sadism that were involved in those early Oedipal wishes. This sadism and anxiety may be internalized due to the female’s physiological dependence on her object for sexual enjoyment. Karen Horney supports Jones biological position. In response to the debate Freud revised his theories of female sexuality, emphasising the importance of the original mother-daughter relation. According to these developments when the woman becomes a mother she may identify with her own mother and be compelled to repeat their early negative relations.