On the Construction of Maternity

Hada Soria Escalante (Editor), Angélica Toro-Cardona, Paola J. González Castro, David Zachary Hafner, Marilyn Charles, M. Orozco-Guzmán, Carolina Koretzky, Shalini Masih

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


In our contemporary societies, maternity and the femininity often combine with themes of mourning and loss. Something of the feminine is lost with a child’s birth, so that a mother may also be born. The sociocultural conditions in which the puerperal moment is inscribed provide support during this moment of subjective mutation. Although these symbolic underpinnings cannot completely insulate from the vicissitudes of the postpartum, they at least constitute pillars protecting women during this redefinition. In the Nahua worldview, the pregnant woman died symbolically during the act of birth, just before returning from the underworld, as triumphant mother or fallen warrior, crossing a threshold of no return as two instead of one.

Prior to the various waves of feminism, popular culture often equates femininity with maternity, as though the reproductive capacity possessed by female subjects, were a clear, univocal path towards self-fulfillment; such thought supposes that the nature of the feminine culminates in motherhood. One speaks of maternal instinct, the mother archetype, of Mother Nature, with the primary function of veiling our eyes from the calamitous possibilities of the reclamation of the newborn in perverse or infanticidal versions. Psychoanalysis has broken with this ideal and demonstrated that wherever language reigns, natural instinct alone doesn’t suffice to sustain the function of the mother in interpersonal relations.

For women relatively unbound to the symbolic register and cultural imaginary of their epoch, as for those whose feminine heritage is little more than an empty insignia, bequeathed rootless symbols or images, the symbolic death and rebirth that maternity entails can lead to an unbearable narcisstic burden. In such cases, the sudden appearance of serious destabilizations during pregnancy and or after birth is not uncommon. Faced with the enigmas of a child, the mother regresses to an archaic pre-oedipal moment of ravage, encountering a relation of mother and daughter who do not meet as two. This regression to a time of suspension and dependence, where listless silence predominates, leaves the newborn mother in need of creative invention. It remains, as always, to see whether any given woman succeeds on this path of regression bringing her in close proximity with the preverbal.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRethinking the Relation between Women and Psychoanalysis.
Subtitle of host publicationLoss, Mourning, and the Feminine
EditorsHada Soria-Escalante
Place of PublicationMaryland
PublisherLexington Books
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-7936-0580-1
ISBN (Print)978-1-7936-0579-5
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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