Chapter 3: A call for the current environment

April 21, 2021

Written by Lucia Mieli

You can see now how (if you have missed the previous chapters click here), in moving up the increase in sensibility to conception, nature offers the current environment an amazing opportunity to provide the woman with the acceptance, attunement and containment that may have lacked or faltered in her imprinting experience of being loved.

It is a formidable opportunity for all the people who care for the woman today – her partner, elective family of friends, and all the professionals involved in perinatal care (obs, gyn, etc.) – but also for culture itself, in its capacity to provide an umbrella of meaning, values and expectations that coalesce into a collective discourse. Everyone should be aware that pregnancy is evolutionary designed to be a time of unequalled plasticity and receptivity, a time when, without any need to involve a professional (a psychotherapist), a woman is made hormonally susceptible to be particularly receptive to a ‘perfectified’ or even reparative experience of responsivity, validation, reassurance and empowerment. This new-found provision in turn can help any remaining islands of unmet experience, the “little girl inside” (read here) the woman grow by internalising the new provision, enabling the new mum to provide for her real child from a newly integrated and nourished self.

Providing this sometimes reparative containment, moreover, is not something that needs to be learned about in books to happen. It’s written in our instincts, in our innate tendency to respond with caring behaviour when vulnerability is expressed (think about how many kittens you see and share on Facebook for instance). So, if we just let ourselves attune to pregnant women and new-mothers’ increased sensitivity, it would be the most natural thing to treat them with increased availability, tenderness, acceptance, providing reassurance and conveying our profound respect for what they are feeling and withstanding, mirroring them back a sense of self-confidence and pride.

A sensitive partner would feel this, and wish to be there for his woman. The same goes for friends and loved ones around the family-to-be.

But this is a call not only for anyone belonging to the private sphere of a woman’s life. Adopting an attitude of increased empathy and empowerment should apply above all to all professionals involved in the care, from doctors to nurses, from breastfeeding support and paediatricians afterbirth. Thanks to the intrinsic asymmetry marking the relationship between patient and specialist, in fact, these relationships carry a special power to rework the woman’s internalised patterns of responses she encoded during her imprinting experienced of being cared for by her parents. We’ll talk more about this in chapter six, but let’s just state here that pre and post-natal care, if we responded humanly to women’s rightful sharpened sensibility at this most momentous time of their lives, should and would be delivered with attunement, sensitivity and clarity, without paternalization or intrusion of any kind, but truly listening to women, to their doubts and fears, providing reassurance alongside clear guidance and empowerment.

Psychologically, the quality of the current provision towards the mother is so paramount because the newly received care has the power to be internalised by the mother “in fast track” comparing to any other period of life, thanks to the hormonally driven re-emergence of childhood experience. Literally, stuff that normally would take months or even years of secure alliance in therapy to resurface – so that it may be finally met and the tension of keeping it in released – in the perinatal period is just there, almostcalling out loud for a caring hand. And the good news is in 99.9% of the cases, the repairing doesn’t need to be done by a therapist. All it takes is for attachment figures[1] in the life of the woman to respond with attunement. In the mother, the internalisation of this newfound acceptance for her emotionality leads to shaping a new capacity for self-regulation (it’s literally neural wiring, but it’s usually felt as a “new inner voice” talking the talk of a good internal parent). From this new-found standpoint, it then becomes possible for the woman to evoke the very same validation, reassurance, security and empowerment towards those very same emotions that she used to try and repress (avoid, shame, disavow, blame, hide etc.), re-writing any eventual the voids left by her parents’ limits or biases.

The pain and anxiety of shame and self-blame gradually go away, and all it is left to deal with is the emotion or feeling itself, positive or negative but all the same finally experienced as legitimate and meaningful: a signal, guiding us towards what needs to be done to find harmony again, that is a state of saturation of emotional needs. Anger/frustration, for instance, instead of something forbidden/selfish/unloving, can then be taken as they are meant for, that is as the signals that introducing space in the relationship is due (“a need a bit of air, get off”). Sadness/longing can return to be the righteous feeling they are, the signals that space is too much and that reunion has to be worked towards.

The acquisition of this extended capacity for self-love and therefore self-regulation helps the woman reach a next stage of emotional maturity – where there are no (or at least less) “no-go areas” emotionally, stuff that simply mustn’t be felt – ultimatelymaking her better able to meet her baby’s emotional needs for security and separation after birth.

[1] And by that here I mean any relationship where there’s a level of dependence involved, including the doctor-patient, nurse-patient or midwife-patient relationships during perinatal care.

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