26 Sep 2012

A Mother's Gaze

This is the day when I see most of my clients. What struck me today was a recurring theme: their mother's psychological gaze. It is said in our psychology circles that the mother's gaze (real and psychological - i.e how she experiences her child) is a crucial key to a child's personality organization and sense of self. One of the reasons I started the Deconstructing Mummy groups is prevention. Time and again I met my adult clients' "mother ghosts" "parading" in the consulting room. Descriptions of mothers who somehow failed their children.
 I asked myself: what if?
What if those mothers had help as they carried these children in their bellies?
As they soothed them, nursed them, watched them change and develop?
Today all I could hear in the sessions were children begging to be seen, loved, admired, encouraged to individuate.
"See who I am - not who you would like me to be"
"Listen to me and don't get lost in your hurt self-centeredness"
"Allow me to be my own  person, not a part of you"
"Touch me, caress me, smile at me"
"Try and contain your sorrow, anxiety, fear, your well-being is my sense of security"
"Stop fussing over money, your work, your image and really be here with me"
"Don't use me to feel worthy of your life or yourself"
That is what I  heard from my clients, once vulnerable children, now vulnerable and hurt adults .
And that is what I want you to consider.
As mothers we have a bond with our children. Is it unbreakable? A given? Natural and taking care of itself?
NO. A big fat NO.
It is hard work and it puts us to the test. We are asked to put our whole selves on the line. Be all, be the infant's universe. How can a mother not fail?
The truth is that she will fail.
She will fail to be the perfect, fantasied mother, both in her own fantasy and in her child's. She will never be able to satisfy every wish, desire, dream that her child might have.
She will frustrate.
But she can also love, and give, and be. The freer she is of her own childhood ghosts, the better she will cope with this new, budding relationship that is full of fresh potential.
She will then be able to hug, and be, and prioritize differently, and differentiate her self from her child, and keep her own fantasies in check, providing, listening, nurturing her real child by being her authentic self, for "better or for worse".
Motherhood involves stepping out of our own little worlds and taking a leap into the unkown, relating intensely to an unformed yet but very present, other individual. Yes, "motherhood is not for sissies" as I read in a funny postcard. Nor is it for the self-centred who stingily give. There is no perfection involved in the job description. So who is it for then?
Hey, actually I do have an answer. It is for everyone.
Everyone that cares to take a good honest look at themselves.

12 Sep 2012

Breastfeeding shielding child from Depression?

I recently read this article/study, with the title: "Breastfeeding in infancy may shield adults from Depression". The title caught me and I found it very interesting. I am openly pro breastfeeding but also very sceptical about how breastfeeding is promoted or used.
As I've mentioned in another post, breastfeeding is a very hot topic in mothers' discussions, provoking extreme reactions. I have also said that breastfeeding is not only the natural act per se but can and usually is very symbolic about female sexuality, fecundity, power, ability to be. Mothers attach knowingly or unknowingly intense emotions to breastfeeding. Some feel like failures if they can't establish "it", others feel less womanly, others feel that breastfeeding is the main median to prove their worth, yet others relive through breastfeeding a union that they themselves missed as children. Of course there are always the mothers who breastfeed simply, just as nature intended, and mothers who for their reasons opt out of breastfeeding (and believe me there are many reasons and sometimes heartbreaking ones).
Now to get a study which basically says to mothers "breastfeed so you shield your child from depression" is a huge blow to all mothers... Why? Do mothers need more guilt? Do most mothers know how to read a study of this sort? Look at how many "subjects" were used in the study, the methodology, the interpretation of the results?
How can a study of this sort establish what the breastfeeding mother is thinking/feeling/doing when she is breastfeeding her child? How many mothers having themselves psychological difficulties breastfeed and at the same time feel numb (in that case what kind of "psychological milk" is the child getting)? And how many mothers don't breastfeed but give the bottle with warmth and care?
Yes, the research idea is interesting. No, the claim it makes in the title can't be established by this specific study. And to cut a long story short, it is not the breastfeeding that makes for a smooth, secure bond between a mother and her child. It is her concern, her warmth, her keeping the child in her mind and in her heart at all times. And that kind of mothering, with all its faults and imperfections is the kind that brings up adults "shielded" by depression.

Parenting workshops- parents of twins

Recently I met Dr. Ella Rachamim, a paediatrician and mother of twins who is offering parenting workshops. Our views were similar in many ways, having both identified the need of preparation and prevention in parenthood.  We view parenthood from different angles, Dr. Rachamim's workshops are practical/informative whereas  Deconstructing Mummy groups focus on the mother's psychological well being and the bond with her child.  Whatever the angle, the point remains: Proaction is always better than reaction.


"Becoming a parent for the first time is a wonderful experience. It is a time of immense joy and fulfilment. But it can also be challenging, confusing and anxiety provoking. The key to getting the most out of this magical time is preparation. The more knowledgeable and the better prepared you are the easier it will be to meet these challenges and enjoy the experience of being a new parent.
Unfortunately there is a lot of conflicting advice about childbirth, breastfeeding etc. There is no one right way to have your delivery, feed and care for your baby. And remember that babies have minds of their own so sometimes even your best laid plans will need to change! In order to make the right choices for you and your baby it is vital to get honest, expert and impartial guidance.
Throughout my professional life as a paediatrician - and my personal life as a mother - I have seen many women, and men, struggling to take care of their new baby and struggling to find the right help they need.  Alternatively, if they had been given
  • clear and honest information
  • realistic expectations and
  • the right kind of encouragement
new parents would be more prepared to meet any challenge they face and the first few weeks would be less of a struggle and more of a pleasure.  I believe all of this should be the function of antenatal education. 

3 Sep 2012

New Mums: Put your Oxygen Masks first!

"Put your oxygen masks first" - Mothers' well being as a determinant of babies' psychological health"
From the onset of pregnancy, mothers are bombarded with "how to"s regarding the care of their babies. What they are not educated about is their own psychological health and how this influences their sense of self, relationship with their babies and the shaping of their infants' psychological destiny.
Marianna Sidiropoulou, Counselling Psychologist, will give a free talk about all issues new mothers face psychologically during the first years of motherhood.
Bring along your questions and experiences!

Venue: Arts Depot, 2nd floor cafe, 5 Nether Street, North Finchley N12 0GA
Time: 11.00 am