9 Nov 2012

Expectant Mothers help science!


TO EXPECTANT MOTHERS

Hello, my name is Anastasia Apostolou and I have recently started a psychotherapy training; in that context learning about early child development is of great significance. There is a richness in the first interactions between a mother and her new baby which can be a source of profound knowledge. 

Are you due to give birth until Chrismas? If you are, please get in contact with me through emailing Marianna (aka Deconstructing Mummy) at deconstructingmummy@gmail.com!!! I am looking for a future mother who can help me learn about the beginning of the infant’s life in his/her ordinary family environment. I hope that the family will also gain something from this experience and would be very happy if you agreed to take part.

Thank you!
Anastasia

5 Nov 2012

Deconstructing Mummy Mondays!


It is official!
Where? @ Rokesly Children's Centre Crouch End
When?  The first Monday of every month 4-5pm
What? Deconstructing Mummy will be there to discuss all psychological issues we face as expectant and new mothers during the first years of motherhood
Entrance is FREE
Drop ins welcome.
Ring to confirm on the day.

9 Oct 2012

The person that became a mother

I read an article today about mothers making "mummy friends". It is a subject that often comes up in conversations between mothers whether new or experienced.
However the reason I am mentioning this article is not for its specific subject matter but for one single sentence that struck me, and that is : " with an understanding of the person that became a mother".
Now this is a subject that permeates the whole "deconstructing mummy" concept, is the backbone of the mother group meetings and of my philosophy as a psychologist.
Who is this person (that became a mother)? What is her history? How does she feel and what does she think? How has she changed or is currently changing? What will always be the same for her no matter what?
Is she her own person? What does she want out of her life? What does she expect, wish for, secretly yearn for? What scares her, intimidates her, makes her doubt?
Hey my list can go on forever.
The point is, if we get these answers for ourselves (you know, the self that has now become a mother) then we are on our way of being better mothers and more truthful persons. We need our "self centre" to function properly. Let's not forget who we are, because who we are will guide us in "how" we do mothering (amongst other things.)

3 Oct 2012

New Mums' group starting!

To all deconstructed mums who are interested:

New group is starting on the 23/10 in North Finchley, every Tuesday at 7.15pm-9pm for 8 weeks.
Places are limited to 8 people so early booking is advised!

Email deconstructingmummy@gmail.com  for enquiries or to book your place.

1 Oct 2012

Put your Oxygen masks first.... Again

The free talk "Put your Oxygen Masks on first!" for new and expectant mothers is repeated.
Two new venues, times and dates with more to come. The talk will concentrate on the feelings and difficulties mothers face psychologically during the first years of their child's life. Bring along your mother- friends, questions and experiences.

Monday 8/10, 3pm @ Rokesly Children's Centre, Elmfield Avenue N8 8QG

Friday 12/10, 1.30pm @ Coppetts Wood Children's Centre, Coppetts Road, N10 1JS

email deconstructingmummy@gmail.com if you have any questions.

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.

"BE READY TO PARENT" WORKSHOPS:


"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

28 Aug 2012

DeConstructing Mummy groups soon to start!

The new cycle of the DeConstructing Mummy groups are starting this September!
The motherhood psychology groups are aimed at supporting you psychologically in your new role as a mother and helping you create your own motherhood way without fear but with a greater understanding of your self in relation to your child.

Typical outcomes/benefits through attending the groups are:


  • Understanding of the difficulties inherent in motherhood
  • Exploration of personal psychological history and how it affects you today
  • Confidence in self as mother
  • Building a healthier more balanced relationship with your child
  • Understanding your effect on the child
  • Breaking free from myths on motherhood
  • Creating your own motherhood way
  • Sharing and feeling supported
  • Preventing post-natal depression

For more information on the structure and venues of the groups click here

13 Aug 2012

Motherhood as it is "not supposed to be"

 I am currently on holiday, taking a break from thinking. There are times though that thinking just hits you in the face. Reading this article on single motherhood had the "get writing" effect this morning. Single motherhood is a big issue and is a reality of many mothers. Some are single mothers by choice, others by circumstances. Condemning single mothers as a "threat" to the mental health of their infants by studies (no frills-bottom line) is just plain laziness if not stupidity on society's part. Understanding cause and effect is another story. I won't take a specific stance on the issue here, as I am still thinking about the issue of single motherhood and have not reached a conclusion. It is very likely that I won't. Each case, each family is different. I do not agree on everything the above mentioned article supports. But I have to say that the writer very eloquently makes 2-3 very strong points that I can't help but mention.
Deconstructing Mummy was created precisely to alleviate the burden of the "myths" around motherhood and promote a more realistic hence richer view of what mothers are and what they experience. So when in the article I come across the sentence "If there is anything that currently oppresses the children, it is the idea of the way families are “supposed to be" I feel a kindred connection. 
Labels can hurt. Yes, I am all for "diagnosing", "categorizing", "quantifying". These are my studies, this is science. However, they can be used only as a base to start the journey of truly understanding and asking the questions.  Things don't happen according to plan. We don't feel, act, think as we "are supposed to". Anxiety, complexity, inventiveness, trial-and-error are our true daily "bread-and-butter" as mothers, families, human beings.
In the end as the article supports, "a well loved child is a well loved child". I would also add that an authentic mother who cares about herself and her child, actively trying to love and provide, whatever her personal circumstances or choices is what society needs.  Research is great, debating is essential. Understanding and supporting mothers in their own mothering way  is VITAL.

25 Jun 2012

You + Me

You can see the world through the eyes of your child. Or you can see the world "selfishly" only through your eyes. Better see the worlds alternating, I say.
The relationship with our children is a deeply passionate one. And passion is by nature extreme. In a healthy mother-child relationship, love is rather a given. There, present all the time. But love is not the only feeling in this relationship. Don't kid yourself new, experienced or about-to-be mother. Love is the glue, and is needed badly in order to deal with the rest.
I believe motherhood is an experience that stretches the boundaries of who we are. So much so that at times we end up not really knowing who we are, or doubting who we were, puzzled as to who we are becoming. There are days when all a mother wants is to be left alone. Not to deal with demands, crying, diaper change, tantrums, "showing the world", entertaining, being patient, caring and thinking about another. There are many fantasies mothers devise in order to bear their children sometimes. Throwing them off the balcony, packing their suitcase and leaving everything behind, pinning them magically to the sofa or shutting their mouths with tape. And these are "mild ones", more "acceptable" lets say. The truth is that no matter how violent or crazy, or even funny these fantasies are, they provide relief. Relief from agonising everyday, changing from one viewpoint to another minute by minute. I see the world through my eyes, otherwise I will go crazy. I see the world through yours, otherwise you will go crazy. That sums up pretty well the loving battle between you and me. CHILD and mother. MOTHER and child. Two worlds in synch that can range from a feeling of belonging, an absolute unity to a feeling of camaraderie and sharing. Sometimes two worlds colliding where one ego has to win. You AND me becomes then you OR me. What is a mother to do then?
We all know that respect is vital in every kind of relationship. But along with respect, comes individuality, concern for the other, but also concern for the self. It is advised that the mother backs off. Not only because of the role, but because she has a more developed (mature) ego than the child. However there are times when the mother's self feels at peril and then if her own ego is not saved even momentarily, believe me there will be no egos at all around. That is why Winnicott talked about the "good enough" and not the "perfect mother".
We all have bad days. Mother and children. And we should allow ourselves and our children these days. Not doing so is just not being grounded in reality. And if we sometimes need to put ourselves first in order to survive the more immature parts of our personalities and return back to normal, apologising and making reparations, so be it. It is infinitely healthier than striving for perfection or resorting to bottled up anger and acting out later in the most hateful and vindictive ways, psychical absence towards the child being one of them. Just make sure this isn't your daily bread and butter. If it is, then seek help - you are only human.
It comes with the job that we are on "top of it", and being on top of it sometimes means being honest as to what our limits are. Where the ME stops the You begins. But for these two, to dance together whether tango, raving, Zorba-style or hip-hop, there has to be a You and there has to be a Me.

28 May 2012

Wombs for Rent

The title is not mine, but thought it was brilliant. Apparently there is a growing industry in India of paid surrogate mothers and "baby factories" (again not my words). You can find the article here . The surrogate mother issue, along with IVF, frozen ovaries etc is a huge and complex one psychologically, ethically and legally and not one I will delve into in this short post I am attempting to write. What I found interesting in this article was not that the "customers" were gay couples - one can understand the reasons here (though I do have my opinion on this). The most interesting part was that surrogacy was preferred by some women in order to retain their figure and not go through pregnancy/childbirth. I have a deep respect for a woman's right to have or not to have children. But really? "Hiring" a womb so you don't get the extra pounds or the morning sickness? That is a recipe for motherhood disaster based on an extremely immature personality structure that can do more harm than good to the self and most importantly to the child.
What is disturbing me though in this article is the unregulated nature of these "rentals". No laws, no precautions, no suitability of the parties involved, no nothing. O.K the most cynical between us may argue that at least some money is flowing towards India from the west. But my concern here is... who are the mothers for rent? What happens to them afterwards? No one can guarantee that these women are not forced to have their bodies used this way. Are they "women" even? Or girls just getting their period? And what happens to the babies? Do they actually go to "loving western families" or are "used" for other purposes?
Forgive me for being "paranoid" but the google alerts I get everyday on motherhood show me a world where motherhood, women's bodies, babies and the trajectory that links all those together is not that "natural" any more. There is an increased perversion on how all these issues are approached and ,that, as a mother, a woman and a human being, worries me and disturbs me.

25 May 2012

Farewell

I am on the bus, having opted for a complete two-hour freedom. Freedom from parking, freedom from my daily mum routine. Just enjoying the rare british sun. I am relaxed, carefree holding my two new bottles of nail polish. I open them and get absorbed by the colour and the characteristic smell. The bus stops opposite a church. I love being on a double decker if I am not in a rush. I have all the time to observe and get lost in my thoughts. I turn to my right and see a lot of people gathered outside the church. They are wearing formal clothes and a few of them are crying. A funeral. I look at the faces of the people, certain that the lost one is a beloved grandparent. I look at a woman my age crying in desperation, wearing a formal hat which I find an odd thing to wear at a funeral. But then again I come from a different country I think to myself. I look inside the black vehicle parked on the side and see the coffin. It is unusual. There is a sea and a boat painted, some travelling theme. Then I realise. The coffin is not very big. My brain is fighting for me not to understand what is happening. I read "farewell from mummy and daddy". My brain can no longer trick me. I scan the crowd again. I see her. The mother. It is the mother wearing the odd hat. It is the mother crying tears of desperation. Her child is in that coffin. A part of her buried for ever. I now feel myself, a corporeal loss.The image is so gripping that I stop breathing normally and tears well up in my eyes. I was not prepared for this. I was not prepared to share in a random moment the crumbling life of another woman, another mother. She was burying her child and I was preparing to go pick up mine from the nursery.
I got off at the next bus stop to walk home, I needed to be outside. I started crying. I felt her loss. This small moment of realisation that all we love, all we have, all that we take for granted, we can lose.
I thought about motherhood and about my concept of Deconstructing Mummy. I had just experienced a literal deconstruction of a mother. I imagined her years later somehow moving on with her life. Maybe one day she will smile again. I know that most people do eventually handle their grief even if they are not the same again. There and then, just walking home on a sunny day having been shaken to my core, I decided to write on this blog more frequently and to tell short stories of motherhood. Motherhood happens everyday and its instants are priceless.

24 Apr 2012

What, no app for motherhood?

Motherhood apparently has no app yet. According to this article, mothers should stop the whining and... "woman it up". Mothers of the newer generation are portrayed as spoilt children who want an app for everything, motherhood included. I think this article really describes the essence of "deconstructing mummy" by refuting it. And although proof by induction is a fine mathematical concept, it is not very funny to still see the prevalence of the mother-image as "unsung hero" (-heroine if you allow me). Mind you, that is also the type of mother the media likes. The new "olympics" ad for pampers, is admittedly really touching, but hey, mother is again the unsung heroine that gets an "olympic" thank you at the end. Well, if your son or daughter is part of the olympics, then be proud, but should you be defined as a mother, is it a success, a huge bonus for your "job"?
  When I started "deconstructing mummy", I wanted to tell mothers that they matter. That they can whine, complain, ache, share, and "sing" themselves all that motherhood is for THEM. Culture and even our own internal representations of motherhood, treat mothers as a medium and not an end in themselves. Advice is given on "how to" do motherhood but very few ask "who is" doing motherhood.
Motherhood is not a job. I really don't care how a mother is defined. Is she stay-at-home, working, single, black, white, all I hear is blah, blah, blah. A mother is a mother and although we are biologically programmed to long for and expect mothering, a mother is not really a given. That is something that becomes consistently apparent in my practice as a psychotherapist, where mothers of all shapes and forms, ages and generations parade in my ears. Most mothers are far from being a "given" hence the survival of psychotherapists... Should a mother be a given? Yes, to her child, but not to anyone else. What I mean here is that providing good mothering needs help. No mother who respects herself as a person and as a mother expects a "pat on the back" or payment for services rendered. But she does expect to be treated as an entity. By the same token, no mother should be encouraged by society to live her life through her "olympian child". And I do believe that no mother would complain to be a "chauffeur", "entertainer", "cook" etc. if she also had her own space, time and way to just be herself without thinking of everybody else or worrying about what to do next. Some mothers forget about their children when working and really welcome the break, some pour themselves a gin and tonic before giving their loved ones their daily bath( if I am relaxed, they're relaxed- a friend once said) and some just ponder about motherhood by blogging late at night. I am privileged to closely experience a lot of mother stories through my work. In their meandering labyrinth of differences they all share one striking similarity. No mother wants to be a hero(ine), or acknowledged as one. They just want to be a person as well as a mother and combine the two in one singular normal self with needs, weaknesses, wants and sometimes well, "olympic" successes.

19 Apr 2012

New Mothers. Humans not saints


 Humans. Not Saints. I chose this title because I wanted to give you the gist of this post straight away.
Good enough mothers, not perfect. The number one associate of a new mother’s anxiety is guilt. Am I doing it the right way? Do I give enough? Am I present? Am I spoiling it? Am I? Am I?... Usually the inner guilt is accompanied with the well known outer guilt (your mum, mother-in-law, friend, husband, tv shows and parenting magazines, sometimes the lady on the bus).
The pressure can at times be extreme, the responsibility of a bringing up a child, the house that needs tending to, work, finances, the partner, bills, messy hair, clothes that don’t fit, and the ever elusive personal time or space... I really don’t think I should make this list longer to make one realise that a new mother is like a new driver asked to drive on the highway on the very first lesson.
Things come in pairs and the life as a new mother has its fair share of tension. Tension usually “pairs off” with aggression. And aggression is taboo where motherhood is concerned. A mother should be good, nurturing, sweet and patient. Well, the news is that a new mother feels aggression towards her newborn when she can’t take the crying anymore due to exhaustion, towards her partner who is “baptised” with intricate swear names either internally or externally, towards her own self (well known and ever present guilt), and towards the whole universe if no one else is there to take the blame. 
And yes, she does have the right to feel this way. 
Truth to be told, she doesn’t really help herself feel better if this aggression remains without being understood. But we do need to acknowledge that it is normal for a new mother to feel this way. This is also the first step to do something about it and to free herself from the imprisoning image of sainthood that can only create suffocating relationships with a destructive content.
Now you may ask me, where is all this aggression coming from? Although there are usual suspects ( the relationship with her mother, the way a woman relates to her identity, sexuality, personality), in the end each mother has her own unique story-labyrinth that triggers emotional pain and hence aggression.
She also has her own beliefs, fantasies, desires hidden or overt as to how she wants to bring up her child. Some want to breastfeed briefly or for a long period, some not at all. Some want to provide material goods for their offspring, some, freedom and some their continuous presence at home. Each mother has her own way to give and to exist for her child and this should be respected. Respected in its entirety.
There is however one small but significant detail: children or rather newborns need very specific things in the first year of their life. The first year of life is a vital year, where the mother lays the basic foundations of relating. In other words, the mother is the first person who teaches us relationships and help us or not to achieve our most basic sense of security and the core of our self. Let me stress that it is not solely the mother who does this but the mother-in-relation-to-her-baby, meaning that relating is a two-way process.  So although there are very different pairs of mothers and babies relating, there are a few things that all people involved in the mothering dance share. And these simply (or not so simply) are to listen to your baby’s needs and satisfy them in your best possible and swift way, to be there constistently with your mind, your heart and your instinct as well as your physical presence (as much as is feasibly possible),to put your babies needs first above your own when the two clash, and to always ask yourself, “who am I doing this for?” without hurrying to give an answer and when you do answer be open, honest and brave, even if the answer hurts your feelings or self-image.
Motherhood is not what we call a “no-brainer”. Our children don’t need a dutiful slave or a self-absorbed mother who can’t get over herself and uses her child as a trophy or as her extension. Most importantly, they don’t need a mother who has just stepped out of a tv commercial and has no crinkles on her skirt or her heart. What they do need is a mother with her own personality, daring to make mistakes and being humble enough to learn from them. A mother who has her own unique love to give and who walks her own path to motherhood. So If I had one and only advice to give to new mothers that would be: be truthful to yourselves and listen to your babies, their bodies, their sounds, their eyes, their embrace, their anger or discomfort. Be “good enough” (D.W. Winnicott), and leave perfection for those who don’t get reality. Most importantly, enjoy as much as you can this experience that you have chosen consciously or unconsciously.....

4 Apr 2012

MOTHERHOOD PSYCHOLOGY GROUPS





This is the translation of the interview conducted from Maria Athini in February 2011 on behalf of www.babyspace.gr regarding the Motherhood Psychology  Groups.






The groups you are facilitating focus on the psychology of the mother, not the child’s. What led you to concentrate on the mother?


The mother is the first human being who teaches the world to her child, the first to set the foundations for the child’s sense of self, security, self-respect and personality. At the same time, a woman, already from the onset of her pregnancy goes into a process of intense psychological change. I call it “psychological earthquake” – this in my opinion is the term that best describes the intensity of feelings and of psychic upheaval experienced by a mother in the making. It is imperative that a mother gets the necessary and sufficient support during this time. A mother’s care should come as a top priority in our society. The mother is the beginning. A psychologically healthy mother makes for a psychologically healthy child.


Which do you think are the main issues a woman that has just become a mother is called to deal with, and how can this group help her in her efforts?


A mother’s work is multifaceted. As I said, leaving aside the physical tiredness, the hormonal changes and the fear of the unknown, a new mother goes through a lot of psychic tension and change. To start with, there is a lot of burdening social anxiety with regards to what constitutes a “good mother” – this is an unavoidable, automatic thought that comes from the mother’s environment and of course the mother herself. Most people have advice at hand as to how a mother should act to be good. Very few people wonder how a mother is feeling inside. Mothers are literally bombarded by internal feelings of anxiety, guilt, aggression towards themselves and their child, shame and doubt if they do the right things or have the right set of reactions. They feel tired, their bodies have changed, the pregnancy days where the care from their environment is usually there is long gone and they suddenly are deemed to “know everything” because “mothers always know what to do”.... The relationship with their partner has also changed, their “good old self” is no longer the same, there is limited if at all freedom to do as one pleases and generally speaking, nothing is the same anymore.


Another task that the new mother is faced with is the re-examination of the relationship with her own mother. Most women don’t want to turn out like their mothers, yet there are so many unconscious psychological identifications with one’s mother that sooner or later come out. The relationship with one’s own mother is one of the most pivotal and painful issues we discuss at the groups sessions. So, all the above are themes we look at closely within the group. The women-mothers or mothers-to-be, soon realise that they are not “weird” or “abnormal” or the only ones having feelings of difficulty or anxiety and this immediately leads to psychological relief. So the groups help women lighten the load through sharing and through realising their unconscious (i.e automated and not-realised motives all of us have) aspects that in the end sabotage her relationship with herself and her child. The biggest mistakes happen with the best of intentions. The women participating in the groups are encouraged to face their self with honesty and courage, setting a healthy base for their new life with their child and family.


In our times, many women read, ask and get information from experts regarding the care of their children. Why then as mothers do we feel guilt so often?


As I mentioned previously, most mothers “breathe” anxiety. The "expert following" relieves them from the pressure of “knowing” what to do. The downside of this is that most mothers are “childified” i.e regress to the state of a child who is passive and asks to be told. They typically ask 2-3 experts, they get confused and in the end feel passive and dependent. So the guilt remains as the woman has not gone into the trouble of thinking and psychically working as a mother, being able to withstand the tension, get the information and judge for herself. In short, in order to become a “confident mother” (as confident as a mother can get!), she needs to see herself as a woman-mother and not as a child-mother. That means independent thinking, understanding your guilt, filtering and processing the expert information. All these are not automatic, but constitute rather a process. A mother is made, in my opinion, and she needs help in this process.


How can a modern woman deal with her new role, her work and keep some time for herself? What does she have to leave behind in order to do everything within the limits of 24 hour day?


This is different for every woman. I want to make again clear that in order for a woman to feel at ease with her new self, time is needed. It is something a new mother can achieve gradually, using this time to observe herself, put things into perspective and then into practice. It is indeed very hard for a woman to be a mother, a wife, a friend, a professional, a sister, a daughter or her self! A 24 hour day cannot be stretched and seems very small. However, I firmly believe both from my professional and my personal experience that if she starts to feel balanced inside even in a small way, then she can figure out a way to get some time for herself. For example, if she succeeds in feeling less guilty when she leaves her child, she can schedule some time to get a treatment or meet a friend, this in turn renews her energy and she can come back to her child feeling better and thus able to give more. All our relationships are important during this time, because they make us who we are. If we stop being in touch with our selves and get lost in motherhood, then what message do we give our child? I need to remind you at this point that for a very long time, the mother constitutes the bridge with the outer world for her child. I am letting you figure out the consequences of isolation....


Do fathers want to join the group?
It occurs sometimes that the fathers feel a bit “jealous” in a sense of wanting to participate- and I can’t blame them. They too have their own anxieties and worries. However the groups are women-only as this allows for freer expression and different dynamics in the group. However, your question pinpoints to an important need for the fathers to be heard. I should maybe take it under consideration and form a group for fathers.


Could you give us some more information regarding the logistics of the group?


Yes. The groups are closed and are done in series. That means that the members in the group start together and finish together. The groups last approximately for 8 sessions (around 2 months) and meet on weekly basis for 1.5 -2 hours. This period of time is in my experience the bare minimum as women need more time to work through some issues. Some groups may last just 8 sessions, some others more. There is a clause however that the initial commitment of a member is for those 8 sessions.


We do have a specific agenda to work with, but the order or the time spent on each theme differs. Each group of women is unique and I treat it as such. The agenda is more or less the following:


MOTHERHOOD AND SYMBOLISM (Idealised Motherhood)


DIFFICULT FEELINGS OF THE MOTHER


RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR OWN MOTHERS


SEXUALITY AND THE BODY (Breasfeeding, Weight)


MOTHERHOOD AND THE COUPLE


THE NEW SELF ( Transition, Changes, Aspirations, Work)


My basic aim is to really get things going and encourage the women to open up, to be heard, to share and ultimately understand their self.


Going back to the practicalities, each group has a maximum of 7 people in order to have enough time and space for everyone to speak. For more information email: deconstructingmummy@gmail.com

27 Feb 2012

A Corpse in the Playground


A Corpse in the Playground
I know it sounds eerie, but that’s exactly how I felt the other day when I took my child to the playground. I drag the buggy and along with it myself, I place my toddler on the swing and look around. All the women (mothers) around me look like me, moving corpses.... I hear  someone talking about her sleeplessness to a neighbour  mother who in turn is looking to the void moving a rattle rhythmically soothing herself to sleep rather than her newborn lying in the buggy in front of her.  Putting my own tiredness aside I find the scene quite amusing, almost Almodovar-like. This somehow wakes me up and I actually start interacting with my son. I laugh with him, grab his toes as he is swinging, relax and enjoy myself, bathing in his laughter. I am having fun in the here-and-now. I stop being the moving corpse-who-does everything-and-is-pissed off, and I don’t feel like I am 1000 puzzle pieces roughly put together in a “value pack” along with some brain cells in hibernating mode.  Come to think of it I am kinder to my laptop sometimes than to my own brain...
I start talking to a grandmother nearby (she looks much better than the majority of the mothers in the playground) and I share my gothic viewpoint about mums and corpses. She smiles and tells me, “well, you hadn’t realised that women carry  most of the burden? In my time, things were more clear cut, most of you women work now, you should give yourselves a break. You can’t do everything.” I instantly feel relieved. She is right. But couldn’t I have thought that on my own, it is so simple. Yeah right, lost in our complicated thinking, us women forget to just be simple sometimes.
Having said that though,  I will now turn my thinking to more “psychological” pathways. I put my son in his buggy and continue our stroll. I start my free association (flowing thinking- Freud). Playground, playground love – the song by Air from the film Virgin Suicides, it goes like this:
 “... and you’re my favourite flavour
Love is all, all my soul
You’re my playground love”
Then I think about watermelon bubble gum ( I forgot to tell you, flowing thinking can get weird as you leave your mind free to wander) and then I get it. I just do.  The reason we all feel like corpses in the playground is not because there is shortage of time but because there is PLAY shortage in our everyday reality (GROUND). I then start to think how a playground is a space that has a safety fence. It is a space with boundaries. D.W Winnicott (psychoanalyst and paediatrician) talked about the transitional object and about the transitional space. A child’s transitional object is his/her favourite blanket or stuffed toy, the one they can’t do without. They carry it everywhere and don’t want to part with it as basically it is a tangible object (that is related to the mother and her caring function) that will help them to their transition from tangible world to the symbolic (symbolic representation of mother). The transitional space (and I want to focus your attention here) is an internal space within us that allows for well... transitions to take place. In simple words, a place inside us where we try out new ideas, behaviours, feelings etc. It is the space that the impossible becomes possible, our psyche gets to experiment and try, imagine and most importantly, play. I wonder, wouldn’t it be a grand idea to use this “transitional space” as a playground for our Self? To play with an idea no matter how wild or stupid, to let our mischief rule for a while forgetting about troubles, responsibility, finances, the dishes, the crying baby and the jeans that don’t fit? We should play more. Definitely . Without guilt, Without deadlines. Without fear.   Play with a lot of passion.

30 Jan 2012

The Motherly Art of... Self Doubting


 (originally published in 2011)


Again a mums’ issue to be discussed in this post dear readers. It is an issue that touches me on a deep level not only on the home front but also in my private practice. More specifically, something happened today that completed so to speak the puzzle (more on this later).
Lately, I had been working on the preparation of the Groups for Pregnant Women and New Mothers. I was reading tons of articles, followed forum discussions on the net and visited blogs. Too many blogs...

Initially I was thinking of assigning the title “Mummy Wars!” to this post, but then I reconsidered. I wasn’t so much interested in the phenomenon of the dispute between the 2 basic mum attitudes, but was rather fascinated by the passion with which these women express themselves, the cruelty inherent in their comments and communication, the feeling of “cast” when they are on the same “side”, and generally a very intense feeling that the issues of motherhood constitute a really hot, lava-like domain. I do not wish to exclude myself from this phenomenon. Not in the least. Reading all these blogs and coming face to face with this fiery absolutism, I began to have hot, very hot feelings indeed.
So I stopped, sat down and started thinking. I do have to reveal at this point that “motherhood” has direct and many (Oh so) indirect links to “female sexuality” and to “female identity”.
Please repeat after me:
Motherhood
Sexuality
Identity

I suspect that at this point, you probably have an inkling as to where I am heading.
A woman’s attitude towards mothering or motherhood is at the same time a statement and a revelation. She states who she is, how far she can support, feel at ease or live in the awkwardness of her sexual identity, if she is going to be like her mother or not, if she can differentiate herself or remain fused with her family of origin, if she can exist as a person in her own right without the “motherhood” attire, if she “can” reproduce. If, if, if....
All ifs point to one (and boy is it a big one!)

If she is Worthy, - of Worth.

Of worth to whom, or rather for whom? For herself? Her immediate environment? Society?
Worthy according to what standards?

Our grandmothers were “worthy” if they had a tidy house, well-fed and groomed children, food on the table, and a “pleased” husband.

Our mothers were “worthy” if they had us on “timetable” gave us  “formula” and let us cry our eyeballs out in order to avoid spoiling us.

We are “worthy” if we breastfeed for at least 2-3 years, “wear” our children in slings and engage in a good family co-sleeping pattern.

Do you see how times change?

Dare I ask.....WHERE IS YOUR VOICE IN ALL THIS?

Where is the voice of our grandmother who wanted to educate herself?
Or our mother’s voice who wanted to breastfeed and hold us close to her bosom?
And where is our voice who is thirsty for caresses and oh so accustomed to “rebel” on “schedule” and to find all the answers online?

I believe it is pretty evident that the grandmother’s desire for education became the mother’s goal to go to university/work and thus “schedule” us (the daughters) in order not to stand in her way. How about our repressed need for closeness with the mother? Will it not be passed on to our children? Which set of needs will we burden them with? What goals of ours will they need to act out despite their needs?


At this point, I am directing you to what happened today at the office, concluding with the message I want to convey in this point (.. be patient, good things need to built up!)

Today is the third time one of my patients of 4 years, lay on the infamous psychoanalytic couch. She was feeling “stuck” lately, in a manner of such force that she started having psychosomatic problems, her back, her shoulder her neck. In other words, she was arresting her psychic growth with her body. On my side, I strongly felt that she needed to “lie down”, to let go – and so I made the suggestion of the couch. She took on the “challenge” with great curiosity and expectation, which was soon transformed into a really intense emotional experience. She remembered her mother who was trying to teach her how to swim by dropping her in the water without arm floats , in order for her to “learn” though she could see that the girl was afraid and was crying.... That is how she felt with me now: I was a demanding therapist, impervious to her fear, throwing her at the deep end by changing her habitual form of therapy, making it difficult for her (the patient lying on the couch does not have visual contact with the therapist and feels thus less control of the situation). She couldn’t see me, she had lost her sense of security and my support, she felt lonely and distanced from me.
While she was speaking, I was re-assessing my therapeutic move. Did I do the right thing? Did I rush her? What does my logic say? My intuition? How can I best handle this situation? I need to contain my anxiety, I thought. I believe I took the right course in making this decision, and If I can handle my stress, then so will she. If I am close enough and If I am sensitive to what is happening to her and me then she will be safe. And if the need arises, I will find another solution.
Driving back home, I had a very intense insight. What had really made me angry with all these mother blogs and forae was their “certainty”. The excruciating “confidence” these mothers had for all they do and think. The “not questioning” of it all, the “non self-reflecting”, the unwillingness to hurt their ego or narcissism, the act of not realising one’s mistakes. Do I think they are bad mothers?
NO.
I understand them and feel for them. I can be like that sometimes. As mothers, we desperately need to “know” where we stand. To find support for all we do, justify our actions with articles, research, organisations, professionals. We are in great need because we are in the eye of the storm , dealing with unchartered waters, with our own traumas, with the tangible and emotional demands of another human being-in-the-making, who for better or worse is in our mercy.
Our children however are not a matter of seasonal “trend”, and as a Greek mother suggested in the greek version of “Reflections of Motherhood”, Google does not have children  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taDqKWWPDAY.  The best I can do as a mum is to pave my child’s way according to my beliefs and personality, to be brave in my self-reflection and self-criticism facing them head on and to doubt myself, my actions and my motives (but always reach a decision in the end). I intend to learn from my mistakes, to be willing to adjust my course anew, and to leave enough space for my child to express his/her nature.
I am putting thus, wholeheartedly and unashamedly on the table the idea of “Self Doubting”. And I believe with resolve that it is a very important ingredient of the recipe that  makes a mother “Good enough” (Winnicottian term). Or do I?

MOTHER'S MILK


(originally published in 2010)

In the last few days, it’s got stuck in my head to write about Mother’s Milk. You see, milk is nature and whatever is of nature, holds a special place in our unconscious mind. I am a firm believer in psychoanalysis. And in Nature.

I remember being very proud when during my 8th month of pregnancy I discovered these tiny “miraculous” drops on my breasts. I felt I was ready to receive and take care of my baby, that in some way, we were both connected and that my body was in harmony with my desire and with Nature.

I am re-reading what I just wrote: baby, milk, Nature, woman, desire, mother.....

These are considered “explosive” materials  in psychoanalysis as well as the lived reality of many women....

During my pregnancy, I had attended La Leche League meetings, read articles online, was thoroughly informed of the “bad” formula milk, the “evil” paediatricians and the money hungry maternity hospitals that hinder support for breastfeeding and encourage mothers to give formula milk. I also knew of the trend of mothers my age to “go back” to Nature and give the good old breast.
I witnessed mothers -“experienced” ones- taking out the tit (the word breast is not in the least appropriate to begin to describe the image before my eyes) and offering it to a fully grown child while wearing a self-satisfied “I am now conquering the world” smile. I was also the confidant or better the recipient of stories of women who “could not” breastfeed, who saw “no reason to wake up at night” or who opted for formula since that was the best way for the child (actually a newborn) to “get used to a schedule” (?!).

Really, I didn’t care to judge or support. That came second. What came first was a realisation that was larger than psychoanalysis, nay larger than life.. I couldn’t help but notice that milk is actually MILK! It is a big deal and it arouses anxiety.
When it is our turn to give milk as mothers, we give it mixed with the milk we received or did not receive as children from our mothers..... Am I telling you something you didn’t know?

For me, milk (i.e breastfeeding), was a way not to “lose it” (my mind, not the milk) as I was faced with “swallowing”  a 10 day ordeal of having my first newborn being in the incubator away from me. A first time mother, a new empty hug.  Imagining my baby lying alone in the incubator while I was struggling with my hormones, my fantasies of motherhood, my instincts and my expectations, waiting for this half hour of visiting time each day. I saw him tubed and crinkled moving his arms and reaching for someone in a sterilized environment. I wanted to break, literally break everything like an anarchist on fire....
So yes, it was the milk that saved me from turning into a sociopath. Every 4 hours I expressed whatever little there was in the beginning and I filled small bottles for the small baby to eat when he could. I imagined that my milk was magical and healing and that it would save my baby from the indifferent routine rounds of the doctors. He would drink it and he would fill up with my love, and then he would know that he had come in this world to be held by real arms, warm skin brushing against his.

I had really “worked” hard to make my embrace and my arms real and present for him... And so, when I heard grandmothers and aunts and older women say, “the baby is hungry, is your milk enough?”, I said, “yes the baby is fine and he will eat what is there, and he can eat all the time he likes”. I soon discovered of course that this “privilege” of having to answer to the anxieties of older women within the family was not only mine, but was rather the rule (at least in Greece) most new mothers experienced. We are strange creatures, us women. We can go back and forth in time with ease...

Milk is thus a big case. The "incubator" baby is now 6 months old and I decided as a working mother to combine the usual breastfeeding with formula giving. It is characteristic that in Greece we call formula milk “the  foreign milk”. So I gave him a bit of the “foreign milk” lest he sleeps for more than 3 hours in a row (if he sleeps- I sleep!). My experience was an “eye opener”. I felt so useless, betrayed and cut off from him that I couldn’t believe my reaction!
I was lucky enough to have self-scrutiny in auto-pilot. I realised that there was a narcissistic part of me that was breastfed along with my baby: I felt powerful and needed, but in reality I needed to have this experience through breastfeeding, I was hooked on him as much as he was hooked on me (very normally on his side). I finally took on board the fact that the first of many separations to come was imminent. I had to let this part of me go, allowing my 6 month old baby, his first symbolic separation, his first step towards independence. I had to let go of this part of me and not burden him with my own needs.

This for my constitutes the real MILK.

28 Jan 2012

Mothers can make or break


They feed from our bodies, touch our face, long for our voice, wrap their little egos around us. We are their world. They long for us. No rather pine for us. We constitute their first, most visceral, most basic universe. Do we realise that?
It's been quite a while I've been wanting to write about the power mothers have and  what they can do with it. I am a mother, work with mothers and work with adults, once children of a mother. Time and again the mother comes out as this all powerful creature, tall and monstrous, beautiful and idealized, creepy and exciting, as much corporeal as etherial. I am surrounded by mothers. The mother- patients, the mothers of patients, my feelings as a mother, the mother of the mother, mothers and their babies. I am privileged then to hold my very own mother-kaleidoscope. Looking through it I see the extreme power a mother holds to make or break a human being. I've heard horror stories - a mother beating her child with a chair while the child was asleep, still the child, an adult today sitting opposite me says, "I love her, she is my mum, I have to give her more chances than anyone else in this world". I've heard  selfish love stories about mums breastfeeding way beyond the child needs it to make up  for their own emotional gaps. I've witnessed mixed stories with mothers needing the child to help them deal with their own psychological awkwardness but also giving back attention and love and concern. I've been there helping along mothers who are working hard at overcoming themselves, being weak and human but at the same time heroic in allowing their children to move on without holding back their love and support.
Motherhood is not easy. I've written extensively on that and I will keep on writing.
Just wanted to share with you the amount of responsibility we carry regarding the power we have in shaping the workings of another human being. His or her internal conviction about the Self and the Other, the external manifestations of these convictions. Will he/she be able to love, to care, to risk, to deal with life, to just be without ghosts? Mother ghosts? Can we help them be who they really are meant to be, leaving our motherly mark for better not for worse? Can we give ourselves to be used by them , overcome our limitations for the wellbeing of Another?  Can we do this and still remain sane and alive to teach them that a self that can bend is a self that prevails? Can we do all this and not abuse this immense, consuming power that we have?

I am not done on this subject- just thought of tossing a few thoughts your way tonight...