When does a woman become a mother? Does it happen during pregnancy? Or with the onset of birth?
Many years ago I wished a happy mother´s day to a friend of mine, who was then pregnant for the first time. She replied 'I am not yet a mother’. Until this day her words come back to challenge me.
What was going on inside her mind? After all, she was already a mother in my eyes. Now I know. She was preparing to be a mother.
Daniel Stern describes three phases of becoming a mother.
1. Preparing to be a mother
2. A mother is born
3. A mother adapts
The first phase
The first phase happens during pregnancy. It is the stage of imagination, of ‘hopes, dreams, fears and fantasies’. How will her baby be? Will she be a good mother? How will her partner be as a father? Her own upbringing will be in her thoughts and she will start revisiting the way she was mothered.
The birth is still part of this preparation phase, contributing to the mental work required for the birth of a psychological mother. The real baby looks the fantasy baby in the eyes, and a new relationship is about to begin.
The second phase
The second phase develops during the months following the baby´s birth. Ensuring the survival of the baby will bring fears about being responsible for another human life.
The mother´s experience of intimacy from her primary relationship will take central stage here. Will she be like her mother? How much of it will she want to take into her new relationship, if anything?
It is the phase of self-doubt, where she questions her capacity to care for her baby, read the baby and respond to his needs, to love him and be loved back. Her personal history will influence the first challenges of mothering and it´s the immersion in nurturing and caring for her baby that will give rise to her new motherhood identity.
The third stage
The third stage takes the mother, and her new identity, to the outside world. Forming the motherhood mindset will include the mother´s career and facing other collective endeavours with her baby in mind.
Knowing what happens when we become mothers can normalize the emotional turmoil we experience and not always understand.
This matters, and it needs to be talked about more.