Pregnancy can be a major stressor for any woman. There are many factors that increase the stress of a pregnancy. A woman’s relationship with her own mother plays a surprisingly central role in determining her capacity to adapt successfully to a pregnancy. Studies have reported that women with high levels of unresolved conflict toward their mothers are at risk for health complications during pregnancy (Verny & Kelly, 1981). One study revealed that women who adjusted poorly to pregnancy and motherhood had not examined or dealt with their conflicting feelings toward their own mothers (Breen, 1975).
There are many reasons that a woman’s relationship with her own mother takes on central significance during pregnancy. To the extent that a woman has a negative image of her mother it will lead to disturbance in self-image and one’s confidence in one’s capacities to become a mother. Women who are disconnected from their mother will be at risk for an impaired capacity to develop a coherent identity as a mother. It is predictable that if a woman does not have easy access to a healthy mother image to internalize the developmental task of forging such an identity will become complicated, thereby creating conflicts and stress.
Women who have unresolved issues of rage and anger towards abusive or neglectful mothers may be at increased risk for depression and anxiety during pregnancy. The anger toward a mother may be directed toward the self leading to psychological disturbance and devaluation of the self.
The absence of a healthy adult relationship with a mother may make it more difficult for a pregnant woman to forge an attachment to the fetus during pregnancy. Recent research has emphasized the importance of mothers developing an attachment with the fetus before its birth in terms of predicting pregnancy, birthing and health outcomes for the baby. Depression during pregnancy may make prenatal attachment more difficult (Kunkel & Doan, 2003).
A woman who does not have a positive role model for how to be a good mother may have increased fears about how to transition into the new role over and above the normal developmental demands. The increased fears and anxieties may make the pregnancy more difficult and so too the role changes and identity transition demanded by becoming a mother.
The more a woman is aware of these conflicts, the better she can identify and work through them to resolution. As a woman contemplates her new life as a mother, she is likely to review her relationship with her own mother, making this an optimal time for the woman to seek support in working through and resolving any unexpressed emotions and conflicts. The resolution of this central relationship can have positive effects for the woman that transcends the immediate outcomes of her pregnancy.
The developmental demands of a pregnant woman to forge a new identity as a mother provide a ripe opportunity for resolving conflicts and issues about her own mother. It may be a critical period for her to become aware of the heightened identification with the mother during this time and to achieve a psychological separation from her mother. It may also be a time to build a bridge to your mother and heal old wounds. This developmental achievement will promote her general psychological and physical health for the rest of her life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
LARA HONOS-WEBB is a worldwide ADD expert and offers ADD coaching. She is a clinical psychologist and author of The Gift of ADHD, The Gift of ADHD Activity Book, The Gift of Adult ADD, The ADHD Workbook for Teens and Listening to Depression: How Understanding Your Pain Can Heal Your Life.
Her work has been featured in Newsweek, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Prevention Magazine, The Chicago Tribune and Publisher’s Weekly as well as newspapers across the country and local and national radio and television. Honos-Webb completed a two-year postdoctoral research fellowship at University of California, San Francisco, and has been an assistant professor teaching graduate students. She has published more than 25 scholarly articles. She is the editor and founder of Heal Myself magazine bit.ly/1p1142E . Learn more about her work at www.addisagift.com