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The Psycholo^ 
of Women 




Associate Psychiatristy Massachusetts General Hospital 
Lecturevy Boston Psychoanalytic Institute 






Copyright 1945 
Grune & Stratton, Inc. 
381 Fourth Avenue 
New York 16, N. Y. 
Second Printing 1945 
Third Printing 1945 
Fourth Printing 1946 
Fifth Printing 1947 

psn^TXD By 
Wavebly PsESfi, Inc 
U. S. A. 

With this second volume of Psychology of Women^ my 
attempt to draw a picture of the psychologic life of the normal 
woman in our society is completed. In the course of my dis- 
cussions I have frequently used pathologic material and his- 
torical illustrations, but this has been always in an endeavor to 
light up more clearly the normal and contemporary psyche. 

The psychosomatic interdependence of the psychologic and 
physiologic processes is nowhere so clearly demonstrated as 
in the female reproductive activity. Examination of the psy- 
chologic aspects of motherhood makes it inevitable to consider 
the disturbances not only in the one sphere but also in the 
other. The related physiologic disturbances are so common 
that it is entirely justifiable to maintain that there is hardly a 
woman in whom the normal psychic conflicts do not result in a 
pathologic distortion, at some point, of the biologic process of 
motherhood. This explains why abnormal manifestations 
such as sterility, abortion, and many kinds of difficulties of 
pregnancy, delivery, lactation, etc., have been included in the 
discussions of this book. However, since my intention was 
never to move too far from the normal, the pathologic aspects 
have only been touched upon, and will be treated in greater 
detail in a future volume. 

The same can be said as regards consideration of the cultural 
and social factors that influence the shaping of the feminine 
psyche. Occasionally these factors have been mentioned both 
in this and in the earlier volume, chiefly to illustrate my views 
on the constancy of certain psychic phenomena in woman’s life, 
occurring as they do In all cultures. Still another volume will 
be devoted to a thorough discussion of these problems. 

I wish to acknowledge my thanks to Dr. Stanley Cobb, who 
has enabled me to continue my clinical observations in the Psy- 
chiatric Department of the Massachusetts General Hospital. 



I also wish to thank all those social workers who in the 
course of many years of collaboration have given me oppor- 
tunity to acquaint myself with the social background of the 
psychologic conflicts of their clients. I am especially indebted 
to those who have contributed to the enrichment of my mate- 
rial through the discussion of social case records in consulta- 
tions and in seminars. I am indebted to Mrs. A. Barrett and 
Mrs. L. Fine for having helped me in the editing of my manu- 

Helene Deutsch 

Boston^ Aprils ig4^ 


Preface . . v 


I. Social and Biologic Aspects i 

II. Motherhood, Motherliness, and Sexuality 17 

III. The Preliminary Phases ,.56 

IV. The Psychology of the Sexual Act 77 

V. Problems of Conception: Psychologic Prerequisites 

of Pregnancy 166 

VI. Pregnancy ia6 

VII. Delivery 202 

VIII. Confinement and Lactation: First Relations with 

the Child 259 

IX. The Mother-Child Relation 294 

X. Unmarried Mothers 332 

XL Adoptive Mothers 393 

XU. Stepmothers 434 

Epilogue. The Climacterium 456 

Bibliography 488 

Index 493 


Social and Biologic Aspects 

M an can experience his relation to his environment in two 
ways. First, there is the individual ego experience 
in which he perceives all the events of the environment 
only in relation to his own ego, and which unifies the immediate 
impressions of his senses and gives them content only in so far 
as he can relate them to his own life. Second, there -is that 
mode of experience which is rooted in the fact that every human 
being and his whole existence are a link in the long chain of his- 
torical evolution, a part of the eternal life stream. In this type 
of experience, existence is no longer defined by the personal past; 
instead, the impersonal past creates for the individual experi- 
ence a timeless background, a perspective of ‘‘eternity’’ and ‘‘im- 

In motherhood woman is given the wonderful opportunity of 
directly experiencing this sense of immortality. The female 
reproductive function is not merely a single or repeated indi- 
vid^aal act on the biologic level. On the contrary, the biologic 
events as such can be conceived as individual manifestations of 
the universal human fluctuation between the two poles of crea- 
tion and destruction, and as the victory of life over death. 
Such a sense of these biologic manifestations is expressed in 
primitive feelings, in religious cults, and in the most advanced 
philosophic thought. We can explore them directly and 
individually in woman’s reproductive tasks. 

On the other hand, motherhood as an individual experience 
is the expression not only of a biologic process, but also of a psy- 
chologic unity that epitomizes numerous individual experiences, 
memories, wishes, and fears that have preceded the real experi- 
ence by many years. 

In the psychologist’s laboratory, the individual experiences 
are observed and analyzed as they appear to him subjectively. 
The insight into life that we thus gain is not free of contradic- 



dons- But a large number of such observations can perhaps 
enable us to draw certain general inferences. Two questions 
arise here. The first is: Are there psychologic events free of 
the accidental features of the individual event, enabling the 
observer to draw objective conclusions? And conversely: 
Are the individual psychologic aspects of w^ornan's reproductive 
function grounded on universal biologic or social determinants ? 
We can leave this question to the biologists and sociologists. 
The biologists must decide to what extent the events observed 
by the psychologist are subject to general laws, that is to say, 
are determined biologically; the sociologists must decide to 
what extent they are determined by cultural influences. The 
psychologists’ task is to observe and report certain spatially 
and temporally limited psychic facts. 

Some psychologists, however, believe that they can contrib- 
ute much to the understanding of psychologic phenomena by 
bringing in cultural factors and trying to prove that the psycho- 
logic element depends exclusively upon a given social-cultural 
structure. Some of these psychologists have dealt with wom- 
an’s place in a given social order, her role in the family, and 
the influence of these factors on the psychology of motherhood 
conceived as a social phenomenon. Others emphasize the 
influence of social institutions and ideologies on the psychology 
of the biologic functions of motherhood. 

The first type of sociologic approach to the problem ot 
motherhood can be Illustrated by the role of woman in present 
day society and a comparison between the prewar situations of 
the European and the American woman. For certain well de- 
fined historical reasons, the American woman is much more 
“emancipated,” that is, her social rights and duties are not as 
sharply differentiated from man’s rights and duties as in most 
European countries. But if this state of affairs, which is 
gratifying in itself, is examined more closely, it will be seen that 
it is not the result of progress made along a straight line, but 
that it constitutes a holdover from a past epoch, from which 
there have been retrogressions. In the early nineteenth cen- 
tury, when America was won for civilization, her women were 



forced to overcome their biologic tendencies in order to fulfill 
important pioneering tasks at the side of their men. They 
were expected to display courage and an active spirit of con- 
quest, they fought along with their husbands and brothers 
against the tremendous difficulties of life on the newly won con- 
tinent. In their sexual role, because they were less numerous 
than men, they were a scarce and therefore extraordinarily 
highly valued element. Thus various factors contributed to 
securing for American women equality and even dominance. 
Nevertheless, fron^ the beginning of American colonization, 
currents opposing woman's high social position and differenti- 
ating the two sexes were also operative. These currents, barely 
perceptible at the start, grew gradually stronger. By the end 
of the nineteenth century the role of the American woman was 
more and more similar to that of the European. Her extraor- 
dinary value decreased along with her rarity as a sexual ob- 
ject, but the old attitude persisted for some time in the special, 
sometimes ridiculously exaggerated ‘"gallant" protection with 
which she was surrounded because of her alleged “helpless- 
ness"; her social role was still connected v/ith certain cultural 
privileges, and she had a dominant position in the family. At 
thuPt time American men engaged in a ruthless struggle for new 
conquests of wealth in a rapidly developing civilization and 
had little time for family, religious, or cultural problems. 
They willingly left these to woman, recognizing her moral and 
to some extent cultural superiority. The American woman 
might have achieved even greater social and political advan- 
tages than she did, although, as we have said, women in Amer- 
ica had more rights than those of most European countries. 
Especially strong was woman's dominant position in the 
family. The matriarchal type of woman (cf. vol. i, p. 283) is 
more frequent in certain strata of American society than in 

We might regard our observation on the position of American 
women as conclusive. But if the perspective is changed, and 
the facts are examined more closely, we discover that this 
global comparison applies only to certain social strata, and that 



the same type of woman has long been common in several Euro- 
pean countries in well defined social classes, although her 
cultural manifestations were different (for instance in certain 
orthodox Jewish circles, among some Slav nations, etc.). We 
may also note here that the role of women in the German middle 
classes before the war was different from that in the French 
middle classes, although the social and cultural conditions were 

Our example suggests other questions. Is the effect of 
social causes, such as we have observed inf\merica, constant? 
Or is this effect eliminated by subsequent social developments? 
Does progress always continue in one direction, and if not, 
why? Do psychologic and biologic factors come into play to 
counteract the effects of social developments? And assuming 
that the domineering woman is a result of social development, 
does every woman make use of this socially acquired position 
in the same way with regard to herself and her environment? 
The domineering woman in New England, for instance, plays 
a great part in forming the moral personality of her qhildren. 
Because of her characterologic features, she often sets up an 
excessively high ideal for herself and for them, an ideal that 
involves so many obligations that it frequently becomes«i'a 
burden to the children. Furthermore, the part she assigns to 
the father in the family depends upon her tact. If she de- 
valuates him and reduces him to insignificance, she will 
certainly create profound psychologic conflicts for her children, 
and she herself will be unhappy and unfulfilled as a woman. 
But if, despite her social position, she possesses the feminine 
qualities of intuition and emotional warmth, her influence 
will have a quite different effect. 

Another type is the domineering woman who uses her position 
to gratify her aggressions and is unable to develop a warm, 
feminine emotional life. When this occurs, social equality 
seems a curse, and one is inclined, even at the risk of appearing 
reactionary, to wish that she might be deprived of her position 
of authority in the family. It must be stressed that this type 
of domineering woman is not found only in America. 



On the other hand, the domineering matriarchal woman in 
Jewish families is usually distinguished by excessive tender- 
ness toward her children, and her love often has a primitive 
character that inspires her constantly to seek to satiate her 

We might cite many other examples of identical socially 
determined situations producing reactions that are psychologi- 
cally opposite. ^ 

Despite this variation in reactions to identical social in- 
fluences and desfflte similarities of reaction under different 
cultural conditions, some emotional relationships between 
mother and child are so deep and primitive that they transcend 
all social and individual differences. In 1933, when racial 
hatred was at its height in Germany, I happened to travel from 
Vienna to Switzerland in an overcrowded train. Most of the 
passengers were women, many of them orthodox Jews fleeing 
from Germany; there were also two working women who were 
probably politically suspect, and two German women with 
swastikas on their sleeves, typical fanatics of the Germany of 
that day. They had an attitude of contemptuous disdain 
toward the other passengers. At daybreak, when the train 
pnlled into a big station, someone brought in a morning paper. 
The headlines reported that a well known young Nazi leader 
who had gone skiing in the mountains had been buried under 
an avalanche. Then followed a description of the searching 
party, organized by the boy’s mother, who had wandered in 
the blizzard and struggled against the snow and ice until she 
collapsed in exhaustion. One of the women read this news 
story aloud; ten minutes later there were no Nazis, no despised 
Jews, and no Marxist proletarians in the compartment; there 
were only mothers moved by their common maternal feelings 
to weep over the fate of another mother whom they did not 
really know. 

American soldiers in the present war, whenever they are 
seized by homesickness or are forced to suffer bitter privations, 
often speak of their mothers’ pies. Similarly, the German 
soldiers of the first world war used to talk about their mothers’ 
dumplings or other favorite national dishes, which were symbols 



of their deep childish longing for their mothers. Whenever a 
strong man faces danger or death, on this or any other 
continent, he calls to his mother, no matter under what cultural 
and social conditions his deep, powerful mother tie was formed. 

In every case, we have on the one hand individual reactions 
to a given social situation, and on the other a deeply rooted, 
universal human component, independent of environment, 
amenable to the psychologic point of view. Nevertheless, the 
conscientious psychologist knows that frequently a deeper 
understanding of the problems confronting hkn can be achieved 
only with the help of information gained from the related fields 
of sociology and biology. 

When we turn to the writings of the anthropologists for 
data on the history of motherhood as a social phenomenon, we 
discover two fundamental methods of approach in conflict. 
One represents the patriarchal theory, built upon the long 
prevalent hypothesis that the male, thanks to his superior 
bodily strength and mental ability, has always been the ruler 
of his species. This hypothesis was, if not refuted, at least 
undermined by scientific investigations. It w^as discovered 
that among several peoples all family rights stemmed from the 
mother, not from the father. From various old laws the pa^ 
tern of so-called matriarchy (mother rule), which supposedly 
preceded the patriarchy (father rule), was reconstructed. 
Bachofen maintained that the original type of the primitive 
community was that of a group of blood relations stemming 
from the same tribal mother. 

This hypothesis, according to which matriarchy preceded 
patriarchy and the rule of women represented the earliest stage 
of human society, was energetically disputed. While it was 
readily admitted that under certain social and legal systems 
the woman as mother held a high position, Bachofen's assump- 
tion of a period of general female domination, which was only 
later overthrown by the patriarchal family, met with the great- 
est skepticism and was often rejected as a vulgar error. And 
while the defenders of the ancient iron right of the father thus 



refused to give up their position, the feminists often quoted the 
new theory to support their demands. 

Today the anthropologists agree that there are two types ot 
human families — the patrilineal, such as found its expression in 
the patria potestas of Roman law, and prevails in modern 
society, and the matrilineal, in which kinship is derived through 
the mother only and succession and inheritance follow the 
female line. The latter form of society has often been directly 
observed by modern anthropologists, as for instance by 
Malinowski amoi^ the Trobriand Islanders of northeastern 
New Guinea or northwestern Melanesia.^ 

BrifFault, an enthusiastic partisan of the matriarchal theory, 
criticizes the patriarchal theory of social origins in his book 
Mothers? His argument is based on biologic factors. 
According to his view, the social relations occurring in the 
animal kingdom outside humanity are grounded upon repro- 
ductive functions and not upon social instincts, and paternity 
plays only a small part in the animal world. The family group 
consists of the mother and her offspring; the male may join 
this group, but his role is insignificant and without functional 

^ The parental relation is confined to that between mother and brood. 
Paternity does not exist. The family among animals is not, as the human 
family is supposed to be, the result of the association of male and female, 
but is the product of the maternal functions. The mother is the sole center 
and bond of it. There is no division of labor between the sexes in procuring 
the means of subsistence. The protective functions are exercised by the 
female, not by the male. The abode, movements, and conduct of the group 
are determined by the female alone. The animal family is a group produced 
not by the sexual but by the maternal impulses, not by the father, but by the 

BrifFault deduces all the social feelings in human society from 
the mother-child relationship and transfers their origin to the 
period of the prolonged dependence of the offspring upon 
motherly protection. 

^Malinowski, B.: Sex and repression in savage society. New York: Harcourt, 1927. 
*Briffault, R,: The mothers. New York: Macmillan, 1931, p. 23. 

*Op. cit., p. 66. 



Those determining factors in the origin of the human race and of society 
are dependent upon the operation of the maternal impulses. They are the 
outcome of their favorable activity in the maternally constituted animal 

According to Briffault, the matriarchal theory of social origins 
is a consequence of this development. 

It must be noted that in his conclusion Briffault emphasizes 
his reservations against feminist views. 

The conditions in the former phases being entirely different from those ob- 
taining in the more advanced stages of culture, the •matriarchal theory of 
social origins bears only indirectly upon the doctrines of feminism. There 
can be no doubt that a large proportion of the secondary sexual characters, 
both psychical and physical, which have been set down as biological, are in 
reality the effects of the operation of the social circumstances obtaining in a 
patriarchal order. At the san^e time it cannot be assumed that sexual dif- 
ferentiation is devoid of biological foundation . . . The matriarchal theory of 
social origins bears undoubtedly upon the claim of women to share in social 
and intellectual activities in a manner which has been denied to them by the 
organisation of patriarchal society, but it cannot be adduced as a proof of 
any biological aptitude. The questions raised by the claims of feminism 
rest upon entirely different grounds.* 

The reasons why intellectual women are so fond of the 
matriarchal theory are obvious. It is a form of protest against: 
woman's alleged social inferiority and against cultural injustice. 

It is difficult to find one's way through the labyrinth of 
conflicting anthropologic theories, and our study of the past 
has yielded much contradictory evidence. Nor is psychology 
always a reliable auxiliary in historical reconstructions. Every- 
thing that the explorer imagines he sees in the remote past is 
for the most part colored by his own subjective experiences, 
by a kind of rediscovery of his own self and psychic world that 
he projects into an outside world that has long since vanished. 

Sometimes his frantic attempt to obtain an objective view 
of the world through “science" is only an intensified attempt to 
escape from himself — as a rule an only partly successful effort. 
As a scientist he tries to find the truth by organizing the facts 
he has discovered, but his interpretations are always subjective. 

*Op. dt., p. 313. 



Malinowski, himself an anthropologist, speaks skeptically of 
anthropologic constructions that, he says, “combine some fact 
with much hypothesis.” He failed, however, to take into 
account the psychologic motives that are often responsible for 
such hypotheses. 

The subjectivity of scientific theories can be experimentally 
demonstrated when the psychic life of a scientist honestly try- 
ing to achieve objectivity is subjected to psychoanalytic obser- 
vation. Fortunately several members of a small scientific circle 
that was studying the problems mentioned above became 
accessible to such observation. I shall mention only a few of 
the results obtained. It was revealed that the enthusiastic 
partisans of the matriarchal theory, men as well as women, were 
influenced in their scientific views by deeply unconscious 
motives. However, they did not all belong to the same psycho- « 
logic type, and identical views in different individuals often 
derived from diametrically opposed psychic tendencies. Thus, 
one anthropologist believed in the matriarchal theory because 
in his neurotically inhibited hatred he was fighting in vain 
against the patriarchal power of his own father. Another 
wanted to replace his strong, domineering mother, whom he 
Jiad worshiped as a child but later devaluated because she was 
unequal to his ideal demands, with the “great mother” of the 
primitive past. He did not realize that actually he hoped that 
this mythical figure would help him to rediscover his own once 
powerful mother, whom he had long since lost emotionally. 
Another young anthropologist’s numerous “objective” argu- 
ments in favor of masculine superiority and the patriarchal 
theory proved to be based upon his narcissistic pride, while 
another partisan of the same views gratified his passive attitude 
toward his own father by transferring it to the fathers of the 
past, to whose rule he wanted to submit as to an ever recurring 
principle. My aim in pointing out such subjective influences 
in objective science is not to diminish the value of the latter, 
but rather to emphasize the caution imposed by such direct 
psychologic observations. 

There is much evidence in support of the theory that the 


causes of the first human social organizations are to be found in 
organic-biologic processes. More particularly, a certain stage 
in the development of the mother-offspring relation seems to 
be the prototype of the first social organization. 

Concerning the second type of sociologic approach to the 
problem of motherhood, we shall quote an expert®: 

Let us briefly summarize and characterize these social codeterminants of 
motherhood in our own society. Maternity is a moral, religious, and even 
artistic ideal of civilization; a pregnant woman is protected by law and custom 
and should be regarded as a sacred object, while shejiierself ought to feel 
proud and happy in her condition. That this is an ideal which can be realized 
is vouched for by historical and ethnographical data. Even in modern 
Europe, the orthodox Jewish communities of Poland keep it up in practice, 
and amongst them a pregnant woman is an object of real veneration, and feels 
proud of her condition. In the Christian Aryan societies, however, preg- 
nancy among the lower classes is made a burden, and regarded as a nuisance; 
among the well-to-do people it is a source of embarrassment, discomfort, and 
temporary ostracism from ordinary social life. Since we thus have to recog- 
nize the importance of the mother’s prenatal attitude for her future senti- 
ment towards her offspring, and since this attitude varies greatly with the 
milieu and depends on social values, it is important that this sociological 
problem should be studied more closely. 

At birth, the biological patterns and the instinctive impulses of the mother 
are endorsed and strengthened by society, which, in many of its customs, 
moral rules, and ideals makes the mother the nurse of the child, and this, 
broadly speaking, in the low as in the high strata of almost all the mations 
of Europe. Yet even here in a relation so fundamental, so biologically 
secured, there are certain societies where custom and laxity of innate impulses 
allow of notable aberrations. Thus we have the system of sending the child 
away for the first year or so of its life to a hired foster mother, a custom once 
highly prevalent in the middle classes of France; or the almost equally harm- 
ful system of protecting the woman’s breasts by hiring a foster mother, or by 
feeding the child on artificial food, a custom once prevalent among the 
wealthy classes, though today generally stigmatized as unnatural. Here 
again the sociologist has to add his share in order to give the true picture of 
motherhood, as it varies according to national, economic, and moral differ- 

Let us now turn to consider the same relation in a matrilineal society on the 
shores of the Pacific. The Melanesian woman shows invariably a passionate 
craving for her child, and the surrounding society seconds her feelings, fosters 
her inclinations, and idealizes them by custom and usage. From the first 

* Malinowski, B.: Op. dt., pp. 19--22. 



moment of pregnancy, the expectant mother is made to watch over the 
welfare of her future offspring by keeping a number of food taboos and other 
observances. The pregnant woman is regarded by custom as an object of 
reverence, an ideal which is fully realized by the actual behavior and feelings 
of these natives. There exists an elaborate ceremony performed at the first 
pregnancy, with an intricate and somewhat obscure aim, but emphasizing the 
importance of the event and conferring on the pregnant woman distinction 
and honor. 

After the birth, mother and child are secluded for about a month, the 
mother constantly tending her child and nursing it, while certain female 
relatives only are admitted into the hut. Adoption under normal circum- 
stances is very rare, ^nd even then the child is usually given over only after 
it has been weaned, nor is it ever adopted by strangers, but by nearest rela- 
tives exclusively. A number of observances, such as ritual washing of mother 
and child, special taboos to be kept by the mother, and visits of presentation, 
bind mother and child by links of custom superimposed upon the natural 

Thus in both societies, to the biological adjustment of instinct there arc 
added the social forces of custom, morals, and manners, all working in the 
same direction of binding mother and child to each other, of giving them full 
scope for the passionate intimacy of motherhood. This harmony between 
social and biological forces ensures full satisfaction and the highest bliss. 

At this point the psychoanalyst cannot help asking: What is 
the psychology of a mother living in a social order in which 
•this harmony between social custom and biologic factors does 
not exist? The sociologist calls our attention to sociologic 
differences; he can observe the behavior of women who must 
adjust themselves to existing social relations, but he cannot 
describe their emotional reactions, conscious or unconscious, 

■ for this is the domain of the psychologist. 

Let us first concentrate on the biologic aspect of the problem. 
In the lower forms of life the mother organism throws off un- 
fecundated reproductive cells and is no longer interested in their 
future fate. With internal fecundation, the sexual cell obtains 
the most favorable conditions for its development: it remains 
at rest and is supplied with food, warmth, and shelter. Thus 
protected from outer dangers, the fecundated ovum can use all 
its vital energy for its own maturation. With the prolongation 
of the period of gestation, the female sex undertook a greater 



share of the work involved in reproduction, and this share 
gradually increased in the higher animal species. By the trans- 
fer of a part of the reproductive task to the interior of the body, 
the preservation of the species was further insured ; physiologic 
relations were created between mother and offspring from the 
very beginning, and as a result of this physical union, instincts 
awakened in the mother animal that persisted beyond the birth 
of the young. The alliance between mother and offspring 
continued for the length of time in which the offspring was not 
mature enough to take over the task of self-preservation and 
adjustment to the environment. 

In the course of phylogenetic development, increasingly 
complex relationships arose between mother and offspring dur- 
ing this period of protective care, and have gradually led to the 
highly organized manifestations of the mother instinct. These 
manifestations developed in all the animal species into cer- 
tain stereotyped, hereditary forms, which are always, in every 
generation, determined by physiologic processes in the mother’s 
body. They are often so strong that they seem to have a supe- 
rior intelligence and all the power of the emotions at their 
disposal. The animal’s individual self-preservation, her avoid- 
ance of personal dangers by means of fear signals, the procure'' 
ment of her food, and her self-protection against the hostile 
environment are often served by excellent auxiliary instru- 

But all these considerations pale when the mother animal is 
studied as the representative of the species. Among animals 
the rule of the instinct is confined to their organic relationship 
with their young and ends with the close of the period of the 
offspring’s helplessness. Our anthropomorphic attitude toward 
the outside world makes us assume that the instinctual mani- 
festations of animals are accompanied by emotions that we 
ourselves would experience in similar situations. But an 
examination of the facts destroys this illusion. The operation 
of the animal’s mother instinct springs from physiologic neces- 
sity; it functions and continues only on the basis of definite 
somatic sensations; it decreases as the young grow independent 



and sometimes breaks off abruptly without leaving the slightest 
trace of an emotional relationship. A cow or a ewe (this is my 
personal observation) when separated from her newborn off- 
spring displays all the signs of emotional agitation that, in our 
identification with the animal, we might be inclined to call 
“longing and despair.” But the cow’s or ewe’s interest in her 
calf or lamb vanishes as soon as the purely physical need of 
proximity is gratified. Thus we can reduce this seemingly 
emotional attitude to a simple physiologic reaction to separa- 
tion. And, as \we have said, the manifestations of the instinct 
vary in different species. The maternal instinct of the ewe, 
for instance, is strongly connected with the nature of the lamb’s 
skin. She brutally refuses her teats to a lamb that is not her 
own, even if it is of the same age and appearance as her own. 
But it is sufficient to attach a piece of the skin of her own lamb 
to the substitute to make the ewe behave like a mother Unlike 
the ewe, the sow allows every little piglet that is placed at her 
teats to suckle, regardless of its origin, and displays great pa- 
tience and motherliness toward it. But it is well known that 
if she herself lacks food and reaches a certain stage of hunger, 
she will devour her own young. 

The difference between the instinctual manifestations of 
maternity in animals and the maternal emotion in human 
beings seems surprising, until we realize that we have been 
trying to treat two completely different phenomena as identical. 
One, the animal instinctual manifestation, is a physiologically 
determined process; the other relates to a human psychologic 
process. What the two have in common is that they serve the 
reproductive function. 

However, the transformation of the maternal instinct into 
“maternal love” takes place not only in the human species. 
Among the primates it is possible to observe a certain behavior 
suggesting that the inherited instincts are here accompanied 
by certain elements closely related to human emotions. 

At what point and to what extent the instinctive actions of 
the higher animals are endowed with an emotional character, 
is an interesting problem. At any rate, the dependence of 



maternal behavior upon hormonal processes has been experi- 
mentally established with regard to animals. Attempts are 
being made to establish this dependence with regard to the 
human female as well.® 

At present it is difficult to decide to what extent the complex 
emotional attribute that we call *'motheriiness’' expresses a 
biologic condition. Without doubt, it started directly from a 
primal biologic situation, but in the course of time the non- 
hereditary, plastic, variable elements gradually gained the 
upper hand, and under the influence of cultural developments 
and individual experiences, crystallized as maternal love, 
which is a powerful and complex emotion. 

It is clear that the unique intimacy between these two living 
beings, mother and child, tends to support the theory that 
finds the origin of the human family in this biologic ''group.'' 
In our society, further, the social emotions and the social capac- 
ity for adjustment are based upon the first relation of the little 
human being to its mother. 

Even if experiments should some day prove that the compli- 
cated phenomenon of motherhood depends upon the existence 
of a hormonal, physiologic, instinctive condition, our psycho- 
logic point of view will not be greatly affected. In the first-- 
place, even within the sphere of the hormonal functions we 
shall be confronted not by a simple process, but by a compli- 
cated interaction that is probably inaccessible to our present 
methods of investigation. In the second place, the extraordi- 
narily rich determinants of emotional motherhood, which derive 
from multiple sources, place it beyond' the domain of direct 
physiologic causation. Only a fraction of the difficulties that 
confront us in the psychic manifestations of motherhood can be 
explained physiologically. 

The instinctual components of motherhood have become sub- 
limated, and the evolution from "wisdom of instinct" to spirit- 
ualization has been a very complicated one. Possibly part of 
the deeply feminine quality of intuition is a remnant of that 

•Benedek, T.j and Rubenstein, B. B.: Ovarian activity and psychodynamic proc- 
esses. Psychosom. Med., vol. i, 1939. 



strong instinct, to which, we are told, woman once owed her 
dominant position in primitive society, if woman moves too 
far away from the instinctual, she loses her specificity. Since 
human society in later periods, unlike primitive society, was 
not built upon the instinctual elements, woman had to sur- 
render her dominant role. She is now trying to reconquer a 
better social position by the detour of intelligence and by practi- 
cal achievements that make her more similar to man, and this 
necessarily involves the danger that she will increasingly lose 
her specific feminine characteristics. However, a great part of 
the deeply rooted hereditary acquisitions, although modified 
from the outside by cultural and educational influences strongly 
varying from individual to individual, and although reshaped 
by the tremendous difl-erentiation of psychic life, has been 
preserved in woman's reproductive functions. In so far as 
this fact involves biologic problems, we shall leave its investiga- 
tion to the biologists, just as we have left questions of cultural 
development to the anthropologists. But occasionally we 
shall have to resort to biology and anthropology in order to 
draw parallels and make comparisons. 

All the expressions of life seem to move within the narrow 
limits of repetition. Thus, much in the behavior of the human 
'mother is reminiscent of long forgotten modes of behavior of 
various animal species, from the lowest to the highest. Ontog- 
eny recapitulates phylogeny; highly civilized reactions often 
remind us of deeply primitive ones, especially when their 
motives are differentiated and complex. We have seen, for 
instance, that in primitive modes of reproduction, including 
external fecundation, the mother has no interest in the further 
existence of the detached reproductive cells. On the other 
hand, rejection of the offspring, and the mother's denial of 
every emotional bond with it, occurs in the human female 
relatively more often than in mothers of other higher animal 
species. This behavior seems to be a regression to a phase of 
development in which the maternal instinct did not exist. It 
occurs in cases of severe mental defect, for example among 
idiots, but occasionally also in psychotic conditions. It is 



curious how completely the maternal instinct can fail here. 
The same behavior can be observed in certain emotional 
disturbances that seem so absolutely to deny the most ele~ 
mentary maternal feelings that one has the impression of a 
primitive condition characterized by a total absence of mother- 
liness. Closer examination shows that in these cases there is 
not a regression to a real absence of motherliness, but rather a 
complicated psychologic process in which the maternal feelings 
are repressed. 

Another example may be added. An analogy to the bio- 
logic phenomenon of parthenogenesis emerges in primitive 
man's naive idea of the process of reproduction. The causal 
connection between sexual intercourse and fertilization and 
pregnancy probably was not grasped by primitive intelligence 
for a very long time. During highly civilized periods the idea 
of parthenogenesis has been recalled in myths and religions. 
Many mythical individuals were thought to be sons of virgins; 
among the deeply emotional elements of Christianity, the 
precept of Mary's immaculate conception represents another 
recurrence of the idea of parthenogenesis. In modern women 
we often find the fantasy of the parthenogenetic child, born of 
the masculine wish in woman for power of her own and com- 
plete independence of man, or of an even deeper and more 
complex psychologic process. Innumerable other examples 
and parallels could be cited. 

Thus, the natural and primitive phenomenon of motherhood 
conceals a world of events within itself — i.e., physiologic proc- 
esses accessible to direct observation, the operation of biologic 
laws of heredity and adjustment, rational processes and seem- 
ingly absurd processes, historical and individual psychic ele- 
ments, etc. All this combines into a great complex whole in 
which there is much still to be explained. But a good deal of it 
can be clarified by means of psychoanalysis. 


Motherhood^ Motherliness ^ and 

I N this book the terms “motherhood” and “motherliness” 
are used to denote two sharply distinguished concepts. 
Motherhood defers to the relationship of the mother to her 
child as a sociologic, physiologic, and emotional whole. This re- 
lationship begins with the conception of the child and extends 
throughout the further physiologic processes of pregnancy, 
birth, feeding, and care. All these functions are accompanied 
by emotional reactions that are to some extent typical of or 
common to the species but for the most part vary individually, 
for they are inseparably connected, in each woman, with the 
total personality. The intensity of these reactions, and the 
new obligations and emotional relationships, mobilize fears 
and displace the existing boundaries both in the individual 
psyche and in its relations to the environment. 

When I speak of motherliness I have in mind two ideas: 
(i) a definite quality of character that stamps the woman’s 
whole personality; (a) emotional phenomena that seem to be 
related to the child’s helplessness and need for care. What I 
have said in volume i about the feminine woman applies, with 
some reservations and additions, to the motherly woman. But 
while trying to establish this identity we must also remember 
the differences. These arise from the quantitative displace- 
ment of individual components and from the differences in 
purpose. I have defined as characteristic of the feminine 
woman a harmonious interplay between narcissistic tendencies 
and masochistic readiness for painful giving and loving. In the 
motherly woman, the narcissistic wish to be loved, so typical 
of the feminine woman, is metamorphosed; it is transferred 
from the ego to the child or his substitute. However, it can 
be clearly observed that despite this altruistic transformation 



the narcissistic elements are preserved. For instance, the 
mother’s love for the child is often associated with the fact 
that she considers herself absolutely and exclusively indis- 
pensable to him. In the strongly narcissistic woman, the in- 
tensity of maternal love decreases when her children outgrow 
their need of her. Another effect of the narcissistic component 
of maternal love is the mother’s frequent intolerance of the 
environment when the child is in question. The narcissistic 
mother demands of fate particular kindness toward her child 
and cannot accept the normal human frustrartions in his case. 

The masochistic components of motherliness manifest them- 
selves in the mother’s readiness for self-sacrifice, but — in 
contrast to the attitude of the feminine woman — without de- 
mand for any obvious return on the part of the object, i.e., 
the child, and also in her willingness to undergo pain for the 
sake of her child as well as to renounce the child’s dependence 
upon her when his hour of liberation comes.^ 

This readiness to accept pain could become dangerous for the 
woman’s ego if protective psychic counterforces were not also 
operative. The joys of motherhood, as the experiences of 
motherliness are popularly called, are a powerful reward and a 
force counteracting masochism. Moreover, motherliness is^ 
accompanied by specific active ingredients. Freud has al- 
ready called attention to the mother’s activity. In volume i 
I tried to cast some light on the nature of this activity and 
recently D. Levy^® has particularly emphasized this aspect 
of the maternal function. This activity is not of an aggressive, 
masculine character. On the contrary, I believe that it repre- 
sents that component of motherliness which is closest to the 
phylogenetic and the instinctual. Much of it reminds us of 
the great achievements of the female animal that tries to find 
a safe shelter and food for her young and defends them against 
the dangers of the environment. If this protective, defensive, 

^ Sachs classifies these womciij who in my opinion represent the motherly type par 
excellence, as Marthas and Marys” — i.e., ‘‘their self-mortification consists simply in 
renunciation. Cf. Sachs, H.; One of the motive features in the formation of the 
superego in women. Internat. J. Psycho-Analysis, 10: 50, 1929. 
i^Levy, D. M.: Maternal overprotection. New York: Columbia Univ, Press, 1943. 



and nurturing activity is accompanied by aggressive-masculine 
components, these do not draw upon the sources of feminine 
motherliness, but upon adjoining psychic spheres hostile to it. 
There are women whose motherliness has this aggressive charac- 
ter, and we shall meet them again when discussing the different 
types of mothers. 

“Maternal instinct” and “maternal love” are differentiated 
ingredients of motherliness as a whole. The instinct has a 
biologic-chemical source and lies beyond the psychologic sphere. 
Its primitive forcas are hardly accessible to us in our civiliza- 
tion; they are buried under individual personalities and environ- 
mental influences — in brief, under the totality of the psychologic 
contents. Maternal love is the direct affective expression of 
the positive relationship to the child (or his substitute). Its 
chief characteristic is tenderness. All the aggression and sexual 
sensuality in the woman’s personality are suppressed and 
diverted by this central emotional expression of motherliness. 
It is true that the influences of aggressiveness and sensuality are 
discernible in maternal love; but in the motherly woman the 
surplus of the existing aggressive ingredients is diverted from 
the child to the environment, often in defense of the child and 
^in his favor. As for the sexual ingredient, there is sufficient 
room for it in the physical contact with the child, in caresses, 
and in many actions connected with care of him. 

To a varying degree in each woman, the physiologic functions 
of the mother and the needs of the child mobilize impulses that 
were present before, but in a state of relative quiescence. 
However, we find that such impulses in the motherly woman 
also manifest themselves independendy of the direct Influence 
of the reproductive functions. The character and intensity of 
these impulses vary individually according to the structure of 
the personality as a whole. For example, let us take a certain 
tendency that is always contained in motherliness — the typical 
tendency of woman to give food to every object of her solicitude, 
not only to her child. Expressed in terms of the so-called 
“partial drives,” this is the “oral” component of motherliness. 
In order to satisfy it the woman develops a special interest in 



the nutritional processes of the objects of her love and shows 
much solicitude about their food. Certain women direct this 
interest exclusively or chiefly to their own children, and some- 
times extend it to the nearest members of their families. This 
overemphasis on eating is especially typical of Jewish women. 
Another example is the hostess, who directs her oral-motherly 
giving to more distant objects. This type is more frequent 
among French and Slavic women. The ascetic New England 
woman often denies herself this kind of motherly satisfaction 
with regard to her own children, preferring tcj feed the hungry 
and needy. 

The development of motherliness, the paths it takes, the 
manner of its application, and the relation of the mother to the 
child are determined by many factors. The child, even when it 
is of central importance to the mother, remains only a link in 
the chain of all the vital factors that surround the mother and 
on which she is dependent. Later we shall illustrate this by 
numerous examples. 

Although we assume the existence of numerous factors in 
the psychologic concomitants of motherhood, we do not exclude 
a deep-rooted instinctual background. Perhaps much in 
woman’s psychic life is still under the dominance of an all- 
powerful instinct that we do not understand, but that influences 
woman’s psychologic processes even beyond the domain of the 
direct reproductive functions. In making such a hypothesis 
we must ask: How far does the analogy go, and what are the 
difterences between the instinctual manifestations of human 
and of animal females? After all, in the animal world too 
there arS great differences of instinctual behavior in various 
species, and its strength or weakness is not always parallel to 
the degree of development of the species. 

First of all, as we have said above, the emotional relations 
of the human mother to her child depend upon a number of 
indirect psychologic influences, by which they are complicated 
and removed from the primitiveness of the instincts. 

Motherliness may harmonize with the other psychic tenden- 
cies or oppose and disturb them, inhibit them, or direct them 



into false channels. One well known example is its frequent 
inhibiting influence on eroticism. Similarly, an excess of 
motherliness can have a disturbing or furthering influence in 
the practice of several motherly professions (teaching, nursing, 
etc.). Conversely, other interests and emotional relations — 
especially erotic ones — may lead to impoverishment of the 
motherly feelings. 

As “aberrant” motherliness, excessive motherly feelings can 
empty real motherliness of its emotional components and direct 
these latter to qiyte different purposes that have nothing in 
common with the child. As an unsatisfactory result of this 
process, a motherly woman may remain childless or be com- 
pletely frustrated as a real mother. In contrast to what occurs 
among animals, the maternal emotions of the human female 
outlast the period of the child’s helplessness and his need for his 
mother’s care; they often accompany the child into his adult- 
hood or continue throughout the mother’s lifetime without losing 
their intensity. One of the masochistic experiences of mother- 
hood arises from the fact that the child’s emotions develop 
centrifugally, away from the mother, while the mother remains 
tied to him and must renounce him. 

During the various phases of the reproductive function, 
the maternal feelings are reinforced by specific emotional reac- 
tions that represent the psychology of the phases involved 
(conception, pregnancy, lactation, etc.) 

In the human soul no one component is independent of the 
others; seemingly opposed elements are related to each other 
and manifest themselves simultaneously or alternately, while 
various tendencies support or inhibit one another. This is 
what makes every human being so complicated and interesting. 
Woman’s psyche contains a factor that is lacking in that of the 
masculine sex — the psychologic world of motherhood. As a 
result, she displays more varied behavior and greater complica- 
tions with regard to the polarity mentioned at the beginning of 
this volume — that between life and death, between the instinct 
of self-preservation and the reproductive function; in addition 



there is the interaction of sexuality and motherliness. This 
joins the other polarities — activity-passivity, aggression-maso- 
chism, femininity-masculinity. The frequent conflicts be 
tween these forces, constantly influencing one another, lend 
depth and richness to the psychology of motherhood. 

The distinction between the sexual instinct and the reproduc- 
tive instinct, as well as that between the instinct of self-pres- 
ervation and the instinct to preserve the species, regarded as 
the basis of the human personality, is part ot a conception that 
is still very debatable. 

The satisfaction of sexual desire and the release of its tension 
are the direct goal of the sexual urge. Only gradually was 
impregnation recognized as a more or less regular result of the 
sexual act. This result of the sexual urge in the service of the 
preservation of the species can be deliberately wished for; more 
than that, the desire for sexual satisfaction can even be diverted 
from its true goal and be rationalized by its service to the end of 
reproduction. Catholic asceticism demands this rationaliza- 
tion as an atonement for the sinfulness of the sexual urge. 

Biology supplies evidence that the sexual urge in animals 
has been molded and directed by the reproductive instinct^ 
For instance, the time and place of cohabitation are deter- 
mined by the conditions most favorable for the birth and life of 
the offspring. After conception the female’s sexual desire sub- 
sides and she no longer emits the odor of heat, and thus the 
male too loses his incentive to copulation. And in many mam- 
mals the sexual urge is stilled as long as the offspring has to be 
fed by the mother. 

Recent experiments with animals show that there is no abso- 
lute correspondence between maternal and sexual behavior. 

The^leavage between sexual and maternal behavior is sharply demarcated 
in animals: Previous to more recent endocrinologic studies of maternal 
behavior, many investigators regarded nursing and mother-love to be derived 
from the sexual instinct. Ceni, writing in 1927, showed in various ways that 
the maternal impulse has no relation to female sex processes. Using hens in 
his experiments, he found that the maternal impulse survived castration; 
implanting an ovulating ovary in a mothering hen stopped the m^^ternal 



impulse; during pregnancy there was a hypo-activity and involution of the 
ovaries, during the period of heat the highest degree of ovarian activity; 
also that when through glandular implants he obtained maternal behavior in 
roosters, they stopped all sexual activity, Wiesner and Sheard, working 
with rats, found also that experimental removal of the ovaries during preg- 
nancy or post partum had no effect on maternal behavior, Yerkes quotes 
Madame Abreu and gives his own observations of three female chimpanzees 
who stopped sex relations from the time they gave birth until they weaned 
the baby.2 

It is true that this last observation could be used as an 
argument in favof of the theory that the maternal urge is 
contained in the sexual urge, and that after the first has 
achieved its goal, the second remains dormant. 

The human desire for offspring has gone through several 
cultural adaptations. In religious commandments to multiply, 
it is closely connected with the belief in immortality. These 
commandments derive from purely psychic sources, from 
primitive ideas of man and nature, life and death. In them 
the reproductive instinct is reflected in a spiritualized form and 
is connected with the deep longing to negate death and preserve 
life. According to ancient Indian beliefs, for instance, the fate 
of every man in his future existence depends upon whether or 
jtaot he has succeeded in reproducing his stock on earth. Only 
through having a son can a man get to heaven and remain there 
forever. Only through his offspring does he achieve immortal- 
ity. Woman is regarded as the renewer of the race, the field 
in which man sows his seed. 

Social and economic motives have always played an im- 
portant part in reproduction and have influenced it in different 
ways in different civilizations. Under certain social conditions, 
it is useful economically to have many children. Here the 
motive for reproduction becomes purely practical. Sometimes 
social and economic reasons act inversely and restrict the will 
to reproduction: poverty, shortage of housing, etc., have an 
inhibiting effect on fertility. 

It is difficult to judge to what extent woman’s will to mother- 
hood, her desire for a child, is influenced by external circum- 

*LEvyj D. M,: Op. cit., p. 139 ff. 



stances, to what extent it has passively and plastically adjusted 
to the wishes and ideas of men during various periods of civiliza- 
tion, and to what extent it corresponds to a primary tendency 
composed of motives both conscious and unconscious. 

The relations between sexuality and motherliness are of a 
complicated psychologic nature, and this complexity seems to 
point to a determination beyond the purely hormonal. Sex- 
uality and motherliness are sometimes in close harmony, yet 
at other times they appear completely separate, as in the above 
mentioned experiments with animals. Ifl many cases the 
presence of one permits us to infer the presence of the other, and 
variations in one produce variations in the other. There are 
women who are both unerotic and unmotherly, and others who 
combine extraordinary erotic intensity with the warmest 
motherliness. The split between sexuality and motherliness 
can assume innumerable forms. For instance, each of these 
components can relate to different love objects. A given wom- 
an sexually desires one man or has the exciting wish to be 
desired sexually by him, but chooses another man as the father 
of her children and tenderly and faithfully loves him in this 
capacity. A psychically integrated woman can gratify both 
sexuality and motherhood through the mediation of one manr. 

Either component may completely dominate the conscious 
life while the other remains hidden in the unconscious until 
brought to consciousness by analysis. The genius of Balzac 
perceived intuitively what the painstaking efforts of analysis 
have empirically disclosed. In his '^wo TP omen he gives a 
masterful description of these two opposing tendencies in the 
female psyche.* Two friends relate their experiences in letters 
to each other. They represent opposite types, but each dis- 
covers deep within herself a hidden longing for something else, 
for experiencing the opposite. The longing is in itself evidence of 
the fact that something else is present, even though in a rudi- 
mentary form, and repressed. It would seem indeed that in 
this case Balzac made use of a favorite literary device — the 
separate personification of two opposing psychic reactions. 

•Dkutsch, H.: Motherhood and sexuality. Psychoanalyt. Quart., rol. a, 1933. 


Actually the two women represent the contradictory tendencies 
of one woman. The coexistence of such opposing tendencies 
is normal, and only a marked preponderance of the one or the 
other leads to complications and neurotic difficulties. 

Baroness Louise de Macumere is the courtesan type, the de- 
votee of love, whose only aim in life is the pursuit of passion, 
the enjoyment of intense erotic experiences. Her friend, Renee 
de FEstorade, on the other hand, is completely a mother even 
in her relations with her husband. Louise writes: 

We are both women, T[ a most blissful goddess of love, you the happiesr of 
mothers. . . . Nothing can be compared to the delights of love . . . .You, my 
dear friend, must describe for me the joys of motherhood, so that I may enjoy 
it through you 

And yet, even in the midst of her ecstasies in her love rela- 
tionships, a voice within Louise cries out: 

A childless woman is a monstrosity; we are born to be mothers. I too want 
to sacrifice myself, and I am often absorbed in gloomy thoughts these days: 
will there never be a little one to call me mother? 

However, this flicker of the urge to motherhood is 
extinguished by the flame of passionate love, and Louise is 
consumed in that fire without ever fulfilling her v/omanhood in 
the sense of becoming a mother. 

The motherly Madame de FEstorade writes on the other 
hand : 

My one real happiness (and how precious that was!) lay in my certainty 
that I had given renewed life to this poor man, even before I had borne him 
a child! 

Thus motherhood was the essence even of her love relations 
with her husband. 

Desire for children and motherhood completely fill this 
woman’s emotional life. In her repudiation of sexuality she 
admits no feeling beyond motherhood. And yet she writes 
to her erotic friend : 

I have had to renounce the pleasures of love and the sensual joys for which 
I long and which I can only experience through you, the nocturnal meeting 



on the starlit balcony, the passionate yearnings and unbridled effusions of 

Thus the longing for the pleasures of love lurks deep within 
the virtuous Renee, just as the longing for motherhood lurks 
within the erotic Louise. She even betrays the fact that a 
child, in spite of the most self-sacrificing commitment to 
motherhood, can arouse a hate the origin of which lies in the 
renunciation of erotic satisfaction, in a curtailment of the ego’s 
expectation of erotic fulfillment. The motherly Madame de 
TEstorade holds her child on her lap and writes to her frivolous 
friend: ‘'Marriage has brought me motherhood, and so I am 
happy too.” But a little later she says: 

Everyone talks about the joy of being a mother! I alone cannot feel it; 
I am almost ashamed to confess to you my total lack of feeling. ... I should 
like to know at just what point this joy of motherhood appears. Good-by, 
my happy friend, through whom I relive and enjoy those rapturous delights 
of love, feelings of jealousy at a wayward glance, the secret whisper in the 

No clinical example could describe the phenomenon of cleav- 
age between motherhood and eroticism in a more lucid or grip- 
ping way than does Balzac’s portrayal of these two opposite 
and complementary types. 

Madame de I’Estorade concentrates all her feminine emo- 
tions on motherliness, not only in relation to her children, but 
also in relation to her husband and probably in all her human 
relationships. Eroticism, the other aspect of femininity, is for 
her only a yearning that she reveals to her friend, but it is 
entirely repressed as regards any real functioning. She has 
given birth to children and gratified her maternal emotions 
through them, her own flesh and blood. In her case motherli- 
ness and motherhood are merged. But there are women whose 
motherliness is directed to objects other than their own children 
— i.e., to other women’s children or to adults to whom they 
extend their motherly protection. Many such women choose 
professions that serve as outlets for their maternal feelings. 

One of my patients was a young midwife. She had chosen 
this work (which was very unusual for one of her social class) 


in order to keep on having children — many, many children — 
and the weaker they were and the more in need of protection, 
the better she liked them. Her own fear of childbirth played 
an important role in this choice; she had to leave the situation 
of danger to another woman before she could identify herself 
with the mother in possession of a child. She was a highly 
qualified and well trained midwife, capable of unlimited self- 
sacrifice in her work. She came to be analyzed because of 
certain strange difficulties she experienced in the course of her 
duties. “A patien^ is in labor” was for her a battle cry, to 
which she responded with great enthusiasm (at least inwardly). 
The agonies of childbirth seen in other women aroused in her 
a curious mixture of anxiety and pleasure. The moment of 
the child’s birth, when she took it over and gave it the first care, 
was an ecstatic experience for her. No work was ever too hard 
for her; she could endure sleepless nights without fatigue. But 
what she could not endure was the knowledge that a labor was 
going on at which she could not be present ; it was intolerable to 
her to have to miss a delivery. Since she worked in a maternity 
hospital, she developed a state of excitement and exhaustion 
that finally brought her to analysis. 

The symptoms were self-explanatory. Her professional 
activity was intended to free her from an oppressive sense of 
guilt in relation to her mother; out of her original fantasies 
about killing her mother and the latter’s newborn child arose 
her urge to save lives. Death and birth were closely associated 
in her childhood fantasies. As a child she had certainly heard 
about pain and danger on the occasions of her mother’s numer- 
ous deliveries. This was responsible also for her extremely 
masochistic conception of the female role in the sexual act. 
Her own masochistic wishes had manifested themselves during 
puberty in very sanguinary fantasies of violation. So great 
a danger for her ego lay in the fulfillment of these fantasies that 
she completely renounced her sexuality, and she could give 
expression to her maternal feelings only in the manner 
described. In her choice of work, then, she served two masters 
— gratification of her sense of guilt and her masochistic tenden- 



cies; the latter she satisfied by means of identification. I have 
in my possession a photograph of her with eight newborn 
babies in her arms — an ideal representation of motherhood. 

A similar yet different case is described in Miguel de Una- 
muno’s Aunt lula. 

Aunt Tula is obsessed with motherhood. Her whole relation 
to the world is maternal, and only maternal. She regards any- 
thing that approaches sensuality or eroticism as despicable or 
ugly; but to the act of reproduction in another woman she gives 
the kind of attentive care that a farmer bestows on his crops, 
or a gardener on his flowers. Yet it is only the product, the 
fruit that has ripened under her watchful care, that she ap- 
propriates as her own, and to which she devotes herself com- 
pletely; in this way she gains spiritual possession of a life that 
someone else has brought forth in physical pain. Aunt Tula 
is the psychologic twin sister of our midwife — only she is even 
more ruthless in the asexuality of her motherhood. She retains 
a lifelong hold on the children another woman has borne for her, 
and — again more thoroughly consistent than the midwife — she 
cruelly lets that woman die, once her childbearing function is 
exhausted. She even makes a child of the man who begets the 
children: she kills his erotic attachment to herself, and with 
iron determination steers him to another woman. 

Aunt Tula lets her sister marry the man whom she herself 
loves and by whom she is loved. She arranges the marriage, 
urges the couple to have a child, and then takes complete charge 
of it. She drives her weak sister on from one childbirth to an- 
other until the sister dies of exhaustion, leaving all her children 
to the care of Aunt Tula, their spiritual mother. Aunt Tula 
lives in her brother-in-law’s house as the mother of his children 
and directs his sexual passion to the servant, the '‘debased 
sexual object,” who in turn is allowed slowly to die after she has 
repeatedly borne children for Aunt Tula. Aunt Tula lays 
stress on her role as spiritual mother and never lets the children 
imagine for a moment that she conceived them in her body and 
gave them birth. A consciousness of the corporeal mother must 
always be present in the home, lest the pure, true motherhood 



of Aunt Tula be stained with a suspicion of physical participa- 
tion. Occasionally the repressed longing breaks through and 
Aunt Tula leaves the village where she lives with her widowed 
brother-in-law and goes to the noisy city. She expresses her 
attitude as follows: 

‘There is no real purity in the country. Purity develops only when 
people herd together in a dirty jumble of houses, where they can isolate 
themselves better. The city is a cloister of lonely people. But in the coun- 
try the land brings everybody together — the earth on which nearly everyone 
lies down to sleep. And as for the animals — they are the ancient serpents of 
Paradise. Back to th^cityP’ 

But of the man who desires her she says: ‘‘He is still very 
childish in many ways. How may I turn him into one of my 

Once again the unspiritual longing breaks the bonds of her 
spiritual motherhood. 

She took her little nephew, who was whining with hunger, and shut herself 
in a room with him. Then she drew out one of her shriveled, virginal breasts 
— it was flushed and trembling as in a fever, shaken as it was by the heavy 
pounding of her heart — and she pushed the nipple into the baby^s soft pink 
mouth. But his whining only grew worse as his pale lips sucked on the 
tremulous, desiccated nipple. 

Aunt Tula's refusal to admit that she ever had a father who 
was coresponsible for her conception is masterfully shown. It 
fits in closely with our analytic knowledge. In her mind the 
really great and beloved father is Don Primitivo, her mother's 
brother and foster father. Unamuno clearly brings out how 
xAunt Tula in her fantasy life wants to keep her mother's purity 
intact, just as she preserves her own, and that her relationship 
to her foster children is a repetition of her reaction in her rela- 
tionship to her own mother. 

Thus it is easy for us to understand the following comment 
made by if\unt Tula to her sister about Don Primitivo: 

“Always still and quiet, with hardly a spoken word for us, he consecrated 
our life to the cult of our own mother and grandmother, Ids sister and mother 
respectively. He gave us a mother with a rosary, and he taught you how to 
be a mother.” 

3 ° 


The fantasy of her mother’s immaculate conception, of 
motherhood without a father, can be clearly recognized here. 
Further, the book describes Aunt Tula’s memories of her child- 
hood games with dolls, which already contained the essence of 
her subsequent development in this direction. 

There are innumerable women who because of their fear of 
sexuality can gratify their motherliness only by detours. Many 
of them, not unlike our midwife, take up professions that give 
them opportunity to gratify their need for motherliness and 
leave to other women the sexual prerequisites for it and the 
experience of reproduction. The motives for this may be ex- 
tremely varied : the woman ripe for motherhood may have only 
consciously given up her childish conceptions and fears con- 
nected with the nature, meaning, and dangers of childbirth; her 
unconscious may still be full of childhood residues that oppose 
the realization of her womanly wishes. 

The ego ideal by which the young girl sets her own values 
accepts femininity in the mother role. In her desire to perfect 
herself she follows the ideal image that as a little girl she once 
vested in her mother. She wants now to fulfill the demand in 
which her mother disappointed her: she wants to be a mother 
without incurring sexual guilt and devaluating her ego. Such 
women are often well adjusted to reality, they direct their 
desire for motherliness toward the real world, and gratify it 
through valuable social achievements, especially in certain 

When the grounds of such a professional choice are examined, 
the affective motivation is easily recognizable. Sometimes 
these women actively fulfill for the children entrusted to them 
the emotional demand that they themselves made on their own 
mothers. They care for them with great zeal and try by their 
behavior to prove that the children’s own mothers are incapable 
of giving them the tenderness and education they need, and 
that they, the substitute mothers, are much more suitable for 
this task. When they are tactful and not too neurotic they 
succeed in finding gratification in their work. But very fre- 



quently we see efficient women and girls who constantly fall into 
conflicts because of their inability to master their hostile feelings 
toward the mothers of their charges. 

Numbers of women choose such professions and renounce 
marriage and children in order to atone for old repressed aggres- 
sions against their own mothers and younger brothers or sis- 
ters. They want to help the other mothers, sacrifice them- 
selves, and devote themselves to little children, subordinating 
all selfish feelings to this task. The danger of this professional 
choice consists in the fact that excessive readiness for sacrifice 
does not always produce good pedagogic results. The teacher 
who becomes the target of her pupils’ aggressions in the class- 
room or on the playground, although she is kind and self- 
sacrificing, belongs to this type. This unfortunate woman is 
also a mater dolorosa who tries to gratify her motherliness in the 
wrong way. One highly qualified kindergarten teacher whom 
I knew was able to conduct classes only if they contained many 
Chinese or Japanese children, because, being small and dainty 
herself, she felt that she could exert the necessary authority only 
over very small pupils. The youngest child of her own parents, 
she had remained a baby longing for adulthood and motherli- 
ness. But she could gratify her longing only through this 
peculiar compromise. 

Another form of compromise is illustrated in the case of 
women who can devote themselves to a profession involving the 
care of children only if they have children of their own. Other- 
wise they fail, because of various inhibitions, neurotic incapac- 
ity, etc. There is also the opposite type of woman, who can 
enjoy her own child only if she can spend her motherliness on 
other children too. This type strongly reminds us of the 
woman whose marriage is happy only if she can have a man or 
woman friend as a love object in addition to her husband, or 
who, inversely, can develop an ardent passion for another man 
only if she finds a partial outlet for her feeling in marriage. All 
these are methods for favorably adapting the emotional ambiv- 
alence or distributing the split feelings that are present in all 

3 ^ 


human relationships. In all such minor aberrations, psycho- 
analysis discovers fixed childhood situations and the tendency 
to continuation or repetition of these in later life. 

The yearning for motherliness and at the same time for re- 
venge upon and triumph over the real mother are gratified in a 
striking and tragic manner by the woman kidnaper who acts 
not for financial reasons or to serve a gang or a man. Fortu- 
nately, such cases are fairly rare. The few that I have had 
occasion to observe directly were so surprisingly identical that 
one must assume that the same psychologif process motivated 
them all. Such a woman usually kidnaps a very small, helpless 
child about whom it is easy to construct a fantasy that he was 
exposed by an evil mother to the unknowm dangers of the out- 
side world. He is unprotected and abandoned and therefore 
the kidnaper feels inclined or obliged to protect and help him. 
Usually the kidnaped child is a baby left in a perambulator in 
front of a store while the mother is making purchases, or near 
the door of an apartment house, from the window of which the 
mother can see the child. 

The kidnaper describes her feelings exactly as does a klepto- 
maniac — terrific tension upon perception of the object (which 
in her case is a child) and an irresistible desire to possess it. 
She lies in wait for an opportunity and is deeply depressed and 
disappointed if she does not find one. But most of the time — 
exactly as in the case of the kleptomaniac — the desire arises 
from the situation; there is rarely a deliberate intention present 
or a particular baby in mind. Since usually the baby in ques- 
tion is the child of poor parents, the material factor, just as in 
kleptomania, is absent. 

Despite the anxiety accompanying the act, the feeling on 
taking possession is characterized by great delight in and tender- 
ness for the child. The kidnaper experiences the sensation ot 
saving the child from danger, of giving it life, so to speak. 
Sooner or later after her deed, she is confronted with reality and 
must get rid of the child as fast as possible. She wraps it in a 
blanket, a piece of paper, or something of the kind, deposits it 
in a spot where it will certainly be discovered, although not 


immediately, and runs away. She is no longer interested in the 
fate of the child she wanted so much only a short time ago; she 
feels no remorse and is unconscious of any guilt. This too 
reminds us of the behavior of the kleptomaniac. 

Unfortunately I have never had occasion to analyze such 
cases. But I was able to subject two such women to detailed 
psychiatric observation, and in addition I have followed news- 
paper reports of this type of kidnaping for many years. The 
2 cases that I studied personally were those of girls who could 
easily have had husbands and children. Yet their motherliness 
assumed a pathologic form. They wanted to experience birth 
only as a symbolic act of rescue, while also realizing the fantasy 
of an evil mother. Their identification with the mother who 
leaves the child alone, exposing it to unknown dangers, is acted 
out in the kidnaper's final deed, when she behaves exactly like 
such an evil mother. 

Of great importance here is the acted-out punishment of the 
child's real mother, who is made to feel the consequences of her 
carelessness through her loss. In each case it was clear that 
the mother's despair and anxiety contributed a great deal to the 
kidnaper's pleasure in committing her crime. But at the center 
of the kidnaper's emotional process was the compulsive act of 
taking possession of a valuable thing that belonged not to her 
but to another woman. Because at the moment of action the 
situation is dominated by the theme of rescue, the tendency to 
inflict damage remains unconscious and as a result there is no 
consciousness of guilt. 

The two women kidnapers whom I observed came of poor fam- 
ilies with numerous children. Each had several younger broth- 
ers or sisters; from their earliest years they had been obliged 
to help their mothers take care of these. They certainly wished 
to have these children themselves, to take them away from their 
mothers, just as other little girls do in this situation. The wish 
to throw a child away, to get rid of it, is aroused in every little 
girl whenever she must say to her friend :‘T can't play with you 
now, because I must watch my little sister." But why such a 
situation should be psychologically preserved for so long and 



drive the given woman to repeat it compulsively, we cannot 
explain, except by speculation, for we have no psychoanalytic 
insight into these cases. 

Similar to the teachers, nurses, etc., discussed above are 
women who for psychologic reasons are unable to conceive and 
give birth to children of their own and who try to gratify their 
motherliness by adopting other women’s children. But the 
problem of adoption is so complex that we shall take it up in 
greater detail later. 

Another form of motherliness achieved*- without sexuality, 
childbirtli dangers, and men, seems to be more frequent in 
America than in other countries. It may be seen when two 
women active in some profession, and living together in a more 
or less sublimated friendship, adopt a child. Usually one of 
the women assumes the role of mother and the other that of 
family provider. This division of interest is only relative, for 
usually both women wish to gratify their motherliness. The 
fact that the masculine component predominates in one and the 
feminine in the other seems to be referable to the mechanism 
that is illustrated in Balzac’s 'I'wo Women: each of the women 
represents an opposite tendency, and the two complement each 
other to form a whole of active motherliness in relation to the 
child. The masculine behavior is often misleading and does not 
always correspond to a masculinity complex. A similar situa- 
tion in which the man is dispensed with can also arise between 
two women friends of whom one has given birth to a child in an 
unsuccessful marriage or out of wedlock. The more active of 
the two saves the other from her heterosexual misfortune and 
takes over the role of the excluded male. She works for the 
mother and child and in this pseudomasculine manner gratifies 
her own yearning for motherhood. 

Such compromise situations can be instanced ad infinitum. 
We encounter them in psychiatric consultations and especially 
in social agencies, where mothers looking for financial or other 
assistance often reveal their psychologic problems. The sepa- 
ration between sexuality and motherliness does not always favor 
the latter, as it does in the case of Madame de I’Estorade. 



Louise de Macum^re likewise has her counterparts in real life, 
even though they are not always of her social class or on her 
cultural level. In many women we find, as we did in Madame 
de Macum^re, deep maternal emotions hidden under a mask. 
One such woman was treated psychoanalytically for nympho- 
mania. I shall refer to her as Julia. 

From her fifteenth year Julia had given herself to every boy 
she met. She was always unsatisfied and unhappy, but, 
strangely enough, completely without remorse, despite her 
puritanical upbringing. I shall quote only a few facts from 
her case history. Julia’s friends, who wanted to save her from 
a life of prostitution, twice induced her to enter into respectable 
marriage, which naturally ended in failure. She never had 
children, was unable to conceive, and did not want children. 
The words motherhood and motherliness aroused in her a revul- 
sion that was extended to all words ending in “-hood” or “-ness” 
— in short, she was as unmotherly as possible. Yet, to give the 
key finding of her long analysis, in her instinctual life she was 
completely a mother. 

It is possible to explain Julia’s neurotic behavior on the basis 
of early childhood events and her excessive mother tie. For 
MX years she had been an only child, extremely pampered by 
her mother. Then her mother had three pregnancies in rapid 
succession and Julia experienced the loss of her mother’s love 
to each new child. In this connection she often heard the story 
of the “child under the heart,” and her soul was filled with 
bitterness and disappointment. 

She was very jealous of her intimacy with the expected babies 
during her mother’s pregnancies, and even more so during the 
suckling periods. In a manner typical of girls of her age, she 
wanted to play both the part of her mother and that of her little 
brothers ; the wish for bodily union between mother and child 
gradually replaced the sexual yearning in her fantasies. She 
was incapable of any other, more adult experience, and in her 
sexual relations she gratified the desire for the mother-child 
union. The young boys to whom she compulsively gave herself 
always symbolized her three brothers. She was frigid because 


the content of her fantasies excluded sexuality, and her sense of 
guilt apparently remained unaffected because, through her 
motherly gift of herself, she negated her hostile rivalry with the 
little boys, thus unburdening her conscience. 

Julia reminded me extraordinarily, in her appearance and be- 
havior, of Anna, the prostitute whose history was discussed in 
volume I. Both were of the tender, blonde, blue-eyed type. 
Julia was always sweet-tempered, but in Anna kindliness 
yielded to rather vulgar outbursts of rage under certain condi- 
tions. She was tender, sweet, and helpftfi only toward men 
who, she felt, were in need of help. She regarded the others as 
wicked beasts who deserved harsh treatment. Whether the 
same form of motherliness toward m*en asserted itself in xAnna 
and in Julia we do not know. At any rate, the causes of promis- 
cuousness in Anna were different from those in Julia. Julia 
always acted out her motherly fantasy in sexual intercourse. 
As far as we could learn, Anna left the fulfillment of hers to her 
fantasy life. She did not reveal her fantasies to anyone, not 
even to me, although I enjoyed her confidence. She gave all 
the details about a child she pretended to have and to worship 
only to the head nurse of the psychiatric department of the 
hospital where she was interned from time to time because cf 
her pathologic condition. She asked the head nurse to adopt 
her child after her death. But after Anna’s death the child 
could not be found; it had existed only in her fantasy. 

In this behavior Anna was still entirely the little girl who 
wants to have a child with her beloved mother, the father being 
completely excluded. The head nurse, as participant in her 
fantasy, was obviously a representative of her mother. In 
contrast to Julia, Anna had coarsely realistic motives for her 
behavior; her father was a brutal drunkard, and the children he 
had given her mother meant for her — so Anna felt — only a bur- 
den imposed by sexual maltreatment. For definite reasons 
Anna’s motherliness could not unfold but, concealed under the 
realistic behavior of an aggressive prostitute, and deeply re- 
pressed, there was, just as in Madame de Macumere, a deep 
yearning for motherhood. 

Julia’s psychic development led to difficulties because two 



opposite tendencies (sexuality and motherliness) became asso- 
ciated in her in such a way that neither of the two could achieve 
happy fulfillment. In the case of Anna, brutal realities pre- 
vented the achieving of normal motherhood. While Julia 
belonged to a class that had given her a good education and 
social protection, Anna was driven into the streets by material 
conditions of her milieu; yet she preserved and asserted her 
motherly feelings, although in a masked form. 

If the various components of woman’s psyche were measur- 
able like chemical ^^lements, what would analysis of them in 
Julia and Anna show? Would the amount of motherliness in 
these girls be different from that in a mother who experiences 
her emotion directly in relations with her own children? 
Should we judge the degree of motherliness from the way in 
which it is applied, or disregard this and merely compare the 
intensity of its manifestations? 

In some women motherliness so completely fills the emotional 
life that the boundary between the maternal and all other emo- 
tions disappears. In such cases sexuality is not differentiated 
from motherliness, for the sexuality of these women, monoga- 
mous or promiscuous, is included in their motherliness. Mad- 
ame de I’Estorade was nothing but a mother, even in her 
strictly monogamous sexual life, and was compelled to renounce 
the sexual experience. Julia and Anna were both promiscuous 
and deeply maternal, but without either sexual gratification or 
motherly joys (cf. vol. i, pp. 264 ff.). 

In A T’ree Grows in Brooklyn^^ Sissy, a character seemingly 
taken directly from life, experiences both in one. An illiterate 
slum harlot. Sissy is a passionate mistress of many men; en- 
dowed with a subtle feminine-motherly intuition she makes all 
of them happy, because she is a genuine mother. Deprived of 
direct motherhood for many years, she transforms into a child 
every man whom she embraces, without, however, making him 
less masculine, because she also desires him sexually as a man. 

Sissy had two great failings. She was a great lover and a great mother. 
She had so much of tenderness in her, so much of wanting to give herself to 
whoever needed what she had, whether it was her money, her time, the clothes 

* Smith, B. : A tree grows in Brooklyn. New York: Harper, 1943. 



off her back, her pity, her understanding, her friendship, or her companion- 
ship and love. She was mother to everything that came her way. She 
loved men, yes. She loved women, too, and old people and especially chil- 
dren. How she loved children! She loved the down-and-outers. She 
wanted to make everybody happy. She had tried to seduce the good priest 
who heard her infrequent confessions, because she felt sorry for him. She 
thought he was missing the greatest joy on earth by being committed to a 
life of celibacy. 

Sissy became pregnant when she was 14 years old. 

At twenty-four Sissy had borne eight children, nonp of whom had lived, . . . 
After each futile birth her love for children grew stronger. She had dark 
moods in which she thought she would go crazy if she didn’t have a child 
to love. She poured out her frustrated maternity on the men she slept with, 
on her two sisters, and on their children. 

Our next question is: Are there women whose motherliness 
vanishes completely in favor of their sexuality? 

Anna, the prostitute, who made sexuality her profession, 
clearly showed us her longing for motherliness. Although I 
have studied numerous professional prostitutes, I have never 
met the aggressive type of prostitute who is without a trace of 
tenderness, a prostitute who is not only unmaternal but amater- 
nal. This completely unmotherly type is possibly a fantasy 
product in a certain type of men who have in their own imagi- 
nations established a sharp division between sexuality (prosti- 
tutes) and motherliness (unsexual mothers). We must be all 
the more impressed by an ethnologist’s report of a civilization 
in which the women seem to have lost every trace of motherli- 
ness. This report is given us by Carl Linton in Kardiner’s book 
on Marquesas culture, T'he Individual and Society} 

Kardiner adds an excellent analytic study to this report. We 
shall not engage here in a discussion of his views; we are inter- 
ested only in definite questions concerning one component of the 
psychology of the Marquesas women, i.e., their motherliness. 
Before taking up this problem we shall quote some of the rele- 
vant passages from Linton’s report. 

"Kardiner, A.: The indiirfdual and his society. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 

1939. PP- >S 4 ff- 



The eldest child of either sex^ or the child who was adopted to take the 
position of the eldest, became the official head of the household from the 
moment of birth or arrival. One is struck by the fact that in the Marquesan 
myths the story of a man always ends when his first child is horn \ after this event 
he drops out of the picture and the saga continues with the adventures of 
the child. . . . 

The men in a household far outnumbered the women. The numerical 
disparity of the sexes on these islands was puzzling. The Marquesans 
swore that they did not practice infanticide, yet the ratio of males to females 
was about two and a half males to one female. It is probable that they did 
away with the younger girls but kept the practice from cultural notice. The 
motive for this is hard'to ascertain, but it is reasonable to suppose that the 
group were merely breeding up to their food resources . . . for in bad seasons, 
when food was scarce, it was necessary to limit the number of child-bearing 
women. . . . 

The handsomest and most sexually skillful girls were sought in marriage 
by eldest sons, for the sexual attraction of the women promoted the prestige 
and power of the household. . . . The effective power lay in the hands of the 
woman, since by the distribution of sexual favors she controlled the men. . . . 

There were few formal claims on the child for loyalty or assistance. , . . 
There did not appear to be any very close emotional attachment between the 
child and the adults of the household. Children were respectful but indif- 
ferent toward their mothers; they seemed much more interested in the 
males of the household. . . . 

Deaths during pregnancy and labor were frequent, which occasioned much 
gnxiety and speculation among the natives. They believed that the deaths 
were caused by malevolent magic or possession by evil spirits. There was 
also not infrequent occurrence of feigned pregnancy, which was undoubtedly 
of neurotic origin and may have been motivated by the desire on the part of 
the woman to exercise the privilege of control over chief and secondary hus- 
bands that went with the state of pregnancy. When the feigned pregnancy 
failed to materialize it was believed that the child had been carried away by 
the vehini-hai (female ogres) or that a fanaua was responsible. . . . 

The father assisted at the birth if necessary. There were no midwives, 
for it was believed that malevolent spirits were present at this time and 
women were afraid to go near. . . . Immediately after delivery the mother 
severed the umbilical cord, biting it off or working it off with her finger- 

The Marquesans believe that nursing makes a child hard to raise and not 
properly submissive. There was probably a certain amount of nursing, 
dependent upon the will of the mother, but in any event the nursing period 
was very short. Women took great pride in the firmness and beautiful shape 
of their breasts, which were important in sexual play. They believed that 
prolonged nursing spoiled the breasts and consequently were reluctant to do 



The feeding process was brutal. The child was laid flat on its back on the 
house platform while the mother stood alongside with a mixture of cocoanut 
milk and baked breadfruit which had been made into a thin, pasty gruel. 
She would take a handful of this stuff, and, holding her hand over the infant’s 
face, pour the food in its mouth. The child would gasp and sputter, and gulp 
down as much as possible. Then the mother would wipe off the child’s 
face with a sweep of her hand and pour down another handful of the mix- 
ture . . , 

From birth on, the child was never alone. The small child was under 
constant threat from the female ogre spirits, vehini-hai, who are supposed 
to steal small children and eat them. . . . 

They [the vehini-hai] were also dangerous to youtig men. Appearing as 
beautiful women, the vehini-hai would present themselves to some charming 
young man in a lonely place and invite him to go along with them. If he 
complied, they would lead him to their caves, where they would turn back 
into ogresses and devour him. Occasionally, however, the vehini-hai, 
instead of eating her victim, would try to establish him in an affectionate 
relationship, which was, needless to say, a very comfortable and dangerous 
position for the young man. The men who had encountered these vehmi- 
hai said that they usually appeared as beautiful young girls, but that they 
were always hungry, and if one could steal glances at them when they were 
off guard, one could see their eyes shoot out and their long, hungry tongues 
pop out and lick the ground. . . . 

Still another series of supernatural beings were the fanaua. They were 
the spirits of the dead men, who became the familiars of women, helping them 
and injuring other women at their bidding, . . . 

The techniques of fanaua attack were primarily connected with preg- 
nancy. The fanaua might destroy the child in the womb (cases of neurotic 
symptoms of imaginary pregnancy were ... a fairly common phenomenon 
here) or cause the woman to die, during either pregnancy or childbirth. 
Practically all such deaths were explained on this basis. 

Linton’s report and Kardiner’s interpretations give us con- 
siderable insight into the cultural status of the Marquesans, 
To this I should like to add a conjecture. It is clear that the 
Marquesas women are not only unmotherly but wicked. 
They do not feed their children or they do it in the most brutal 
fashion, they leave them to the care of men so far as there is a 
question of external dangers, and their whole relationship to 
the environment has a purely sexual character. These women 
are the quintessence of sexuality. They owe their social 
position only to their sexual value, their central experiences 



are sexual, their ambitions are directed solely toward sexual 
efficiency. They do not seem capable of developing tender 
feelings toward either their children or their men. 

From all we are told about them, it seems that they are also 
aggressive figures hated by the men. In the myths they appear 
as vehini-hai, legendary wild, young, and dazzlingly beautiful 
women who devour children and seduce men only to devour 
them too. The myth of the vehini-hai was born in the fantasy 
of a people for whom food and everything connected with eating 
is of the greatest ^portance. All the affective life of the Mar- 
quesans, their fantasy, their religious customs, etc., are full of 
oral elements. They are cannibals, but they devour their 
children and relatives only in exceptional cases. The sexes 
are equal and the women actively participate in cannibalism. 

The vehini-hai, fantasy product of a culture so alien to us, is 
a familiar figure that we find in other cultures too, including our 
own. It has been known for a long time that 

The witch in fairy tales as a counterpart of the good fairy represents the 
‘‘wicked mother’’ for all of us and serves to embody our own wicked attitude 
in the primordial ambivalence of our conflicts with the mother.® 

The story of Hansel and Gretel is particularly impressive in 
*this respect, Kardiner uses it as an illustration: 

In this story the cruel mother starves the children and throws them out 
into the forest. In the forest they dream of a fairy godmother who promises 
to look after them. The next day they come upon the witch, who tries to 
lure the children to the door of the oven, to push them in and make ginger- 
bread out of tliem.'^ 

In Other versions the witch brews poison and magic love po- 
tions — the poison to be used upon her rivals and the potions to 
seduce men. Not so long ago in our own civilization there were 
witch trials, in which women were accused of brewing poison for 
criminal purposes. In her cannibalistic desire for children our 
own native witch comes very close to the vehini-hai. The con- 
flict with the mother, to which the witch of our fantasy owes 

*Deutsch, H.: Psychoanalysis of the neuroses. London: Hogarth, 1932, p. 124. 

^Op. dt. p. 224. 



her existence, derives from an unconscious hateful reproach of 
the mother. It is difficult to judge to what extent the feeling 
that the mother has been inadequate is based upon reality and 
to what extent it derives from unfulfillable childish demands. 
Among the Marquesans, the hatred for the mother who emo- 
tionally deserts her child has a real basis. Since food is at the 
center of all interests, the oral frustration brought about by the 
mother can never be made good again. The mothers them- 
selves, who live in the same oral atmosphere of cannibalistic 
culture, undermine their own motherliness *!iand capacity for 
tender emotions by their refusal to feed their children. Kardi- 
ner says: “These women are devoid of maternal instinct.” All 
the evidence tends to support his view. But how does such a 
situation arise? Are the Marquesas women deprived of mater- 
nal tendencies from their very birth? It goes counter to our 
biologic ideas to accept the existence of a society in which a 
definite cultural pattern violates the most elementary forces of 
nature and psychic life as completely as does Marquesas cul- 
ture.® In the animal world, the maternal instinct predominates, 
and among many animals we can observe phenomena suggest- 
ing motherly tenderness. Can the sexual customs — not sexual 
passion, of which we see hardly any trace in the Marquesas 
culture — so radically eliminate the biologic tendencies and the 
capacity for tender emotions? And if such extermination of 
biologic processes does take place, what forces bring it about? 

In our own civilization, women who have not received mater- 
nal love in their childhood — from their mothers or substitute 
persons — develop less motherliness than others. Often their 
own rejection of the mother inhibits their maternal feelings. 
However, we are also acquainted with the type of overindulgent 
mother who, in contrast to the withholding type, wants to give 
her own child an excess of what she was deprived of in her own 

Failure on the part of the mother, as a socially determined, 

‘The observations of Margaret Mead concerning various emotional reactions of prim- 

itive mothers and children are very instructive. Cf. Mead, M.: Sex and tempera- 
ment, New York: Morrow, 1935. 



almost hereditary, and really experienced evil, is certainly pres- 
ent in Marquesas culture. The absence of maternal instinct is 
perpetuated from generation to generation ; and yet we feel that 
an individual element must be present in addition to the in- 
herited disposition, operating to strengthen the latter. 

My own conjecture is that the atrophy of maternal feelings 
begins immediately after the event of birth. The first manifes- 
tation of the oral drive of the newborn baby probably produces 
in the Marquesas woman a panic fear, cannibalistic in origin, 
that she will be devoured by her child. This fear has a real 
basis, for the suckling child actually does eat a part of the 
mother’s body. 

In our culture also, direct observations of mothers show that 
the problem of feeding is in the foreground of the mother-child 
relation; the feeding of the child is the first interaction between 
the child’s demands and the mother’s willingness to satisfy 
them, between taking and giving. Many women, even though 
free of cannibalistic wishes and taboos, react to the suckling 
demands with a fear that is largely unconscious. This fear 
exerts a powerful influence in the many difficulties involved in 
feeding children. In the mother, it often becomes an uncon- 
• scious motive for refusing to nurse her children and can influence 
the hormonal process of lactation, the unconscious refusal thus 
proving stronger than the mother’s conscious wish to nurse her 
child.® In narcissistic women who are physically vain and be- 
long to the courtesan type (as Kardiner calls the Marquesas 
type), the concern with beauty and sexual attraction becomes, 
just as in the Marquesas women, a motive for rejection of the 
maternal function. In our own civilization, just as among the 
Marquesans, such motives are only a superficial rationalization 
of the woman’s deep-lying fear that her ego will be destroyed. 
Among the Marquesans this fear of destruction originates in 
cannibalistic desires; in our culture, it inheres in the more 
spiritualized danger of loss of the ego in favor of the child. In 

®For those interested in biologic processes, the question arises: What form does the 

hormonal activity of lactation take in the Marquesas women: do they produce 

milk at all? 



both cases the fear must prove stronger than the positive forces 
operating in the mother-child relationship if it is to achieve far 
reaching consequences. In our civilization, the conflicts of the 
nursing period can have effects that continue to operate for a 
long time afterward, but the mother has an opportunity to re- 
pair her relationship with the child on another plane. Not so 
in the Marquesas culture, where the conflict determined by 
cannibalism remains irreparable. 

We can pursue the identity of the fantasies in our own and the 
Marquesas culture a little farther. ‘The M&ther,"' a painting 
by a German artist. Max Klinger, shows a plump baby, glowing 
with vitality, sitting on its mother’s breast; the woman’s body is 
emaciated, lifeless. This painting realistically expresses the 
idea that the new life flourishes on the ruin of the mother’s at 
the cost of her life. 

In the report on the Marquesas myths we read : “The story of 
a man always ends when his first child is born.” Socially the 
man gives up his existence in favor of his child’s. It is natural 
to assume that the idea of a similar relinquishment haunts the 
mother when she gives birth to a child, especially a daughter, 
and fills her with fear. This fear may have a deeper biologic 
source in women than in men. In addition, social position^ 
among the Marquesans is determined by primogeniture, regard- 
less of sex. We are told that the Marquesas women are ex- 
tremely jealous of other w^omen, particularly on the score of 
sexual attraction, which gives women access to social position. 

This jealousy is perhaps also directed against the newborn 
daughter and contributes to intensifying the cannibalistic fear 
of the mother. And we are told that the Oedipus complex is 
known among the Marquesans only in its Electra counterpart, 
and incest between father and daughter is assumed in advance. 
On this score too, many of our experiences with the mother- 
daughter relationship in our own civilization provide parallels. 

The Marquesas woman is a wicked woman. Her fantasy has 
created the fanaua, a male spirit, who, in return for the sexual 
pleasure she gives him, helps her to carry out her murderous 
wishes in relation to other women. By order of his patroness 



the fanaua kills mothers and babies during delivery and destroys 
the fetus in the mother’s body. In brief, he realizes for the 
Marquesas women all those evil wishes that analysis discovers 
in our civilized female patients and that heavily contribute to 
their sense of guilt. The fears and the defense reactions accom- 
panying the events of reproduction are very close to the belief 
in fanauas. It is difiBcult to judge whether the fanaua is created 
by fantasy of the men, who recognize the wishes of the wicked 
woman and express their disdain in the fanaua, or whether 
the Marquesas v^men project their own perceptions in this 
myth. But the vehini-hai is the Marquesas woman herself, the 
wicked mother, who in her cannibalistic fear of being devoured 
by the child, deprives it of her milk-giving breasts, and wards 
off her fear by converting the passive being-devoured by the 
child into the active devouring of it. It is quite possible that 
the woman in labor, in panic lest she lose her feminine value as a 
sexual object, restores her youthful charm by eating the new- 
born girl: in other words, she herself becomes a vehini-hai. 

The delivery place among the Marquesans is a dangerous 
spot, teeming with evil spirits; everyone avoids it and only the 
husband is present at the birth. The place itself is under a 
♦taboo; this is very reminiscent of food taboos. Under the 
prevailing hygienic conditions naturally many mothers and 
children die, whfch sufficiently explains the belief in evil spirits. 

It is very striking that the ethnologist was unable to answer 
the important sociologic question: Why is the ratio of males to 
females among these people 2.5: i.o? 

Since it is impossible to assume that fewer girls than boys are 
born, the mortality among female infants must be higher. Our 
ethnologist does not quite give credence to the information he 
received that the Marquesans do not practice infanticide. He 
suspects that the birthrate is in part deliberately regulated 
according to the scarcity of food. My own conjecture is that 
this regulation is accomplished with the help of the vehini-hai — 
the bad Marquesas women themselves. 

We know that in our culture, after a very painful and ex- 
hausting delivery, the young mother’s anxiety and aggression 



are intensified. When the primitive woman is in this state, it 
is quite possible that the vehini-hai enters her soul and makes 
her perform a cannibalistic act against the newborn. We are 
told that the mother severs the umbilical cord by biting it off ; 
I cannot help suspecting that the mother bites off more than 
the cord, and thus regulates the proportion of girls to boys. 

It is permissible to indulge in such a speculation if one does 
not use it as proof. For the psychologist, the discovery of 
psychologic identities under very different social conditions is 
particularly fascinating. In my own observations of woman’s 
reproductive functions, I have long been struck by the fre- 
quency with which ideas of wild animals that devour the mother 
or the child, or both, haunt the delirious minds of women suffer- 
ing from puerperal fever. This is particularly the case in so- 
called lacteal fever ; the painful tension accompanying the flow 
of milk in the breasts, together with exhaustion, transforms the 
powerful biologically rooted impulse to give suck into a feverish 
delirium about devouring and being devoured. Some animals 
devour their own offspring immediately after the birth; this act 
seems to result from fear and is perhaps intended to protect the 
offspring by incorporation. In the animal world, the instinctual 
actions are very powerful, and in exceptional cases their pur-..- 
poses may become confused. 

These delirious ideas of women after parturition reveal the 
conflict connected with the nursing of the child. In cultures 
other than the Marquesan, the vehini-hai is mastered when the 
normal bodily condition is restored and the child is given the 

In the history of civilization we often find birth customs that 
require the presence of women en masse at deliveries. The 
woman in labor needs the presence of a helpful and loving circle 
of women in order to overcome her fear of death. Up until the 
last generation, mothers were asked to be present at their 
daughters’ deliveries. They shared their daughters’ anxious 
expectations and initiated them into the first activities of 
motherhood. This custom concealed woman’s deep psychologic 
need of complete reconciliation with her mother in order to 



become a motherly woman herself. Whenever even traces of 
vehini-hai are present at delivery, difficulties affecting various 
reproductive functions appear sooner or later. 

The Marquesas woman is a wicked woman because she is 
deprived of maternal love in her childhood and because she is 
cheated of her motherliness, which is stifled from the beginning 
by her cannibalistic fear and her efforts to ward it off. 

A woman need not have given birth to a child in order to be 
motherly, becaus®, as we have seen, motherliness can also be 
turned toward indirect goals. The psychologic difficulty that 
stands in the way of direct realization of motherhood can have 
various causes; their most frequent common denominator is 
woman’s fear of losing her personality in favor of the child. 
This fear may manifest itself as primitive fear of death or as 
concern over the threatened erotic values and physical beauty; 
it may derive from the fear of real obligations and restrictions 
through pregnancy, etc. ; it is often an oppressive fear of the loss 
of professional and intellectual values or a feeling of insufficiency 
with regard to the great emotional demands of motherhood. All 
these and many other fears, often justified, are based upon the 
•natural law that the old must yield to the new. The Marque- 
sas culture is a perfect expression of these fears. 

The wisdom of nature has provided means for conquering 
them. Woman’s love for her child is normally greater than her 
self-love, and the idea of eternity inherent in reproduction 
overcomes her fear of being destroyed. The future triumphs 
over the present, but only if the past is favorably disposed of. 

In our civilization too, sexuality or woman’s eroticism can 
overshadow the maternal feelings. The capacity of the psychic 
energies for mutually exchanging their goals, for replacing one 
another, is well known. We have given examples that show 
how the one component of woman’s psychic life drives out the 
other, and how the other nevertheless remains present in a re- 
pressed form. We have also seen some of the masks under 
which this other component is concealed. 


The distinguishing characteristic of every great passion is 
that it represses ail other feelings and life contents. A wom- 
an passionately in love may for a time become estranged from 
her children and regard them as a nuisance. A mother trem- 
bling for the life of her child negates all her feelings for her lover. 
Social fears often prevent a woman from experiencing the ful- 
fillment of her greatest longing as a real joy, and the most 
motherly young women are often ready to renounce their illegit- 
imate children, without the slightest painful reaction, under 
pressure of the instinct of self-preservation. ^ 

An erotic woman may invest so much passion and tenderness 
in her love for her man that she easily diverts her motherliness 
from its direct goal. A productive woman may regard her 
intellectual product as her child and 'thus renounce motherli- 
ness. Masculine women endow their motherliness with definite 
qualities. According to inner and outer conditions, a woman 
can manifest now more, now less of the quality of mother- 
hood, and show herself alternately as erotic or as maternal. 

If again we turn to literature for illustrations, we find in 
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina a rich harvest of psychologic insight 
into the conflicts between motherliness and eroticism. 

Anna Arkadievna is introduced as a mother before her pas- 
sionate eroticism is revealed, to us. At the very beginning we 
learn that she has an 8-year-old son; '"she has never been sepa- 
rated from him before, and it troubles her to leave him.” 
During this first separation, amidst the bustle of social activities 
and in the first excitement of her nascent passion, she is seized 
with longing for her child: 

It was usually about ten o^dock when she bade her son good-night. Often 
she herself put him to bed before she went out to parties, and now she felt 
a sensation of sadness to be so far from him. No matter what people v/ere 
speaking about, her thoughts reverted always to her little curly-haired 
Serozha, and the desire seized her to go and look at his picture, and to talk 
about him. 

We shall understand Anna’s excessive love for her Serozha if 
we recall that she loves him not only because she is motherly, 
but because her love for him compensates her for the erotic 
frustration she suffers at the hands of her unloved husband. 



We are here confronted with the familiar fact that the 
mother^s love for her child is determined by many factors, and 
that the simplified psychologic formula according to which the 
child of a beloved husband (or lover) is more cherished than the 
child born of a conventional marriage, does not always hold 
true. The expectation of compensation through the child 
gradually assumes the genuine character of maternal love in the 
motherly woman. In Anna Karenina’s life the child also plays 
the part of protector of her social position and symbol of her 
attachment to hej home. This must not be neglected as a 
factor in Annas tragic conflict between maternal love and eroti- 
cism. No matter what the social conditions and political 
ideology under which a woman lives, her attachment to her 
home is part of her motherliness, and we must not consider 
Anna’s inability to renounce her home as merely the result of 
her reactionary ideas. 

Liberated for the first time from the protection of her little 
son, who is the guardian of her marital fidelity, Anna falls in 
love at the first assault, so to speak, and at once her maternal 
love begins to waver. When she returns home full of sup- 
pressed passion for her future lover, and her longed-for little boy 
embraces her, 

The son, no less than the husband, awakened in Anna a feeling like disillu- 
sion. She imagined him better than he was in reality. She was obliged to 
descend to reality in order to look on him as he was. 

She repeatedly takes flight from her love in her son — either 
in reality or in her maternal fantasies. Everything that Anna 
experiences in her struggle between erotic love and maternal 
love is typical. She is unable to enjoy either of these two grati- 
fying emotions, because one is disturbed by the other. The 
more completely she turns toward her son and the more willing 
she feels to sacrifice her love for his sake, the more ardent is her 
longing for the man she loves. Scrozha, her son, could protect 
her from eroticism only as long as his opponent was a longing, 
not an active reality. But Serozha now has an ally more 
powerful than his mother’s conservative fear of erotic dangers: 
this ally is Anna’s heavy sense of guilt, the most potent factor 



in the whole psychologic picture of motherliness . The maternal 
heart can bear the child’s aggession and his hatred, his unhappi- 
ness and his misdeeds, even his death — it can bear anything 
more easily than his childish longing for his mother and his 
yearning for love. The responsiveness of the maternal sense of 
guilt as it is expressed in Anna is one of the characteristics of 

This sense of guilt is cruel, merciless, and appeasable only by 
absolute readiness for sacrifice. Wherever feminine masochism 
with its active-maternal readiness for sacrifice does not operate, 
the woman’s psyche can become the victini of a much cruder 
aggressive masochism, i.e., that stemming from the sense of 
guilt. For this reason Anna could find only one solution for her 
conflict — suicide. In the end, what determines her destiny is 
not the triumph of her eroticism over her motherliness, but her 
feminine passivity; 

Since the arrival of her husband’s letter, she had felt in the bottom of her 
heart that all would remain as before; that she would not have the strength 
to sacrifice her position in the world, to abandon her son and join her lover. 
... If, on hearing this news, he [Vronsky] had said decidedly, passionately, 
without a moment’s hesitation, “Leave all, and come with me,” she would 
have even abandoned her son, and gone with him. 

More and more Anna mobilizes her hatred against her hus- 
band in order to conquer her son. But this hatred is not a good 
ally, for it adds to her sense of guilt and eventually becomes 
fatal to her because at a given moment it turns against her own 

Anna Karenina’s death sentence upon herself manifests itself 
in a typical way during her pregnancy. The executioner of the 
death sentence imposed for conscious and unconscious sins ap- 
proaches all women at the very instant when they begin to bear 
a new life. Anna’s dream of the litde old man who says, “You 
are going to die, you are going to die in childbed, matushka^' 
is a typical anxiety dream of pregnancy that appears in many 
variations. And all women desist from their horror for the 
same reason as Anna : 



Horror and emotion disappeared from her face, which assumed an ex- 
pression of gentle, serious, and affectionate solicitude .... She had felt within 
her the motion of a new life. 

A motherly woman can replace one child by another only 
when she has resolved the loss of the first by an adequate period 
of mourning. For all her children are one child, the child; they 
are unified by the feeling of motherliness. 

An unresolved mourning, unresolved because of the strength 
of the sense of guilt, prevents the growth of motherly feelings 
for a new child. Ajnna Karenina wants to suckle her child, but 
she cannot; she wants to love it, but she can only perform the 
duties of child care. For a short time the baby succeeds in 
winning her heart and then she only rarely thinks of her boy. 
But later her guilty yearning for him rages even more cruelly 
than before: 

The sight of this child made her feel clearly that the affection she felt for 
it was not the same kind of love that she had for Serozha. Everything about 
this girl was lovely; but somehow she did not fill the needs of her heart. . . . 
In her first-born, although he was the child of a man she did not love, was 
concentrated all the strength of a love which had not been satisfied. Her 
daughter, born in the most trying circumstances, had never received the 
one-hundreth part of the care which she had spent on Serozha. Moreover, 
she little girl as yet only represented hopes, while Serozha was almost a man, 
and a lovely man! 

When the little girl falls sick, Anna Karenina takes care of 
her, but 

Do the best she could, she could not love this child, and she could not 
pretend to feelings which had no existence. 

This little girl was her child by the man she loved. Yet she 
was unable to make this daughter her child and her lover a 

In brief, Anna conceives her fate as the struggle between two 
modes of love that she cannot unite: 

*qust think, I love these two almost equally, both more than myself; 
these two, Serozha and Alexei . . , These two only I love, and the one ex- 

5 ^ 


eludes the other. I cannot bring them together, and yet this is the one thing 
I want.*’ 

The tragic struggle between eroticism and motherliness in 
Anna is represented in a portrayal that goes beyond the indi- 
vidual destiny of this character and reflects a universal element 
in woman’s fate. Why are both of Anna’s men called Alexei ? 
Anna herself asks this question during her fever. Has not the 
great Russian writer here resorted to the same psychologic 
mechanism as Balzac in his Two Women? Perhaps the two 
Alexeis are only one man, divided into the figure of the dutiful 
but erotically rejected father and that of the erotically desired 
lover who is rejected as father. The father role of Alexei the 
husband is clearly shown during Anna’s delivery. If our hy- 
pothesis is correct, the two writers, so different from each other, 
have represented the eternal feminine conflict between mother- 
liness and eroticism in a similar way. In Balzac it is personified 
in two women, in Tolstoy in a projection in two men. The 
French writer lets life triumph, the Russian writer leaves the 
decision to the cruel superego. 

Another type of woman, who as a young girl was charming 
and full of feminine longing for love and being loved, can re- 
nounce ail her feminine charm, in its conscious and unconscious 
expression, in favor of motherliness. Natasha in War a7t2 
Peace is a wonderful example of this type. Let us again quote 
Tolstoy, who, as we have seen, has a profound knowledge of the 
feminine psyche : 

Natasha had married in the early spring of 1813, and in 1820 already had 
three daughters, besides a son for whom she had longed and whom she was 
now nursing. She had grown stouter and broader, so that it was difficult to 
recognize in this robust, motherly woman the slim, lively Natasha of former 
days. Her features were more defined and had a calm, soft, and serene 
expression. In her face there was none of the ever-glowing animation that 
had formerly burned there and constituted its charm. Now her face and 
body were often all that one saw, and her soul was not visible at all. All 
that struck the eye was a strong, handsome, and fertile woman. The old 
fire very rarely kindled in her face now 

The young Countess Bezukhova [Natasha] was not often seen in society, 
and those who met her there were not pleased with her and found her neither 



attractive nor amiable. Not that Natasha liked solitude — she did not know 
whether she liked it or not, she even thought that she did not — but with 
her pregnancies, her confinements, the nursing of her children, and sharing 
every moment of her husband’s life, she had demands on her time which 
could be satisfied only by renouncing society. All who had known Natasha 
before her marriage wondered at the change in her as at something extraordi- 
nary. Only the old countess with her maternal instinct had realized that all 
Natasha’s outbursts had been due to her need of children and a husband . . . 
and she kept saying that she had always known that Natasha would make an 
exemplary wife and mother. . . . 

Natasha did not follow the golden rule advocated by clever folk, especially 
by the French, which^says that a girl should not let herself go when she 
marries, should not neglect her accomplishments, should be even more careful 
of her appearance than when she was unmarried, and should fascinate her 
husband as much as she did before he became her husband. Natasha, on 
the contrary, had at once abandoned all her witchery, of which her singing 
had been an unusually powerful part. She gave it up just because it was so 
powerfully seductive. She took no pains with her manners or with delicacy 
of speech, or with her toilet, or to show herself to her husband in her most 
becoming attitudes, or to avoid inconveniencing him by being too exacting. 
She acted in contradiction to all those rules. She felt that the allurements 
instinct had formerly taught her to use would now be merely ridiculous in the 
eyes of her husband, to whom she had from the first moment given herself 
entirely — that is, with her whole soul, leaving no corner of it hidden from him. 
She felt that her unity with her husband was not maintained by the poetic 
feelings that had attracted him to her, but by something else — indefinite but 
nrm as the bond between her own body and soul. . . . 

We know that man has the faculty of becoming completely absorbed in a 
subject, however trivial it may be, and that there is no subject so trivial that 
it will not grow to infinite proportions if one’s entire attention is devoted to 
it. . . . 

The subject which wholly engrossed Natasha’s attention was her family — 
that is, her husband whom she had to keep so that he should belong entirely 
to her and to the home, and the children whom she had to bear, bring into 
the world, nurse, and bring up. . . . 

And the deeper she penetrated, not with her mind only but with her whole 
soul, her whole being, into the subject that absorbed her, the larger did that 
subject grow and the weaker and more inadequate did her own powers appear, 
so that she concentrated them wholly on that one thing and yet was unable to 
accomplish all that she considered necessary. 

This replacement of one form of feminine affectivity with 
another, of eroticism with motherliness, usually is more compli- 
cated than it may seem. We recall how much mischief Na- 



tasha’s feminine charm had caused, how heavy her sense of 
guilt had been, and we understand how tremendous was the 
renunciation of everything that in her eyes was ''so powerfully 

In this process of achieving absolute motherliness, Natasha 
preserves the qualities that we have described as typically 
feminine (vol. i): 

The general opinion was that Pierre was under his wife^s thumb, which was 
really true. From the very first days of their married life Natasha had 
announced her demands. Pierre was greatly surprised by his wife’s view, to 
him a perfecdy novel one, that every moment of his life belonged to her and 
to the family. His wife's demands astonished him, but they also flattered 
him, and he submitted to them. ... It very often happened that in a moment 
of irritation husband and wife would have a dispute, but long afterward 
Pierre to his surprise and delight would find in his wife’s ideas and actions the 
very thought against which she had argued. . . . After seven years of mar- 
riage Pierre had the joyous and firm consciousness that he was not a bad 
man and he felt this because he saw himself reflected in his wife. He felt the 
good and bad within himself inextricably mingled and overlapping. But 
only what was really good in him was reflected in his wife, all that was not 
quite good was rejected. And this was not the result of logical reasoning but 
was a direct and mysterious reflection. 

Here we have Natasha the feminine woman: giving motherli- 
ness becomes her world, to which she devotes herself completely!' 
Yet she presents her feminine-narcissistic demands — to an 
intensified extent — to her husband, in order later to identify 
herself with him and to be both the giver and the taker. And 
because Natasha is motherly, she is good, and makes Pierre 
good too, and this clarifies the "mysterious reflection.” 

When all the elementary emotions of jealousy, competition, 
and desire for pleasure, in whatever form they may manifest 
themselves, are ready to yield in favor of another being, when 
even the instinct of self-preservation loses its predominance 
and the fears connected with it are overcome, we can speak of 
"pure motherliness.” The judgment of Solomon is one of the 
most beautiful illustrations of this. 

Even psychically healthy women do not all experience 
motherliness in the same manner. But in the innumerable 



individual variations two types can be discerned: one type is 
the woman who awakens to a new life through her child without 
having the feeling of a loss. Such a woman develops her charm 
and beauty fully only after her first child is born. The other 
type is the woman who from the first feels a kind of depersonali- 
zation in her relation to her child. Usually such a woman has 
spent her affectivity on other values (eroticism, art, or mascu- 
line aspirations) or this affectivity was too poor or ambivalent 
originally and cannot stand a new emotional burden. The first 
type expands her,ego through the child, the second feels re- 
stricted and impoverished. 

The material conditions of life, the social milieu, and old and 
new experiences endow the different types with individual 
variations. The woman’s relation to her husband and family, 
her economic situation, and the position of the child in her 
existence, give a personal color to each woman’s motherliness. 


The Preliminary Phases 

^ M "^ HE great experiences of our lives are not isolated but 
I linked together in a long chain. In studying woman’s 

JL reproductive function, we are constantly confronted 
with the re-emergence of past situations, frequently traumatic 
in character. Successful mastering of the p^ist is a prerequisite 
for woman’s psychic health; otherwise, new situations provoke 
new traumas. If the woman endures well the strong emo- 
tional tensions accompanying the reproductive process, they 
constitute a kind of psychic catharsis for her. The capacity of 
the psychic organism to resolve the old together with the new 
can be intensified in this catharsis, and then the woman’s ego 
expands in motherhood. The new emotions of motherhood 
enable the ego to solve problems that it could not successfully 
solve before. And since everything that has remained unsolved 
and inhibited in psychic life creates a disposition to develop 
anxiety, what we have said above can be briefly summarized 
as follows: The reproductive experience gives woman the op~ 
portunity to master old anxieties by mastering new ones. 

When entering upon her service to the species, every woman 
brings with her a certain amount of helpless dependence, of 
aggressive tendency to revenge for frustrations, of guilt feeling, 
and of desire for masochistic self-punishment; these constitute 
her old dispositional equipment. We know that elements that 
have followed one another in time are juxtaposed in the uncon- 
scious. This juxtaposition creates the chaotic richness of the 
human soul. Psychoanalysis is able to give an orderly pattern 
to this chaos by reconstructing the temporal order of psychic 

Each single act of the reproductive function requires careful 
study. Each is associated with a definite phase of the past 
and subject to general physiologic and psychologic laws. But 
the psychic material that confronts us is at the same time 




completely individual; every woman draws her own experience, 
different from that of any other woman, from the same process. 

The reproductive processes have a prehistory that can be 
divided into two periods — for motherhood, like instinctual life 
as a whole, goes through an infantile and a puberal phase. 

The ontogeny of the female sexual functions teaches us that 
the adult woman solves her biologic tasks partly by the same 
means that the child uses for the satisfaction and mastering of 
the elementary bodily impulses. 

We know that iq certain life phases the interest of the little 
child is entirely directed to definite biologic processes of the 
organism that serve not only for its nourishment, preservation, 
and growth, but also as a source of pleasure toward which it 
passionately strives. Thus from the very start there are estab- 
lished psychophysical correlations that have a different goal at 
every stage of development but only limited possibilities of 
expression. They constantly reappear in three tendencies: 
the tendencies to incorporate, to eliminate, and to retaink At 
each stage, their operation produces a different behavior accord- 
ing to the current level of development. 

Because of the presence of the above mentioned tendencies, 
analogies during different phases can be noted. As a result of 
these analogies, an earlier phase of development may include 
progressive elements and a higher phase may include regressive 

Let us clarify this by examples. The elimination of undi- 
gested remnants of food that have become unnecessary or 
harmful for the organism — defecation — is associated with com- 
plicated emotional reactions. These arise from the struggle 
between the tendency to retention and that to elimination as 
well as from the problem of intake of food. The psychoanalytic 
theory of instincts has taught us what instinctual drives, 
pleasure sensations, renunciations, etc., are involved in this pro- 
cess. The restrictive influences of training, the environment’s 
evaluation of the “product,” the formation of the ^^sphincter 

^Alexander calls these tendencies ‘Vector mechanisms.” Cf. Alexander, F.: The 

medical value of psychoanalysis. New York: Norton, 1936. 



morality/’ the fantasies associated with excrements staying 
inside the body, etc., all lend the greatest psychologic signifi- 
cance to this biologic process. 

Certain elements in this process are progressive, because 
much later they become the pattern for childbirth. In child- 
birth too the innervations are alternatively eliminative and 
retentive, just as in defecation. But the analogy goes even 
further. The preliminary act in the digestive process, the 
intake of food, begins ontogenetically with sucking. We know 
that this primitive function of self-presecrvation is accom- 
panied by instinctual drives and it too can become the proto- 
type of many future psychologic processes. The first prepara- 
tory act in motherhood, the coitus, has a complete functional 
analogy with the sucking activity of the nursing child; the 
sucking motions of the vagina, the receptive readiness of the 
vagina, are analogous to the receptive function of the mouth. 
The cannibalistic impulses connected with intake of food that 
lead to painful biting of the mother’s breasts also have their 
genital counterpart in the well known neurotic fantasy that the 
vagina is a snapping, biting organ. In men such fantasies 
sometimes cause impotence. 

In brief, the prototype for the final aspect of reproduction 
is supplied long before the event, in earlier psychophysiologic 
functions. From this point of view reproduction is a highly 
differentiated activity shot through with regressive elements. 

We have pointed out that these organic prototypes of child- 
hood are connected with various instinctual drives that supply a 
stimulus for fantasies, wishes, and fears. By combining inter- 
nal experiences and external impressions, the fantasy life of 
children of both sexes regularly identifies the fetus with the 
intestinal content. Thus patterns for the girl’s future mother- 
hood are created and these can influence the real processes. 

In this manner an interaction arises: the events of the repro- 
ductive process have their prelude in infantile fantasies, and the 
events of childhood more or less influence the later reproductive 
function. The functions of incorporation, elimination, and 
retention constitute the connecting bridges. 



We shall now consider these infantile processes in somewhat 
greater detail. Above all, we must take into account the fact 
that in the little girl’s whole development, her female organs, 
the vagina and uterus, occupy a peculiar position; although 
they are destined to perform great tasks, they remain unknown 
to their possessor until the day they enter into the service of 
the reproductive function. Experience teaches us that the 
little girl’s fantasies and fears relating to the reproductive 
functions are connected with the inside of the body, conceived 
as identical with fihe digestive organs and excluding awareness 
of the female sexual organs. 

The predominance of one or another component in the pre- 
occupation with the “insides” can have serious consequences 
later. The child’s ideas about these insides may be connected 
with tender impulses, pride, and positive evaluation; in other 
cases, a wicked, dangerous enemy equipped with explosives 
is thought to dwell inside, and the child frees herself from him 
by fits of vomiting or diarrhea. The difficult struggle to bring 
forth this evil or desired being is often expressed in painful 

The fantasy of little girls (or boys) manufactures innumer- 
,able theories about birth; in their ideas conception usually 
takes place by way of the mouth, and birth via the anus, navel, 
or breast. The size of the penis penetrating the body, and that 
of the “child” that is to be brought forth, are compared with 
the smallness of the child’s own body apertures, and the uncon- 
scious of the adult sometimes preserves horrible ideas from 
the fantasies of the child. 

All the body apertures may be involved in these fantasies.® 
A 3-year-old girl whose mother had told her about the imminent 
arrival of a little brother or sister was found at night in her 
bed trying to stop up all the orifices in her body — her ears so 
that she would not be able to hear her mother’s cries, her nose 
because the baby would have a bad odor, and her lower open- 
ings because the stork might stick the baby up her rectum by 
mistake. The little girl had been completely informed about 

*Deutsch, F.: Studies in pathogenesis. Psychoanalyt. Quart, vol. 2 , 1933. 



the process of birth by her mother, but could not help giving 
free rein to her numerous and transparent fantasies. Probably 
her ideas about the cries of the mother and the bad odor of the 
baby were realizations of her fear that no opening of the body 
was safe from dangers.’ 

At this point one may ask why the little boy, whose develop- 
ment has taken its course through the same bodily functions 
and the same instinctual satisfactions connected with them, 
diverts his interests more rapidly and more permanently from 
the inside of the body to the outside world,'^and only in excep- 
tional cases of development of a feminine attitude clings to his 
own fantasies connecting pregnancy and birth with the process 
of digestion. 

We think that the anatomic difference between the sexes is 
responsible for this fact. The boy’s interest turns to the activ- 
ity of his genital organ, which now becomes the outlet of his 
sexual energies, his strivings for pleasure, and the fears con- 
nected with these. In contrast to the boy, the girl is com- 
pelled — after vain attempts and hopes — to internalize her 
interest, and this time in a grossly somatic sense, as distinct 
from the psychologic turn inward (vol. i, p. 130). Step by step 
she gives up her emotional reactions to the lack of an organ- 
and her fantasy life becomes, so to speak, feminized, i.e., her 
interests turn gradually to the idea of the child, and she reaches 
an infantile stage that we might call the outpost phase of future 

From this point on, the sexual development of the two sexes 
is definitely different: the boy preserves his anxious interest in 
his external genitals into his maturity; the girl continues elabo- 
rating the problem of the child. Since for a long time she is not 
aware of her reproductive apparatus, her idea of reproduction 
and of the child remains tied to the digestive act. This idea is 
one of the most tenacious in the inventory of the mature woman’s 
infantilisms and often exerts a disturbing influence in the prime 
of her maturity. Gradually many other problems are added, 
both general and individual. 

*For an interesting reaction of a 4-year-old girl to her mother^s pregnancy, cf. 

Barrett, W, G.: Penis envy and urinary control, pregnancy fantasies and consti- 
pation: Episodes in the life of a little g^rl, Psychoanalyt. Quart., voL 8, 1939. 



Woman overcomes the genital trauma and the penis wish and 
be gins to want a child in the course of a complicated process 
that has often been misunderstood. Above all there seems to 
be a great deal of confusion about the identification of the penis 
and the child. The transformation of the penis wish into the 
wish for a child is often considered a substitute formation in- 
stead of a biologically determined dynamic process. The fact 
is that in the girFs fantasy life there arise analogies that have 
various motives. In the process of transferring her interest 
from the outside to the inside of the body, the little girl may 
include the penis conceived as an internal organ and for some 
time hold to this concept; thus the penis and the child may be 
identified with each other in that both are considered parts of 
the girl’s body. We often find this identity still preserved in 
puberal anxieties and in the growing girl’s urge to be operated 
upon. In many women, even real pregnancy mobilizes the old 
idea of an internal bodily possession still largely identified with 
the boy’s sexual organ, I do not think, however, that all girls 
consider the child a compensation for the anatomic inferiority, 
because during childhood and puberty something nonexistent 
cannot be a compensation, and during the reproductive phase 
^the child acquires a new significance that springs from other 

We have now briefly surveyed the childhood stages of the 
reproductive function in so far as they relate to the preliminary 
physiologic stages and the instinctualfimpulses connected with 
them. In these stages the child does not yet figure as a desired 
object in the outside world. It is a fantasied possession still 
incorporated in a number of earlier developments, in which 
existing or desired parts of the girl’s body — excrements, the 
penis, the child — are not sharply distinguished in the un- 
conscious. This wish for a child still has little in common with 
the later emotional experience of motherhood; it expresses an 
instinctual striving for a possession. The reactions of envy and 
frustration make this wish akin to the penis wish, for the very 
reason that this wish cannot be fulfilled. 

This part of the infantile prehistory of motherhood is closer 
to the sphere of biology than to that of psychology. But there 



are other manifestations in the little girl that can be considered 
as preparatory for motherhood. 

I have previously often referred to the girl’s identification 
with the active mother as one of the sources of feminine activity 
(vol. i). Even though the mother’s activity v/ith regard to 
her child is biologically determined, an infantile pattern under- 
lies active motherliness, a pattern that normally is preserved 
throughout all the phases of development and that is a pre- 
requisite for later successful achievement of a motherly role. 

Even before the little girl has assumed active attitude 
toward her father as representative of external reality, she is 
stirred by active ego strivings through which she spontaneously 
and gradually frees herself from her passive, helpless dependence 
upon her mother. Moved by this urge, she first of all imitates 
her mother in everything; increasingly successful in this en- 
deavor, she begins gradually to reverse the roles She tries 
energetically to endow all the situations of everyday life 
accessible to her with this reversed character, preferably in 
games with the mother herself, and, next to the mother, with 
smaller children, dolls, etc. After all, dolls were invented by 
adults who recognized this tendency in little girls to imitate 
their mothers and wisely encouraged it. The little girl would 
gladly do to her mother everything her mother does to her, and 
even more; if she could, she would certainly, through her own 
infantile aggressions, bring her mother to a condition that she 
violently rejects for herself. She often succeeds in gratifying 
these aggressive ‘‘maternal” tendencies by means of her doll: 
tormenting the doll, tearing out or breaking its limbs, etc., 
certainly exceeds identification with a mother who is often 
gentle and kindly. 

What the little girl cannot achieve in actual fact, she betrays 
in her fantasies (vol. i, p. 86). Often these begin: “When you 
are little and I am big.” If one investigates what she thinks 
will happen then, one discovers that the little girl does not 
conceive her motherly role as a mere reversal from passivity to 
activity, but uses this role in order fully to gratify her aggressive 

^Freud, S.; Concerning the sexuality of woman. Psychoanalyt. Quart., vol. i, 1932. 



impulses. For instance, in her fantasies, the mother begins to 
grow smaller as the child grows bigger and continues to grow 
smaller until she disappears entirely. Childish fantasy is 
vast and reaches beyond the frontiers of life. Later when the 
little girl has achieved real motherhood, these primitive aggres- 
sions may reappear in relation to her own child. 

The tendency to develop from passivity to activity is rooted 
in the ego, but it certainly receives instinctual reinforcements. 
For instance, the influence of digestive ideas on activity ex- 
presses itself in tha child's eagerly giving enemas to a doll or to 
a smaller child while playing mother or doctor. 

The little girl's motherliness can also assume a more compli- 
cated character and actively reproduce the family situation 
without including the father or even eliminating him altogether. 
The girl produces the child in partnership with the mother and 
plays parents with her. According to the richness of her 
imagination, the child is received from the mother, or is created 
by the girl herself, while the mother is reduced to a completely 
passive role. Intelligent mothers encourage all such activities 
on the part of their little daughters; they know that their 
daughters' femininity is furthered in this way, much more than 
the naive and to them completely worthless assurances: 
‘Tt's true you have no penis, but when you grow up, you'll 
have a child." As is well known, such a promise of postponed 
fulfillment often has the effect of a frustration. 

All these motherhood games may be repeated in later life 
in the wish for a parthenogenetic, fatherless child, or by means 
of adoption of a child in common with a woman friend, etc. 
In other cases, the mother-child game is later transformed into a 
sexual situation in which all the forms of childish instinctual 
gratification are repeated within the framework of a homosexual 
relation. However, such a revival of the original mother-child 
relation does not proceed along a straight line, but by detours 
that involve repression of later processes (vol. i, chap. ix). 

The subsequent prehistory of motherhood evolves within the 
framewwk of the Oedipus complex; in the little girl's fantasy 
life the father is obscurely connected with the idea of her child. 


At this period the little girl is still entirely ignorant of the 
origin of this child, even when she is sexually enlightened. Her 
fantasies still cling to the digestive processes; usually the 
father’s role is in accord with masochistic ideas, the mother 
becomes a rival, etc. It goes without saying that all these 
fantasies, theories, and fears are intensified by the births of 
siblings or neighbors’ babies. 

Thus the early infantile period of motherhood includes two 
phases that influence later motherhood. The first phase, that 
in which the girl has the child with her mcjther, supplies the 
prototype of active motherliness. The second phase is the 
Oedipus phase with all its complications, and is characterized 
by the wish to receive the child passively. As we have seen, 
the physiologic processes of childhood and their psychic ac- 
companiments supply the pattern for the psychophysical as- 
pects of reproduction. 

We can easily understand that the little girl’s interest in the 
problems of reproduction is aroused by the birth of a little 
brother or sister, and the fact that she immediately places her- 
self in the center of this problem can be explained by her narcis- 
sistic interest in herself. But when there is no such birth, we are 
confronted with a riddle: How does the little girl make up all 
these complicated ideas and theories? More than that: Even 
if she is the only or last child, psychoanalysis reveals that her 
unconscious behaves as though she had actually experienced all 
the impressions connected with her mother’s having a 
pregnancy and all the feelings of protest against a child born 
after her. Or, if she is the oldest child, we find that her fantasy 
creates a predecessor (usually of the masculine sex) who must 
disappear before she can be born.^ If she is helped in these 
fantasies by actual happenings — for instance, if she knows that 
a child was born before her and was lost — she takes upon herself 
the guilt for his loss and imposes upon herself obligations to 
compensate for him. Every death of a brother or sister that 
takes place later, every actual or even merely suspected mis- 
carriage of her mother’s, becomes in her mind a criminal action 
perpetrated by herself that may later be atoned for in her own 
reproductive function. 



Thus, the little girl’s fantasies are frequently so absorbed in 
the problems of pregnancy and birth, she experiences her fears, 
wishes, and guilt feelings with such intensity, that they acquire 
total reality value. Normal and healthy children seem free of 
all these problems, but closer examination of their psychic life 
shows that they are greatly preoccupied by two important 
problems, birth and death, and that these polarities are associ- 
ated because the nature of both is unexplained, mysterious, 
torbidden. Even psychically healthy women carry all these 
problems into the^ motherhood. 

The prehistory of motherhood has its second act in puberty 
and at that period is already an expression of the biologic assault 
that urges the girl in the direction of realization. The puberal 
processes relating to motherhood have previously been dis- 
cussed (vol. I, pp. 140 ff.). We have seen that the pubescent 
girl’s relation to the reproductive function repeats the events 
of childhood. 

The sexual fantasies remain unconscious; the other fantasies, 
those of identification with the active mother, being less danger- 
ous, may lead to direct, conscious acting out. The component 
that remains in the unconscious fantasy life is mobilized by the 
appearance of menstruation. We find it in pathologic reac- 
tions, usually in somatic conversion symptoms that conceal 
pregnancy fantasies and fears, or in diffuse anxiety states and 
phobias. We have mentioned the young girl’s wish to be oper- 
ated upon (cf. vol. I, case history of Nancy), in which the 
appendix usually plays the part of a body in one’s insides, both 
desired and feared. We do not doubt that in such cases the 
young girl’s fantasies are not ripe for realization, even if the 
biologic equipment has achieved maturity. The girl still needs 
time not only to liberate herself from the dross of the Oedipus 
complex and from the burden of her fantasies, but also to 
develop her ego by further inner growth and thus make it 
ripe for motherhood. 

We know a type of puberty in which motherliness does not 
remain moored in fantasy life but is translated into action. 
We have in mind the type of young girl who does not miss a 
single opportunity to be active in a motherly way: she self- 



sacrificingly takes care of her younger sisters or brothers, 
offers herself as a substitute to mothers in the neighborhood; 
in brief, she is a typical figure, often dubbed a “neighborhood 
mother.” Closer acquaintance with such girls will reveal that 
their motherliness is not very different from that displayed by 
little girls when they play with dolls and assume the role of the 
active mother in their identification with her. Such young 
girls likewise need a period of maturation in order to develop 
into real mothers. In some cases they really have a predis- 
position to motherhood, in others this activity expresses an 
inhibition in development and the girl’s imfapacity for further 

Between this type of girl and mature motherliness there is 
a long path to travel before she can become an independent 
mother of her own children. Until that time she can act as a 
mother only if she is free of responsibility or shares responsibility 
with another mother figure. The following two examples will 
illustrate this point. 

Lydia was a i6-year-old girl who, after graduating from 
high school, took the position of mother’s helper in a family 
with three children between i and 5 years of age. The father 
was in military service. 

Lydia was an ideal mother’s helper. After a few weeks sh€ 
became so familiar with her duties that the mother could rely 
on her to an ever increasing extent. The children worshiped 
Lydia, who was so happy in their love that she did not make 
any other demands on life, and Mrs. K., her employer, com- 
plained only of the fact that the young girl lived too ascetically 
and devoted herself too exclusively to the children. Soon 
Mrs. K. felt secure enough to return to her previous occupation 
and to leave Lydia alone with the children for almost the entire 

After a time Mrs. K. fell ill and had to be operated upon, and 
Lydia assumed full responsibility for the children. She showed 
great energy in carrying out her tasks and her reliability seemed 
unquestionable. She reported regularly to Mrs. K. about the 
children and asked for directives, although she did not really 
need them. 



bored and fatigued her, although she still loved them and now 
kept away from them only because it was easier for her to bear 
being separated from them that way. She was satisfied with 
her new job and expressed a wish later to attend a school for 
secretaries. She still clung to her plan of marrying, having 
children, and taking her mother into her home. 

I do not know whether Lydia will some day develop into an 
independent, adult mother. When I stopped treating her she 
was still caught in her primitive identification with the active 
mother: that is to say, if she was successfully to take care of 
children, the mother or hersubstitute had to be present, because 
Lydia had not yet attained the adult stage of motherliness. 
She lacked the aggressiveness necessary to become a kidnaper 
who takes possession of children against the mother's will, 
although psychologically she was perhaps closer to the kid- 
naper type than is apparent at first glance. 

My second observation concerns a mother whom I met 
through a social agency. Mrs. Baron was a young woman of 
Swedish origin who came to this country as a little child. She 
came to the agency in order to obtain help for her 43/^-year-old 
son, who was afflicted with enuresis, nightmares, and fits of 
screaming and sobbing in his sleep. In the daytime the little 
boy was very active and showed marked readiness to fight with 
other children in the neighborhood. In relation to his mother 
he was obviously anxious and watchful, and from time to time 
he expressed a longing for his father, to whom, according to 
Mrs. Baron, he was greatly attached. Mr. Baron had been in 
the Marine Corps for some months and was expecting to be sent 
overseas soon. Mrs. Baron had another boy 3 years old and 
discovered a few days after her husband's enlistment that she 
was pregnant again. What worried her was not the financial 
burden nor the additional work involved in having another 
child, but something else that she was unable to define clearly. 
It was the ingredient of anxiety in her entire relationship with 
her children, the emotional obligation that she so badly needed 
to share with her husband. She became more and more 
depressed and anxious and was afraid to be at home alone. 


Loss of weight had resulted from loss of appetite and sleepless 
nights. She often had nightmares and woke up screaming. 

She had little patience with her children’s difficulties, even 
when these were within a normal range, although she tried not 
to betray her nervousness to them. The nocturnal anxieties of 
her older boy, which in the beginning were perhaps more or 
less normal, immediately created in her a feeling of helplessness, 
especially when he began to wet his bed. His jealousy of his 
younger brother worried her a great deal, and the little sibling 
hostilities between ^the children put her into a sort of panic. 
She complained about the older boy’s extreme jealousy of the 
baby and about how '‘meanly” he treated the child, pinching 
and slapping it whenever her back was turned. People who 
knew her commented that both children were unusually active 
and that Mrs, Baron was cranky and too strict with them when 
she was not feeling well. On the other hand, she would not 
consider temporarily placing them. She felt that under the 
circumstances she would be even more lonely as well as more 
anxious about her children. It was evident that she felt much 
calmer when she knew that her children were in the charge of 
a person whom she trusted completely, for instance her youthful 
sisterdn-law. She could not ask her mother to help her 
actively, because the latter was completely absorbed in caring 
for her own mother. 

Mrs. Baron gave me the following life story. At the age of 
15 she was impregnated by a playmate of the same age and 
married him a short time before giving birth to her child. 
The young couple were happy and awaited the birth of the child 
with great joy. After the little boy was born they took care of 
him together. Her vivid descriptions gave the impression that 
the child was cared for not by a mother and a father, but by two 
mothers, so that Mrs. Baron, who had always felt insecure and 
weak with children, was aided in carrying the emotional burdens 
of motherhood by the active participation of her husband in all 
her child care duties. Particularly striking was her insistence 
that her greatest difficulty was not the work connected with 
caring for the child, but the anxiety she had felt ever since his 



birth. Her anxious dependence upon her husband was further 
intensified after the birth of her second boy, which took place 
a year and a half later. Her second delivery and confinement 
were followed by hemorrhages after which she required blood 

Mrs. Baron told happily how her husband had supplied the 
blood she needed, whereby she wanted to suggest that in fact 
he had actively shared the dangers of the delivery. The first 
problems arose when Mr. Baron’s work took him away from 
home for long hours, so that his wife was ^alone much of the 
day and night and had most of the responsibility for the home 
and children. By and by she found herself becoming more and 
more nervous at night; she was so frightened at being alone that 
her husband was urged to take more responsibility for the family 
and to find work with shorter hours during the day. He finally 
did this, after which his wife’s health improved. 

She described her state during her husband’s absence as a 
feeling of loss and helplessness, especially with regard to her 
children. During the day she found it easier to bear his ab- 
sence, especially when the children were well and her care for 
them did not exceed the normal limits. She insisted that she 
could be free of her anxiety only when she knew that her hus- 
band was close at hand and ready to care lovingly for the 
children. The husband, according to her entirely credible 
account, was very happy to do this: he gladly cooked for the 
little boys, took care of their physical needs, and was always 
full of tenderness toward them. Mrs. Baron never had the 
impression that the children were a burden to him or that he 
felt disturbed in his outside activities by his family duties. He 
was a good worker, glad to take the most arduous job if it 
enabled him to provide properly for his wife and children. 
So long as her husband was with her, Mrs. Baron was free of 
anxiety and nervousness. During the months just preceding, 
after Mr. Baron entered the service, the symptoms she had 
formerly had during his night-time absences reappeared. 

Mr. Baron had taken great satisfaction in his work, he was 
capable and efficient, and was enthusiastic about joining the 



Marines. Now he was evidently worried about his wife’s 
being pregnant again and alone. He wrote anxious letters to 
her relatives and to friends and was dissatisfied with his train- 
ing. We may conjecture that a sense of guilt and a sort of 
motherly solicitude for his family burdened and inhibited his 
masculine activity. Even though I considered Mrs. Baron 
a victim of the war, one of the many women who find it hard to 
live separated from their husbands, it was evident that her 
difficulties were intensified by her special psychologic situa- 
tion. ^ , 

Mrs. Baron informed me that motherliness had been her 
outstanding personality trait from early childhood. She had 
older sisters and brothers and a little brother two years younger 
than herself. So far as she could remember she had always 
helped her mother in caring for this child and had also taken 
care of neighbors’ children. She was very young when she 
became pregnant and from the beginning was so overjoyed 
at the idea of having a child that she was hardly aware of the 
social and financial aspects of her position. Although her 
husband was only 16 years old when they married (it is to be 
recalled that she was then in her sixth month of pregnancy) 
he accepted his fatherly duties with joy; yet his relation to the 
children did not seem to reveal a strong masculine-fatherly 

My general impression was that Mrs. Baron, despite her 
extraordinary motherliness, lacked an element that she found in 
her husband’s contribution to the family life. In the so-called 
patriarchal society it is normal for woman to need man not only 
as a love object but also as a provider and protector against the 
outer world. Moreover, the family relationships of her own 
childhood, and her emotional experiences with her father and 
mother, create in every woman a psychologic predisposition to 
carry the prototype triangle into her own motherhood situation 
(cf. voL i). But in Mrs. Baron’s case something else was in- 
volved. It was as though a dependable active ingredient were 
lacking in her motherliness. Women of this kind become 
helpless when they are left alone with their children. Their 



nervous anxiety is communicated to their children and arouses 
an anxious reaction in them; thus a vicious circle of mutual 
excitation is created. The children’s normal emotional diffi- 
culties, such as their jealousy of younger brothers or sisters, 
are overestimated and put the mother in such a state that she 
feels that she must “do something” to rectify her children’s 
bad character traits, which she exaggerates. In the usual 
children’s quarrels she feels that she must take the side of the 
weaker; then she becomes afraid of her own possible unfairness, 
and her conflicts and helplessness are intensified. Under cer- 
tain conditions she calls upon her own mother for help, but 
then there arises an aggressive protest against her parent, born 
of the feeling that the mother is trying to inhibit the daughter’s 
motherly activity. 

Many women solve these difficulties as Mrs. Baron did — by 
drawing their husbands into the field of their motherly 
activities. Naturally, the husband must have a large amount 
of feminine readiness in order to agree to this emotional pro- 
posal of his wife’s. Many marital conflicts, brutality in the 
husband toward the wife, excessive drinking and extramarital 
love affairs on his part, originate in the fact that the husband 
feels threatened in his masculinity by his wife’s demands and 
begins to avoid his home. This did not seem to be the case with 
Mr. Baron. Yet one had the impression that here too a con- 
flict would result in the course of time, that the young 
man would be unable to carry on his masculine activities be- 
cause of his feeling that he was urgently needed at home to do 
his share of mother’s work. It seemed clear that Mrs. Baron’s 
motherliness lacked an active-motherly component that nor- 
mally is intensified with greater needs and on which the 
mother’s care of her children is solidly built. 

As a rule the prerequisite for harmonious development of this 
component is that the various duties that in our society are 
transferred to the husband be actually performed by him. 
If this is not the case, and if the demands made upon 
the woman’s activity overburden her active motherliness, she 
will fail with regard to her children. For instance, one of the 
unfortunate consequences of the war is that women must con- 



tribute to the economic support of their families to a greater 
extent than before. Many women achieve this by the strength 
of their motherliness without being disturbed in their relation- 
ship with their children. But the majority fail under the im- 
pact of their double activity and there arises a vicious circle of 
anxiety and nervousness, such as we have seen in the case of 
Mrs. Baron. Only outside help, expert care of the children, 
and real understanding of the mothers can cope with this 
war evil. 

Another situaflon arises when the woman^s activity is over- 
taxed by the man’s passive disposition, for instance as a result 
of his unreliability, or of the excessive demands he makes upon 
his wife, etc. Erotic preoccupations (a love relationship) also 
can divert motherly activity and produce difficulties in its 
direct applications. 

No such possibilities were involved in Mrs. Baron’s case. A 
careful analysis of her personality would probably have ex- 
plained why she was so helpless as a mother when she was 
deprived of her husband’s help. This is how I imagine the 
situation: Mrs. Baron became a mother at a time when psy- 
chologically she was still an ‘‘assistant mother” (if I may use 
this term for the sake of clarity) ; that is to say, she could love 
and take care of children only if the chief responsibility was left 
to an adult mother. She had remained an assistant mother in 
relation to her own children, not with the responsible assistance 
of another mother, as was the case with Lydia, but by sharing 
her maternal duties with her husband. We may even con- 
jecture that she would have been unwilling to entrust to an- 
other woman the role assumed by her husband. For she had 
certainly preserved the normal wish of the little girl that not 
her mother, but she herself, should be in full possession of the 
child. It is significant that Mrs. Baron felt at ease when her 
children were entrusted to her youthful sister-in-law, who 
helped her without presenting the dangers of a real mother 
figure. One reason why she so energetically resisted placing 
her children was perhaps her feeling that if she did, another 
woman would take possession of them. 

Mrs. Baron’s difficulties were similar to Lydia’s, although the 



mise en schie was different. Her maternal love was disturbed 
by an unmastered developmental inhibition, just as in the case 
of Lydia. Like Lydia, she was close to the little girl who plays 
at motherliness, who acts out tenderness, but whose actions 
are still very much under the sign of her identification with 
her mother, and who has not acquired the qualities of actual 
experience and independent activity. If we observe the games 
and occupations of young girls, we notice that those who for 
long periods, or repeatedly, are interested in smaller children, 
are also the ones who are more attached tm their homes and 
more passive. The active girl likewise often plunges into 
motherly activity and identifies herself with her mother, but 
she soon gets tired of this role, as did Lydia, and turns to other 
occupations. This is true of early childhood and even more 
often of prepuberty and early puberty. The birth of a younger 
child usually mobilizes this kind of motherliness. In this 
period of life passive girls assume a motherly attitude toward 
the newborn brother or sister and often selffsacrificingly take 
over a share of the burdens created by the new child. The 
reason for this is not always and not only the intensification of 
the young girl’s motherly feelings. A strong resentment 
against the mother who achieves a situation to which her daugh-^ 
ter will in the very near future lay claim herself, and a protest 
against the mother’s anachronistic action, arise in the luaturing 
young girl. If this resentment were conscious the girl would 
say: '‘You should be the grandmother of my child, not the 
mother of your own.” In certain passive girls who have a 
strong predisposition to guilt feelings, this resentment is ex- 
pressed by excessive devotion to the mother’s new child, which 
often inhibits their own further development. 

The girl who is later to become a real mother, endowed with 
all the mother’s active qualities, does not develop along a 
straight line. Other interests and activities free her from the 
danger of excessive identification with her mother, which should 
be only a preliminary phase of motherliness. If the girl re- 
mains in this phase she acquires an increasingly passive charac- 
ter and continues all the emotional conflicts of puberty in later 



During early childhood the girl’s resentment against the child 
for whose possession she may be competing with her mother, is 
much more primitive and intense. In fact, what she would 
prefer is to remove, to throw out the little peace disturber, to 
kill him in a psychologic sense. This is especially the case when 
the girl competes with the newborn brother or sister for her 
mother’s or father’s love, when she feels neglected because of 
the baby, or when she happens to be passing through the phase 
in which her aggressive envy may be aggravated by the mascu- 
line sex of the newborn. Her wish to have this child herself 
may be strong in her fantasy, and her playing mother may sim- 
ulate motherliness, but this must not be interpreted as a particu- 
lar indication of the presence of a maternal instinct or as its 
harbinger. It can be observed that whenever this identifica- 
tion with her mother causes her any discomfort, she renounces 
it very soon, and then her aggression against the younger child 
comes to the fore all the more intensely. 

I have called Mrs. Baron an assistant mother and explained 
her immaturity by the fact that she realized motherhood prema- 
turely in a life phase in which it still belongs in largest part to 
fantasy and should remain there. Mrs. Baron had always had 
^ somewhat passive personality and it could be expected that 
she would only gradually be able to assume the role of a real 
mother.. Her premature pregnancy, extraordinarily unfavor- 
able conditions of existence, financial worries, physical exhaus- 
tion, and separation from her husband interrupted her psychic 
growth. Her fear of responsibility got the better of her and 
assumed a neurotic character. We conjecture that the re- 
gressive tendency brought her back to a period in her life when 
she took motherly care of her brother. During our interviews, 
Mrs. Baron recalled this little boy with striking frequency, and 
we are justified in suspecting that her impatience with and 
intolerance of her own boys derived from her old aggressions 
against him. She seemed to disavow these aggressions by 
her absolute refusal to be separated from her children; and 
she had no word of complaint about her new pregnancy, which 
came so soon after her last one. On the contrary, she accepted 



it willingly, and when birth control was mentioned as a 
suggestion for the future, she emphatically rejected it. 

Both Lydia and Mrs. Baron prematurely assumed an active 
and independent mother role. Real motherliness requires a 
strength of ego that pubescent girls have not yet reached. 
Both belonged to the type for which I suggest the name of 
assistant mother. 

Many women remain such assistant mothers for life because 
in them the process of maturation has been inhibited for some 
reason, just as there are innumerable mothers who have long 
ago passed the puberty phase but whose motherhood still re- 
mains in this phase. Usually we meet them when this situation 
results in neurotic difficulties. Adolescent girls often discuss 
the wish to have many children, draw up plans for their up- 
bringing, etc. This motherliness should not be trusted. 
Usually it still has the character of a fantasy, not that of a warm 
emotional need, or the real need is still separated from possible 
fulfillment by the girl’s incapacity for full motherly responsi- 
bility. The young girl’s behavior during her adolescence en- 
ables us to formulate a prognosis of her future motherliness. 
The “modern” young girl’s sober, purposeful intellectualism 
and her excessive valuation of efficiency can make her an excel-^ 
lent mother, who dutifully applies all the precepts of modern 
pedagogy; but real motherliness will probably remain alien to 
her forever. Whenever the young girl exchanges a rich emo- 
tional life for scientific thinking, it is to be expected that later 
in her life sterility will take the place of motherliness even if 
she has given birth to many children. 

A favorable forecast as regards motherliness does not neces- 
sarily depend upon the girl’s beginning to manifest love and 
understanding for children in her adolescence. Readiness for 
motherhood is rather expressed indirectly. To the real moth- 
erly type belong those girls who, without being neurotic and 
masochistic, show an emotional disposition to subordinate the 
instinct of self-preservation to altruistic feelings. 


The Psychology of the Sexual Act 

|-^HE sexual act, in both men and women, serves two re- 
I lated ends — individual sexual satisfaction and reproduc- 

JL tion. In the individual consciousness, reproduction is 
often a desired ac(;ompaniment of sexual satisfaction; at other 
times, however, the individual tries successfully or unsuccess- 
fully to avoid it. Normally, in the fire of sexual excitement, 
reproduction is completely neglected in the emotions of both 
partners. In analyzing the psychologic processes, we must 
keep in mind a fundamental difference between the two sexes — 
namely, that the two components, sexual satisfaction and serv- 
ice to the species, are not present in the same quantitative rela- 
tion in man and in woman. In man, the reproductive function 
is appended to the sexual satisfaction; in woman, the sexual act 
is a pleasure prize that is appended to her service to the spe- 
cies. Freud's observation^ that ‘‘the individual himself regards 
sexuality as one of his own ends, while from another point of 
view he is only an appendage to his germ plasm, to which he 
lends his energies, taking in return his toll of pleasure — the 
mortal vehicle of a (possibly) immortal substance," applies 
especially to woman. 

This fundamental difference results from two circum- 
stances : 

I. In man, somatic satisfaction through the pleasurable dis- 
charge of the germ plasm and disposition of this plasm in a 
safe and fostering body are integral parts of a single act. The 
service to the species takes place at the same time as the sexual 
satisfaction and can subsequently be completely disregarded by 

In woman, the goal of her germ plasm, that is to say, her 
service to the species, is realized only much later, after a certain 

1 Freud, S. : On narcissism : An introduction. Collected Papers, vol. 4, p. 35. 




fixed interval of time. Even the internal processes in the 
woman’s body are subject to separation in time, for the matura- 
tion of the ovum and its fecundation are two temporally sepa- 
rated functions. 

The long delay between fecundation and childbirth in the 
human female, just like the long period of the child’s dependence 
upon its mother, represents a phylogenetic advance that in- 
volved the separation of the two functions, the sexual act and 
childbirth. In lower animals, the two functions are closer to 
each other, and in certain species the extrursion of the fecun- 
dated ovum seems to be connected with pleasure sensations; 
the animal’s rhythmic motions in performing this function are 
reminiscent of coitus motions and may be their prototype. 

Human abilit)^ to force modifications of biologic processes 
has arbitrarily regulated the spontaneous, natural course of the 
sexual function and thereby contributed to making the facts 
more obscure. Cultural developments, especially economic 
conditions, woman’s attempt to subordinate the reproductive 
function to other life interests, etc., have led to a new adjust- 
ment to reality that often contradicts the biologic tendencies. 
In this violation of natural processes, which in the human 
species include the psychophysical elements, woman’s un-^ 
conscious seems to have preserved the psychologic unity of 
coitus and reproduction. In woman, psychologic associative 
bridges lead from coitus to childbirth and vice versa from child- 
birth to coitus, and the two processes are to a large extent 
identified. Later I shall discuss these processes in greater 

2, Man can entrust the whole function to a single organ, 
while woman suffers from an overendowment, so to speak, 
which leads to complications. Freud assumed that the cli- 
toris, which has become unnecessary for the mature sexual 
organization, transfers its pleasure sensations to the vagina 
and ‘‘resigns” in the latter’s favor. But deeper analysis and 
longer experience seem to indicate that this transfer is never 
completely successful and that from the moment of her sexual 
maturity woman possesses two sexual organs, with the result 



that she often fares like the donkey in Aesop’s fable, which 
starved to death between two full mangers because of its 
indecision; having two organs, woman often remains sexually 

The question whether the vagina receives a hormonal erotiza- 
tion in the period of sexual maturity, is absolutely undecided. 
It seems that the tendency to sexual discharge partly remains 
uncentered, and partly remains tied to the clitoris. If it were 
true that the vagina becomes more sensitive as a result of 
physiochemical stimulation, its sexual excitability would spon- 
taneously increase wdth time. However, the majority of adult 
women, especially as long as they lack direct sexual experience, 
do not differ much in this respect from little girls, in that they 
too usually masturbate by means of the clitoris, from which the 
excitation extends to the vaginal orifice. Possibly cultural 
and educational influences have led to suppression of the 
phylogenetically acquired hormonal excitability of the vagina; 
woman, as a result of her adjustment to man, has largely given 
up the cyclic rhythm and with it perhaps the sexual spontaneity 
of the vagina. Our knowledge of the sexual processes in higher 
mammals is insufficient to permit of any inferences. 

Although vaginal contractions arc clearly perceived even as 
Sarly as in puberty, the clitoris remains the central organ in 
that life period. The vagina becomes the center of spontaneous 
excitation only in women who have had direct sexual experience. 
Some women who have had no such experience report that in 
the course of time their excitability has been spontaneously 
transferred from the clitoris to the vagina, which reacts to 
fantasied situations. But such cases are not the rule; usually 
spontaneous vaginal excitations are not a part of female experi- 
ence as erections are part of the male’s experience (cf. vol. i). 
The ‘‘undiscovered” vagina is — in normal, favorable instances 
— eroticized by an act of rape. By “rape” I do not refer here to 
that puberal fantasy in which the young girl realistically desires 
and fears the sexual act as a rape. That fantasy is only a 
psychologic preparation for a real, milder, but dynamically 
identical process. This process manifests itself in man's aggres- 



sive penetration on the one hand and in the “overpowering” 
of the vagina and its transformation into an erogenous sexual 
zone on the other. The original destiny of the vagina seems 
rather to find its expression in the acts of retaining, bearing, and 
giving — which are attributes of the reproductive function 
rather than of the sexual experience. Nature was wise in 
committing to man the task of furthering reproduction by 
creating in the vagina pleasure sensations that make the 
sexual act desirable to woman too, thus seemingly shifting her 
interest in the species to second place. Hojyever, all this must 
not be interpreted as denying that the vagina has physio- 
logically determined pleasure sensations: most probably the 
rape is only a mobilization of a latent readiness. 

Now we can better understand the purpose of that seemingly 
senseless inhibition in the infantile period which we called the 
genital trauma (cf. vol. i). At that time the little girl is 
confronted by the fact of organlessness, because the clitoris 
has terminated its infantile role without yielding its place to 
the vagina. The vagina is still unable to assume its part 
because the reproductive function is conceived as its primary 
duty. It is as though the biologic architect had planned tw'o 
different organs for the two functions — the clitoris for sexuality, 
the vagina for reproduction — but later found it safer to attach 
the vagina also to the more selfish aim of sexual pleasure. 
Thus, in the new plan, the clitoris with its infantile sexuality, 
useless for reproduction, was to resign, and the vagina was to 
take up its services only when sexual maturity and readiness 
for reproduction were attained. But this plan is not completely 
carried out: the clitoris preserves its excitability during the 
latency period and is unwilling to cede its function smoothly, 
while the vagina for its part does not prove completely willing 
to take over both functions, reproduction and sexual pleasure. 

Because of the anatomic duality of the sexual organs, and the 
dual function of the vagina, constant regulation naturally is 
necessary, and the biologic forces are charged with the task. 
The dual goals are often mixed in woman, and this produces a 
confusion that can become the source of various disturbances. 



Any psychic experience can provoke these disturbances, which 
can in various ways impair the sexual process (by creating 
frigidity) or the performance of the reproductive functions. 

Woman’s reproductive functions are becoming increasingly 
clearer to us, thanks to the development of the science of hor- 
mones. But biology fails to give us adequate information 
about the sexual function, especially woman’s experience of 
the orgasm. Here we must turn to our own field, psychology, 
though it does not give us complete insight into the problem. 
Psychology has no(^ as effective means of gaining objective 
knowledge as biology; on the other hand, it can go farther. 

In order to approach an understanding of the nature, course, 
and significance of woman’s orgasm, we must follow several 
lines of investigation. A painful bodily injury — the breaking 
of the hymen and the forcible stretching and enlargement of 
the vagina by the penis — are the prelude to woman’s first com- 
plete sexual enjoyment. This injury as such is not identical 
with sexual pleasure in any normal woman; it produces a pain 
only secondarily connected with pleasure sensations, and this 
connection endows the sexual experience with a masochistic 
character. The whole psychology of woman suggests that this 
juncture between pleasure and pain was organized in the 
course of phylogenesis and that it created some measure of 
constitutional readiness in every woman, something we might 
call a masochistic reflex mechanism. As we shall see later, 
this readiness accompanies woman’s reproductive functions 
and endows the psychologic component of childbirth with a 
definite character.* 

Wherever the masochistic anticipation has produced an 
anxious defense attitude, the orgastic function will be con- 
siderably delayed or fail altogether. If this anticipation has 
been abnormally reinforced from other masochistic sources, 
perverse masochistic wishes may be aroused, either mobilizing 
an even stronger defense or remaining unfulfilled. 

* It is the task of psychosomatic research to discover whether this mechanism, feminine 
par excellence, in which pleasure and pain are blended, does not play an important 
role in the diseases of the organ. What the normal constitution of the organ has 
imposed upon woman may in diseased conditions result from individual motives. 



Freud, in his essay ‘The Taboo of Virginity,” analyzes the 
psychologic and cultural aspects of defloration, its relationship 
to the female castration complex, etc. He draws our attention 
to certain taboos that forbid the husband to deflower his wife. 
In some tribes old women, in other tribes a specially selected 
group of men (often priests), were entrusted with the task of 
deflowering young brides. In conclusion, Freud writes: 

We may say that the act of defloration has not merely the socially useful 
result of binding the woman closely to the man; it also liberates an archaic 
reaction towards the man, -which may assume path^jlogical forms, and often 
enough expresses itself by inhibitions in the erotic life of the pair, and to 
which one may ascribe the fact that second marriages so often turn out 
better than first. The strange taboo of virginity — the fear which among 
primitive peoples induces the husband to avoid the performance of deflora- 
tion — finds its full justification in this hostile turn of feeling.^ 

In psychoanalytic practice we often meet with husbands who 
develop a similar fear regarding defloration. Apparently out of 
fear of their own aggression or of the woman’s possible hatred 
for the first overcomer of her inhibition, these husbands prefer 
to allow a physician to deflower their brides by surgical meth- 
ods. They rationalize their action by claiming, for instance, 
that the partner’s virginal membrane is unusually “hard” or 
“unbreakable.” Usually this reluctance expresses a sexual 
inhibition in the man, who does not feel equal to his' task of 
overcoming the woman’s resistance. Whenever I have had 
opportunity of studying the woman’s subsequent (conscious 
or unconscious) reactions to artificial defloration, I have found 
that she felt a contempt, hard to overcome, for the man who 
lacked the strength and courage to violate the taboo. This 
contempt seemed to me more dangerous for the marriage and 
love relations than the possible reaction of anger and revenge 
to the conjugal rape. The husband, while possibly achieving 
protection against his wife’s aggressive reactions, failed to grat- 
ify her deeply feminine need to be overpowered. 

Our interest must next turn to the physiologic process and 

* Freud, S. The taboo of virginity: Contribution to the psychology of love, Col- 
lected Papers, vol. 4, p. 234. 


the typical emotional reactions directly connected with it. 
The vaginal orgastic function is manifold. Normally there are 
localized contractions that have the character of sucking in and 
relaxing. These contractions follow a rhythm completely 
adjusted to the male’s rhythm. The physically expressed 
readiness for this adjustment is one of the most important ele- 
ments of the female orgasm. 

The normal process is, in its type of innervation, reminiscent 
of the sucking function of the mouth, and thus assumes the oral 
character of intake that is accompanied by elements of expul- 
sion; these in turn are reminiscent of sphincter innervations. 

Because of this functional analogy the oral significance of the 
vagina may assert itself in some form in pathologic states. An 
interesting illustration of this is supplied byZilboorg."*^ One of 
his patients reported that in her masturbatory fantasies, ^‘the 
orgasm occurred at the instant she imagined the moment of 
ejaculation. She herself stressed the significance of the mo- 
ment of ejaculation, since the rush of seminal fluid was in her 
case a prerequisite for a satisfactory orgasm.” Zilboorg was 
able to gain psychoanalytic insight into the unconscious proc- 
esses of his patient. He learned that his patient’s masturbatory 
fantasies ''usually dealt with a breast in her mouth and resulted 
in a vaginal orgasm in no way different from the orgasm ex- 
perienced when she fantasied that she was putting something, 
probably a penis, into a woman’s vagina.” Thanks to this and 
other memories of the patient, it was clear that "it was the 
mother’s breast which had become a point of concentration for 
our patient’s sexuality.” The simultaneous functioning of mouth 
and vagina apparently resulted from the functional analogy. 

Sometimes the vagina functions abnormally in a sphincter- 
like manner, receiving the penetrating penis by jolts and expel- 
ling it similarly. In other cases the contractions assume the 
character of steady compression with accompanying painful 
paresthesia (vaginismus). In rare instances the contractions 
become so strong that the condition of penis captivus is brought 

** Zilboorg, G.: Some observations on the transformation of instincts. Psychoanalyst. 

Quart., vol. 7, 1938. 



about. This change to direct sphincter-like functioning is 
strongly reminiscent of intestinal action (intake, expulsion, 
retention). In these analogies we again find the earlier physio- 
logic mechanisms. However, in normal individuals, these 
mechanisms are not always regressive; rather, we have here 
an independent physiologic function that achieves its goals by 
organic means similar to those at the disposal of other functions. 

It is clear that in the intrapsychic communication system the 
old psychic contents can exploit these analogies for their own 
purposes by supplying old material to the new process. For 
instance, when an infantile woman, primitively attached to her 
mother, is induced by this analogy between the vagina and the 
mouth to experience coitus in fantasy as though the penis w'ere 
the mother’s breast and the vagina the mouth, as in Zilboorg’s 
case, we must not infer that the physiologic process suitable 
for this fantasy, by reason of its innervation, always serves to 
repeat this mother-child situation. 

The orgastic function is strongly conditioned psychologically; 
its anomalies are almost always accessible to psychology alone. 
Many phenomena that psychology is for the time being unable 
to explain may some day be clarified by biology and more par- 
ticularly by the science dealing with the physiologic-chemical 
aspects of our problems. 

We have mentioned two difficulties that must be overcome to 
make the female orgasm possible. First of all, there is the 
constitutionally determined inhibition, i.e., the vagina comes 
into play only with the active reproductive function and it is 
closely, and not as simply as the penis, related to the reproduc- 
tive function. The second difficulty consists in the proper 
management of feminine masochism. These two difficulties 
are normal components of the female sexual economy. All 
the other types of difficulties belong to the domain of pathology, 
which we take into account here only in so far as it can help us 
to explain normal processes. 

It is of decisive importance in the understanding of this 
problem to give up the illusion of the equivalence of the sexual 
act for the two sexes. The error that stems from this can be 



corrected only if the processes are objectively studied and the 
tendency to reduce them to a comm^on denominator is elimi- 

From the outset the motives that drive man and woman to 
the sexual act are tremendously different. For the male, ejacu- 
lation means release of burdensome secretions; the preceding 
physiologic processes are unambiguous and intelligible, and the 
increasing discomfort that is communicated by the sexual 
organ to the rest of the body creates an intense urge to dis- 
charge. This discharge is accompanied by extreme gratification 
in the act of copulation. 

Woman’s somatic urge is not comparable to man’s. She 
forms no secretions that must be eliminated. The secretions 
and discharge of the accessory sexual glands in woman are often 
compared with man’s ejaculation. But the discharge value of 
the female secretions is very small; the elimination does not 
apply to cells that have become a burden to the organism. For 
man, ejaculation is the actual goal; but there is no such goal for 
woman. Her secretions in the sexual function play a miodest 
and subordinate role, i.e., they lubricate the vagina and thus 
facilitate the penetration of the penis. 

« In woman, the somatic tendency to discharge is replaced by 
the yearning for the erotic pleasure experience that is communi- 
cated to the genitals. In man, we \i^Yt primarily an imperious 
physiologic urge that is accompanied by psychic elements; in 
woman, we have a psychologic process supported by biologic 
factors. In women who live in sexual abstinence, depressions 
usually have little in common with organic sexual tension. 
They are manifestations not of a physical urge but of erotic 
yearning, of the narcissistic need to be loved, and of the 
masochistic striving to give. Even in wives of imipotent 
husbands, the typical irritability and aggressive mood express 
disappointment, injury, vexation, and contempt rather than 
a state of somatic excitability. Once the pleasure has been 
enjoyed, the wish for repetition is naturally intensified (this is 
true of all pleasure experiences), even when urgent biologic 
necessity is absent. 



The profound difference between man's urgent, basic needs 
and those of woman is often expressed in legend. For instance, 
Adam, in the biblical story, is made to sacrifice a part of his 
body, probably to satisfy his urgent need for a sexual object. 
In many legends woman’s body is endowed with the capacity 
to give birth to a son by itself, probably under pressure of a 
profound psychic need.^ 

Even when there is complete psychologic readiness, when the 
man's wooing has produced the necessary degree of excitability 
in the woman, physical resistance at the beginning of her sexual 
activity takes the form of a tension that leads to contraction of 
the vagina and induces the man to make an aggressive assault. 
This contraction often gives inexperienced persons the idea that 
the vagina is too small and that medical intervention is neces- 
sary, Only gradually, as an affirmative answer to the aggres- 
sion, is the masochistic consent granted and the pain accepted, 
as prerequisite to the promised pleasure; the vagina is enlarged, 
it receives the penis, and the culminating act of adjustment, 
which manifests itself in the above mentioned manner of inner- 
vation, takes place. 

To avoid misunderstandings, we repeat that in woman too the 
orgasm is a biologically determined, inherited function. Ypt 
its full scope and meaning become clear only if we grasp its 
course psychologically. The following observation, which is 
far removed from biology, will serve as an illustration. 

One of the most original and creative dancers of the last dec- 
ades, whose genius was recognized by everyone interested in her 
art, sought psychoanalytic help because of numerous difficulties, 

recently published translation of an ancient Sumerian story (Kramer, S. N.: 
Bull. Am. Schools Oriental Research) casts new light on the biblical account of 
woman and her relation to Adam's rib. In the Sumerian language the word tt 
had two meanings — ‘‘rib" and “to make live." * A relevant passage in the Sumerian 
story runs as follows: 

“My brother, what hurts thee?" 

“My rib hurts me." 

“The goddess Ninti I have caused to be born for thee." 

The authors of the Hebrew version of the myth were no doubt influenced by an un- 
conscious motive when they interpreted the word Ninti to mean “lady of the rib” 
instead of “lady who gives life," thus not only giving man a sexual companion but 
also making him the first birth giver, independent of woman. 



She suffered from various morbid disturbances, such as an urge 
to frequent change of her love objects against her will, frigidity, 
homosexuality, proneness to various perversions, and frequent 
depressions that sometimes involved the impulse to suicide. 
She was regarded as a highly original personality; although she 
was not psychotic, she betrayed so-called schizoid features. 
Only in the fields of music and dancing was she completely free 
of morbidity. There she was great, uninhibited, productive, 
inspired, and an inspiration to others. 

A great admirer ojf her art, I was fascinated by the Idea of 
gaining insight into the nature of her artistic gifts. Music — 
not all music, but music of a strictly defined type, classical and 
monumental — was for her a powerful assault to which she must 
abandon herself In complete passivity and submission. The 
rhythm of such music pervaded her like a power that she was 
forced to follow with her own rhythm, her whole body. Her 
dancing was an almost compulsive expression of this rhythmic 
abandon to the outside rhythm of the music she chose. At the 
end of what she herself called her “rhythmic ecstasy,’’ she was 
completely exhausted. Her preparations for the ecstatic 
experience were absolutely reality-adjusted studies, in which, 
however, to the surprise of her entourage, she behaved very 
“originally.” She let the music pass over her and “studied” 
and “practiced” it with symbolic rhythmic motions of her 
fingers, her hands, or her feet. The dramatic experience of the 
dance, the artistic ecstasy, came only at the end, as a kind of 
epilogue. She was not interested in the composer, she gave 
herself only to the music, the rhythm. She herself composed 
rather unimportant pieces of music and her creative efforts 
seemed to have a schizoid character; she had to experience her- 
self in a split. One half of herself created the musical rhythm, 
the other half followed it in a kind of automatism. 

My impression was not that the artistic achievements of this 
great dancer were a mere coitus substitute, nor that they repre- 
sented a sublimation of her sexuality. I did not learn much 
about the nature of her genius. Yet, thanks to her, I gained for 
the first time a deep and objective understanding of the function 
of the female orgasm. 


Another observation is so closely related to the foregoing that 
I wish to cite it here, although it may at first appear rather far- 
fetched. Many years ago a young girl suspected of being in the 
early stages of a psychosis was sent for observation to the psy- 
chiatric department of a hospital. She behaved normally and 
gave me, as her physician, completely coherent information, 
until, after overcoming an inhibition, she declared to me mys- 
teriously that all her troubles resulted from the fact that her 
‘‘clock'’ could not be adjusted to his clock — that “it ticks quite 
differently." Under the influence of the s;^mbols that then had 
just been introduced by Freud, I took up her symbolic language 
with youthful zeal and suggested to her that perhaps he could 
adjust his clock to hers. The night after I made this proposal, 
the patient had a hallucination in which I was treating her with 
electrical apparatus in order to transform her into a man. This 
idea became the center of her paranoic delirium, and for many 
years she referred to my suggestion as a proof that the hospital 
(or I) wanted to change her into a man. The psychotic insight 
of our patients often discovers more than is possible for our 
logical minds. This young, still completely inexperienced, sick 
girl understood that the adjustment of the symbolic clock was 
a woman's task, and that renunciation of this task involved the 
loss of her femininity, which had obviously been threatene"d 
from within by the psychotic process. 

Like everything else connected with woman's instinctual life, 
this adjustment is essentially passive, even when it accompanies 
intense sexual activity. Moreover, we must not forget that 
“an individual woman may be a human being apart from this" 
and that she must not experience her readiness for passive aban- 
don as servitude. In many women, bourgeois morality or 
their mothers' malicious frigidity has created the idea that 
coitus is a sacrifice they must make to the dirty needs of men, 
and they must dutifully let it happen to them. 

The woman expects that the man's tenderness and tactfulness 
will lead him to endow her urge to adjustment with more dignity 
by means of his own efforts at adjustment. The numerous “ex- 
pert" and often ridiculous recommendations concerning the 



husband’s behavior in marital intercourse generally deal with 
the mechanical-technical aspects of the process. But in most 
instances the woman’s resistance is broken by the very fact of 
his efforts, which she interprets as an expression of his intensified 
desire, or these efforts soften her inner protest against her 

I have used the term ^'malicious” frigidity. There is also 
a benevolent frigidity, that of the woman who is deeply grati- 
fied by giving the man satisfaction in a passive, tender, motherly 
embrace, without fueling the urge for a more personal sexual 
experience. Organically this type of “frigid” readiness is 
expressed in the enlargement of the vagina for the reception of 
the penis, without any further innervation processes. The 
feminine woman whose eroticism has been absorbed into an 
excessively strong motherliness often behaves in this manner. 

There is also a malicious orgasm, however paradoxic and 
absurd this may sound. In this, the rhythmic contractions 
follow their course in complete disregard of the man’s rhythm. 
They have the character of reception and rapid expulsion and 
give the impression that a kind ojf duel is taking place. In such 
cases the sexual act often becomes a competition: who will be 
^through first (or inversely, who can keep it up longest) and who 
has achieved the most? As might be expected, this type of 
orgasm will be found in masculine-aggressive women, who thus 
fight for the equality of the sexes even in the most intimate part 
of their lives. In modern marriage, the partners often strive 
to achieve the moment of discharge simultaneously. This 
looks like a perfect regulation of the sexual situation, but 
numerous observations have taught me that this is not neces- 
sarily so. Very often, the woman’s orgasm takes place later 
than the man’s and subsides later and gradually. These two 
circumstances make room for the demands in which the vagina 
indirectly asserts its role as a reproductive organ. The one 
makes for receiving tenderly, the other prepares tor retaining 
and is psychologically the beginning of motherhood, whether 
fecundation takes place or not. Many women consider this 
last phase most gratifying. 



A woman who was psychoanalytically treated for neurotic 
symptoms gave the following account of her erotic difficulties. 
She had had a certain amount of sexual experience, had never 
been frigid, and had absolutely satisfying orgasms, but they 
were usually followed by depressive moods. The same thing 
took place when she married a man she dearly loved. She also 
was unhappy because for many years she had vainly tried to 
become pregnant. 

When I met this patient again several years later, she had a 
little girl and was free of her neurotic ailments. Her sexual life 
had undergone a change. Formerly she had felt energetic 
contractions accompanied by violent orgastic excitation;^ now 
she enjoyed relaxing gratification in the slow course of the 
excitation curve. Instead of subsequent resentment against 
her husband, she now felt gratitude and warmth. She ascribed 
her conception of the child to the change in her sexual behavior. 
I think she was right. In some cases the vigorous “anti- 
motherly’' orgasm — as it may be termed — successfully realizes 
the woman's unconscious intention: by expelling the inflowing 
semen the woman can keep both the man and the undesired 
child away from her body. It is possible that the psychogenic 
sterility of many women has its origin in the emotionally dis-^ 
turbed course of the sexual act. However, I have been unable 
to discover a convincing causal connection between frigidity, 
that is to say, lack of orgasm, and sterility. 

In man the double direction of the innervation expresses itself 
in active penetration and withdrawal. The innervation is sub- 
ordinated to a momentary tendency to retain, which in the end 
is overcome by a tendency to discharge. In woman, there can 
hardly be any question of a tendency to discharge in the sexual 
act; retention predominates, while discharge is postponed to the 
future act of birth. Thus for woman coitus is above all an act 

*Lorand, S.: Contribution to the problem of vaginal orgasm. Internat. J. Psycho- 
Analysis 20 : 43a, 1929. The case cited in this paper exemplifies similar behavior; 
‘*When later she was able to achieve orgasm, it was accompanied by angry shriek- 
ing and grasping sensations, as if her vagina were reaching out like an octopus.’* 

|the psychology of the sexual act 


of fecundation, the beginning of the reproductive function, 
which ends with the birth of the child. 

It would be unintelligible if in this dual function, one factor, 
the sexual, yielded completely to the other. For that reason 
we must expect to find the sexual component again in the later 
reproductive activities. This division is best adapted to the 
interests of the species, even though it imposes a difficult, com- 
plicated, and strenuous task upon woman. 

Often difficulties are encountered on the path toward the final 
goal. In the first* place, there may be conscious rejection of 
the child as a result of environmental influences, or from inter- 
nal, emotional motives. Psychogenic difficulties of conception, 
overhasty discharge tendencies, beginning with the spasmodic 
expulsion of the sperm from the vagina and ending with abor- 
tion (often habitual), premature delivery, or precipitate labor, 
etc., are the most frequent manifestations of this rejection. The 
psychic impulses have at their disposal numerous and compli- 
cated physiologic processes that must be set in motion in order 
to enable the psychic tendencies to be realized. 

We are familiar with the overdetermination of one process by 
another. In the interrelation between coitus and birth, what 
••is in question is not merely a juxtaposition of the two, nor the 
temporary suppression of one component in favor of the other, 
but the simultaneous realization of both elements by appropri- 
ate means. In coitus, the motherly component is gratified in 
the tender relationship with the love partner. The penis 
received in the interior of the body assumes the significance of 
a child because of its position and the play of the appropriate 
emotions. This is beautifully illustrated in the Brahmin 
religious myth, according to which man introjects himself into 
woman’s body in coitus, in order to be reborn as a child and 
thus gain immortality. In normal dreams and in the ravings 
of schizophrenics this idea often asserts itself consciously. We 
recall that it has its prototype in childhood in the identification 
of the child with the penis. 

In the ecstasy of the orgasm the woman experiences herself as 
a helpless child abandoned to her love partner — a deep experi- 



ence in which her ego becomes the child that she conceives in 
her fantasy and with which she will continue to identify herself 
when her fantasy comes true. Colette,® the great French writer, 
beautifully expresses this idea: 

^'You will give me love, eyes filled with a maternal anxiety, you who seek, 
beyond the woman in your arms, the child that is yet to be yours.” 

Colette expresses these ideas realistically: as a poet she under- 
stands things intuitively that we learn from practical experience 
and that to the skeptical reader may appear farfetched. 

The two components may also conflict with each other. In 
discussing coitus we shall first consider those conflicts which re- 
sult from an anachronistic, excessive presence of birth elements 
in the sexual process. In the course of analytic work we often 
see the operation of regressive forces in disturbances; here dis- 
turbances are provoked by the premature invasion of progres- 
sive forces. A kind of separation of the components, which 
otherwise are joined together in a synthesis, takes place. FIow- 
ever, in these progressive elements we shall always recognize 
the return of old regressive forces, which by a kind of attraction 
prematurely summon the progressive forces to a present 

Woman’s frequent fear of coitus originates in the fact that it 
implies an injury to her physical integrity; it can be compared 
to man’s fear of castration. Under special circumstances, the 
pain and masochistic character of the experience also mobilize 
destructive tendencies that lend this fear the character of the 
fear of death. In this connection, the following observation of 
an obsessive neurotic proved enlightening. This young woman 
constantly tormented herself with feelings of guilt; she accused 
herself of having caused the deaths of various relatives by acts 
of negligence. After she married and overcame the first diffi- 
culties of coitus, she achieved full orgastic gratification. But 
after achieving the orgastic eclipse of consciousness, she was 

* Colette [pseud.]: Nuit blanche. In Aswell, M. L. (ed): It’s a woman’s world 

New York: Whittlesey, 1944. 



seized by the fear of never being able to awaken from this state. 
During each following coitus she convulsively watched herself 
in order ‘‘not to go too far,” and as a result became frigid. The 
destructive elements intensified her masochistic readiness and 
transformed her pleasure into fear of death. Usually such a 
tear of death is mobilized only during childbirth or during the 
expectation of childbirth. However, there are many women 
who cannot experience and enjoy the sexual act without con- 
scious or unconscious ideas about childbirth, and in such cases 
the associative connection between the two acts has a disturbing 

Naturally, the justified fear of undesired pregnancy must not 
be termed pathologic, but it can produce the effect, of a direct 
inhibition, particularly if it is obsessively exaggerated, as is 
often the case. The other form of the conscious association 
with the reproductive function, the wish for a child, particu- 
larly if its fulfillment is beset with difficulties, can also exert an 
inhibiting effect on the orgasm and perhaps even make con- 
ception difficult. 

The pathologic distortions of the normally unconscious asso- 
ciation between coitus and birth usually escape direct observa- 
tion, but psychoanalysis is familiar with them. Let us study a 
case in which the influence of the two functions on each other 
was so manifest that it could be observed clinically. The follow^- 
ing history is an abstract from the hospital records in the case. 

When admitted to the hospital, Mrs. Andrews was a 29-year- 
old married woman, the mother of six children. Her chief 
complaints were of attacks of tachycardia, sweating, and palpi- 
tations. In addition she had numerous other symptoms of an 
unmistakably neurotic character. She had fits of anger toward 
her husband and children. 

Overshadowing all her other life interests and emotions she 
had a constant anxiety regarding pregnancy, which tormented 
her night and day. Even during intercourse she was obsessed 
by this idea, and she forced her husband to use several contra- 
ceptive methods simultaneously, although she refused to take 



any preventive measures for her own part. At the very first 
interview she stateid that she had been tormented by the fear of 
pregnancy from her puberty on; nevertheless she had become 
pregnant immediately after her marriage. 

Her fears and the numerous pregnancies she had gone through 
against her conscious will made her marital life stormy and un- 
happy. She also had panic fears about her periods, and from 
the time she had married had taken something almost every 
month to bring the menses on, becoming frantic if they were 
late. She had been treated twice for ergot poisoning contracted 
in the course of her desperate struggle against pregnancy. 

What makes this woman’s attitudes peculiar and morbid is 
the fact that, despite her fear of pregnancy, her wish fantasy 
centered constantly on being impregnated. She made her 
husband keep track of her periods and was furious when he 
failed to do it. Her feelings toward him were decidedly mixed. 
On the one hand she looked forward to his coming home, and 
on the other, when she thought of pregnancy, she was furious 
with him and wanted to hurt him. As a result of her obsession 
she could not even listen to other women talking about preg- 
nancy, because she immediately identified herself with them 
and became terribly anxious. She frequently fantasied th%t 
she was in the delivery room, with her feet in the stirrups. She 
usually worked so hard on her job (outside her home) that when 
her husband approached her sexually she could honestly say 
that she was too tired. 

She had one pregnancy after another and brought six children 
into the world. With each one she fought for an abortion, 
raved against physicians who refused to comply with her de- 
mands, and several times managed to abort. 

After each pregnancy she was filled with hatred for her hus- 
band and held him responsible. She suffered from repeated 
inflammations of the genitals, underwent a number of serious 
operations, and yet became pregnant again and again. She 
even left her husband for a time, only to become pregnant as 
soon as she returned to him. 

Mrs. Andrews never had any real interest in her children or 
in physical care of them. She never nursed them and never 


wanted to. She never took care of them in any of their ill- 
nesses or in their physical needs at night. Instead, it was the 
husband who always got up and attended to them, and they 
always called for him. When she worked at night, her husband 
gave the children their supper and put them to bed. Through- 
out their married life he had done a great deal of the housework 
and cooking. She did not worry much about the children while 
she was in the hospital. The oldest girl now did much of the 
housework. Mrs. Andrews was upset, however, when her 
children were sick,^and exaggerated their illnesses and their 
suffering in somewhat the same way in which she spoke of the 
great pain she herself suffered during her pregnancies and 
deliveries. When she told of the abdominal operation her 
second daughter had recently undergone, she clutched her own 
abdomen and behaved as though she herself were being operated 
on, screamed, and told the social worker that she was all mixed 
up. She was also disturbed by the appearance of her eldest 
girfs first menstruation, to which she reacted as though it were 
her own. 

To gain a better insight into her psychology, we must 
briefly review her life history. She was of French descent. 
Her parents never got along together. Her mother had mar- 
ried her father for his money and their marital life was compli- 
cated by quarrels. Mrs. Andrews was the oldest of five chil- 
dren, two girls and three boys. Her father was a quiet, well 
educated, likable man. He worked for various firms as a 
traveling salesman and buyer, and during his absences from 
home, his wife — according to Mrs. Andrews — was unfaithful to 
him. When Mrs. Andrews was 6 years old, her mother was 
believed to be having an affair with a much younger man. 
After the birth of one of Mrs. Andrews’ brothers, the neigh- 
borhood gossips whispered that he was not her father’s child. 
When Mrs. Andrews was 16 years old, her next brother was 
born ; she was very much upset because her mother would allow 
only ‘‘a certain young man” to be present during her delivery, 
which naturally strengthened the young girl’s suspicion that 
he was the child’s father. 

This young man dominated the home and disciplined the 



children in the absence of the father. On many occasions the 
patient suffered a good deal of physical abuse. Her mother was 
nervous and irritable and frequently became so angry at the 
children that she did not know what she was doing. The young 
man was the chief support of the home. The father was more 
or less resigned to the situation, until the mother started a new 
relationship with another young man. There followed a good 
deal of rivalry between the two lovers. This time the father 
left for a longer period. In speaking of the severe discipline to 
which she was subjected, the patient said that she and her sib- 
lings were always cut up and bruised because the mother and 
her lover used to beat them with a strap soaked in oil. Once 
they beat her sister until she could not rise from the floor. If 
the patient disobeyed them, they called a policeman friend, who 
threatened to send her to a reformatory. Until she was 13 or 
14 years of age the patient and her sister were forbidden to go 
out and had to be in bed at 6 p.m. 

In our interviews we learned that Mrs. Andrews felt a deep 
aggressive hatred for her mother, that she held a deep grudge 
against her for her extramarital relationships, that she had 
strong emotional reactions to her mother's deliveries, and that 
she harbored a jealous hatred of her mother's lovers and her two 
younger brothers. 

She was in constant conflict with her mother's second lover 
and certainly provoked him to beat her. It is difficult to decide 
whether she was actually maltreated or whether her childhood 
experiences were partly a product of her fantasy. At any rate 
she began to display neurotic traits at an early age, in the form 
of violent tantrums during which she screamed and threw things. 
She suffered from fainting spells, nightmares, and several times 
ran away from home. 

During her childhood she never liked dolls, but preferred to 
play Indians and cowboys. In grammar school she captained 
the baseball teams. She fought a great deal in school and on 
one occasion was expelled. She said that she had never de- 
sired children, but always pictured herself as a professional 
woman, for example as a schoolteacher. She was always ambi- 



tious and resented having to leave school at i6, when her family 
found her a job. At this tirp^ her father was out of work and 
the girl had to contribute to the family income. 

She worked steadily from then on, even after her marriage at 
1 8 . Her pregnancies represented the only interruptions in her 
work. First she went to work as a seamstress and had a job in 
a drugstore in the evenings. After her marriage she did factory 
work, sometimes on day shifts, sometimes on a night shift. She 
insisted on getting out as much work as a man, which meant 
accomplishing mo^Q than the other women in the factory, and 
was also chairman of a trade union local, which took up a great 
deal of her energy. She loved to give the employers a good fight 
and to make stump speeches. 

On the ward the patient was very anxious and greatly agi- 
tated for the first few days; she walked restlessly up and down, 
ran her fingers through her hair, and twisted her hands during 
the interviews. Acute anxiety attacks occurred whenever the 
question of pregnancy was discussed. At other times she was 
pleasant, smiling, cheerful, cooperative, warm, and friendly. 
She said that when she was pregnant she thought of dying, 
insisted that she needed an operation for repairs, and also asked 
to be sterilized. She had two menstrual periods while on the 
ward; before each she was terribly agitated and depressed. 

Mrs. Andrews' whole past life had a hysterical character, as 
evidenced by her dramatic collapses, fainting spells, slight 
twilight states, impulsive running away, etc. Most of the 
bodily sensations she produced at the time of her hospitalization, 
such as feeling her heart ‘'turning over," palpitations, gastro- 
intestinal disorders, dizziness, sweating, were also hysterical. 

We were able to gain an insight into the psychic processes 
that caused these manifestations. In the course of time it 
became clear that the patient's fear of pregnancy was bound up 
with a fear of death based principally upon a hysterical identi- 
fication. The object of identification was sometimes her 
grandmother, who died of heart disease (a substitute for her 
mother), or some other woman with whom in her fantasy 
she would live through the dangers of childbirth. Her ten- 



dency to identify her own person with that of another pregnant 
woman often created a confusing impression ; this was dispelled 
when one realized that all these women were substitutes for 
one woman — her mother — who was the basis of the identifica- 
tion. For example, Mrs. Andrews told us that during her first 
pregnancy she used to wake up in a sweat, thinking that an 
“Indian woman” was having a baby. (The Indian woman here 
was the “strange” woman whom we meet so often in the dreams 
and fantasies of our patients. She is a mother figure repre- 
sented by a contrast that expresses the thohght, “It is not the 
most familiar woman — my mother — it is a strange woman.”) 
Mrs. Andrews said: “I can stand any kind of sickness, but if a 
woman is having a baby I can’t go anywhere near the place.” 
She was always upset when talking about a woman who was 
going to have a baby: “I do not want to hear about it or talk 
about it or see it.” 

The compulsive identification with her mother and the re- 
pudiation of this identification were often quite conscious in 
her. She told us that she tried to make herself different from 
her mother, to do things just opposite to those her mother did, 
but herself acknowledged that for some reason she had to be 
like her mother. Of her temper tantrums she said: “That’s my 
mother,” and again, “My mother always bossed my father and 
what I disliked so much in my mother I’ve imposed on my own 
husband. My mother never wanted to have children either.” 

Yet the mother had had several children and this fact was 
probably the strongest reason for Mrs. Andrews’ pregnancy 

Closer examination showed that Mrs. Andrews’ neurosis was 
not purely hysterical. She herself described her symptoms in 
a manner characteristic of obsessions when she said: “I have 
one side pulling one way and one another.” 

She would have an idea, then doubt it. She was always in a 
conflict about religion, etc. She did not know whether she 
cared for her husband or not. Sometimes she adored her chil- 
dren, at other times she did not care for them at all. Another 
obsessional symptom was her urge to “plan.” She said: “I 



went haywire with my first pregnancy because I had not 
planned it.” 

Planning matters beforehand gave her a feeling of security, 
freedom from anxiety. If things were not planned, she felt 
terrified and did not know what would happen. Such an atti- 
tude is typical of obsessional neurotics. This patient’s obses- 
sional-neurotic conflicts, however, were activated by a certain 
group of emotionally charged ideas related to the problems of 
pregnancy. The conflict between the impulsive urge to become 
pregnant and the atixious repudiation of this wish was at the 
heart of her obsessions. The yes and no of the question of 
pregnancy dominated her thinking and her emotional life. 

However, this battle between opposites did not have the usual 
character of obsessional neurosis, in which the struggle of ambi- 
valence is played out in the mind, tormenting the patient with 
the question “Shall I or shall I not become pregnant?” As far 
as her thinking was concerned, our patient answered this ques- 
tion with a consistent “No.” The “Yes” disappeared from her 
thinking and made itself felt in an indirect and much more 
complicated manner. It was hidden behind the conditions that 
the patient demanded in the sexual act. She could experience 
pleasure and orgasm only if she had the idea that the semen was 
entering her body freely. She longed for coitus and was very 
impulsive in demanding it. One definitely felt that this was 
not an expression of a real erotic need or of sexual attraction to 
her husband, but of an intense desire to receive the semen into 
her body in order to be impregnated. The compulsive charac- 
ter of the whole process is confirmed by the fact that her satis- 
faction in the sexual act was disturbed by the anxiety-producing 
thought “I do not want to become pregnant.” 

Though the material produced by the patient is used here to 
illustrate a specific problem, we must not forget that — as is 
usually the case — it had multiple determinants. Thus I con- 
jecture that one of the conditions of her sexual enjoyment was 
that she herself must take the masculine role. This mascu- 
linity was manifested in all her behavior — in her childhood 
games, in her replacement of her father as the family bread- 



winner during her adolescence, in her satisfaction with her 
professional activity, in her ambitions, in her tendency actively 
and aggressively to represent her comrades in labor struggles, 
and above all in the reversal of roles in her home, where her 
husband performed the duties of housekeeper and nurse while 
she herself was the family supporter. She even wanted her hus- 
band to keep track of her periods, as though not she but he were 
menstruating. Characteristically, she used her occupation as an 
escape from femininity, which she identified wnth being pregnant. 
She also associated the process of parturitioh v/ith humiliation: 
''Woman’s most degrading position is on the delivery table, 
with her feet in the stirrups and men taking charge of her.” 

The intensified sensation of her husband’s ejaculation, as we 
have often observed in other cases, produced in her the feeling 
that she possessed the male organ and that her orgasm pro- 
duced the seminal fluid. 

Many things that the patient spontaneously told us about her 
childhood helped us to understand her neurosis. Her mother 
was twice made pregnant by her lovers. To the first of these 
pregnancies, the patient, then 8 years old, obviously reacted with 
organic symptoms similar to her later ones. She had outbursts 
of rage against her mother and provoked her mother’s lover to^ 
beat her (or fantasied that he beat her). We may surmise that 
even then she had pregnancy fantasies and that her anger and 
aggression against her mother at that time laid the foundations 
for her later fear of pregnancy and death. In this connection 
the patient told me repeatedly that her mother wished that she 
(the patient) might die in giving birth to her first child. This 
fantasied curse of the mother is well known to us, in the anxie- 
ties of women in their first pregnancies, as the converse of the 
child’s death wish in regard to the pregnant mother. 

During the patient’s puberty, her mother again had an ille- 
gitimate pregnancy, and this time the girl attempted to resolve 
her severe conflict at home by becoming extremely active and 
supporting her family, particularly the newborn child, by her 
work. This wag*^ oBvibiisly^a flight into activity, which did not, 
however, enable her to avert the fate she was trying to escape. 


She very soon became pregnant by the husband whom she 
did not love. Later she tried quite consciously to avoid the 
feminine fate of her compulsive pregnancies by the same device 
of overactivity, but met with the same negative results, because 
her unconscious urges proved stronger. 

Observation of her symptoms showed that we were justified 
in assuming that her then still active unconscious wish for 
pregnancy found expression in bodily symptoms, and that 
specified sensations, such as belching, a feeling of pressure in the 
rectum, sensations of swelling, etc., expressed this unconscious 

Another type of symptom formation in our patient related 
to her fluctuations in mood. She was at times elated, clearly 
manic. This was sometimes followed by depressive states that 
lent her behavior the character of a manic-depressive condition. 

Observation of the patient indicated that the manic phase 
represented joy over the onset of menstruation. One was in- 
clined to take this joy at its face value, particularly because 
before her menstruation the patient was observed to be anxious 
and tense. But the quantitative manifestation, the lack of 
control, the plus, went beyond the limits of a normal reaction. 

Recalling that the patient felt herself to be under her mother’s 
curse invoking death for her in childbirth, we are justified in 
assuming that her manic joy related to her release not only from 
the fear of pregnancy but also from the threat of death. 

The clinical problem of the wide variety of her neurotic symp- 
toms ceased to be a problem when we understood these various 
symptoms as different expressions of the same conflict. This 
conflict always related to pregnancy. Even when pregnancy 
was really experienced, really desired, and really feared, it was 
none the less the fantasied pregnancy of childhood, with all its 
impossibility of realization, its infantile theories and identifi- 
cation, its turning of the aggressions against the individual’s 
own ego, its fear of death, etc. 

These infantile wishes and anxieties were combated with three 
kinds of weapons — obsessional-neurotic, hysterical, and manic- 
depressive symptoms, which were, however, all directed against 



the same inner enemy and served the same masters. We may 
compare the situation to a battle in which the goal is one and the 
same but the weapons used are guns, ships, and airplanes. 

What most interests us in Mrs. Andrew’s case is her peculiar 
relation to coitus and childbirth. All her symptoms seemed to 
originate in the fact that the identity coitus-impregnation- 
birth assumed a morbid character in her, because she originally 
made it under extremely unfavorable conditions — first as a 
child and later as a pubescent girl, in connection with the births 
of her allegedly illegitimate brothers, which were disastrous for 
her. Her wish to become pregnant was compulsive and no 
preventive measures were of any avail. She yearned for 
orgasms but could experience them only at the moment of the 
man’s ejaculation — that is to say, only if they were accompanied 
by the idea of impregnation and later delivery. i'\s a result of 
her aggressive reactions against her mother, this idea was each 
time also associated with death. 

Mrs. Andrews’ case is a pathologic illustration of my theory 
that woman psychologically perceives coitus as the beginning 
of a process that culminates in delivery. The identity of the 
sexual act with impregnation and birth appears so often in the 
fantasy life of women that one feels that the psychologic .. 
phenomena are deeply rooted in biologic factors in which the 
sexual experience and the service to the species are united. 
This identity is manifested in the double function of the vagina, 
and in the analogies of the physiologic innervation in coitus and 
in birth. This identity also manifests itself in the identical 
symbolism of the two functions. Childhood theories about 
sexual matters usually prepare this connection by identifying 
the sexual act with impregnation. Our patient also seemed to 
cling to infantile theories, for she asked the doctor: “Can one 
become pregnant from a kiss?” Or she would say, “It’s as if 
the impregnating germs were flying around in the air.” 

These remarks were meant as jokes, but they were highly 

The two components, coitus and birth, must be in a dynamic 
(and quantitative), harmonious relation to each other. In our 



patient the idea of birth (and death) disengaged itself obses- 
sively from the whole and dominated the sexual situation in 
a pathologic manner. Later we shall see that the idea of death, 
which broke through here anachronistically, always lurks in the 
mind during birth, and under certain circumstances becomes 
obsessive, as it did in our patient. 

“You will die in childbirth . . . you will die in childbirth,” 
says Anna Karenina’s guilt feeling in her dreams. In Mrs. 
Andrews the curse of her mother — “You will die in giving birth 
to your first child” — appeared for similar reasons not only in 
dreams but also at the moment of desired sexual pleasure. 

In every ecstasy conflicts are temporarily resolved, disap- 
pointments forgotten, unfulfilled wishes of the past and hopes 
for the future fulfilled. In the most primitive form of ecstasy, 
the orgasm, one can learn, by analyzing the interwoven strands, 
which of the wishes relating to the past and future are experi- 
enced as fulfilled. In the light of psychoanalysis, the sexual act 
assumes an immense, dramatic, and profoundly cathartic sig- 
nificance for the woman — but this only under the condition 
that it is experienced in a feminine, dynamic way and is not 
transformed into an act of erotic play or sexual “equality.” 

The biologically determined childhood development of every 
human being, man or woman, is marked by a chain of difficul- 
ties that must be overcome, and that produce a number of 
traumas that later have more or less powerful effects. At best, 
they leave behind a traumatic disposition, that is to say, every 
new difficulty in life mobilizes the old, unresolved remnants and 
adds them to the new conflict, or refreshes the traumatic prop- 
erties of the old difficulties. 

The first trauma common to all humans, the birth trauma, is 
the never overcome reaction to the separation from the original 
union with the mother. 

Anyone who has gained insight into the deepest layers of the 
human psyche can ascertain empirically that not only our anxi- 
eties but also all our longings and aspirations for perfection and 
eternity, the flight from death and the yearning for death, the 



torments of love and the wish for solitude, the symbols of 
dreams and delirious fantasies, express the idea of the original 
unity with the mother and the striving to restore it. 

The second traumatic situation stems from the necessary loss 
of the gratification the child receives in the first phases of his 
life, the oral gratification, so named because the essential inter- 
est of this phase is feeding and because the mouth is the organ 
through which the child receives care, love, and contact with 
life. We explain the trauma of this phase on the basis of the 
separation of the child from the mother’s ^Dreast. It seems, 
however, that what is involved here is not so much the breast 
as the intimate relationship with the mother, the preservation 
of the unity secured through nursing. 

The necessary renunciation of this effortless and pleasurable 
gratification of the instinct of self-preservation is known as the 
weaning trauma. The two traumatic situations mentioned 
here are characterized by the biologically determined separation 
from the mother and the cruel destruction of the unity between 
the subject and the environment, the boundless union between 
the I and the you. 

The third great trauma is only woman’s; I have called it the 
genital trauma (vol. i). It stems from a biologic inhibition and ^ 
manifests itself psychologically as the penis envy. 

Man’s most primitive needs and highest aspirations contain 
energies striving for the restoration of the original unity with 
the mother. In the ecstasy of the sexual act, the emotional 
boundaries between the I and the you disappear. Through 
the physiologic act of penetration, the bodily unity is really 
achieved, and the birth trauma is symbolically healed. Under 
the active stimulation of the penis, the vagina, in complete 
analogy innervationally with the suckling’s mouth, now 
assumes in the depth of the unconscious the passive function of 
sucking, thus endowing the penis with the symbolic significance 
of the mother’s breast. The weaning trauma is offset symboli- 
cally with the help of the physiologic analogy. 

The genital trauma can be healed to a great extent, for in 
the physical situation of the sexual act the problem of the 



developmental phase of woman in which she was confronted 
with the inferiority of having neither a penis nor a vagina, is 
really eliminated. Now she has both: she receives the penis 
and discovers the vagina as a functioning organ. 

In later reproductive functions we shall see clearer and 
more dramatic repetitions of and compensations for the past. 

The feminine woman, who is characterized by her struggle 
for a harmonious accord between the narcissistic forces of 
self-love and the masochistic forces of dangerous and painful 
giving, celebrates her greatest triumphs in her sexual function- 
ing. In the sexual act her partner’s elemental desire gratifies 
her self-love and helps her to accept masochistic pleasure with- 
out damaging her ego, while the psychologic promise of a child 
creates a satisfying future prospect for both tendencies. 


Problems of Conception: Psychologic 
Prerequisites of Pregnancy 

T he problems of woman’s reproductive function are com- 
plex and we shall achieve greater '^clarity if we study 
them in chronologic order. Thus, before taking up the 
psychology of pregnancy in greater detail, we shall turn our 
attention to its prerequisite, fecundation. 

Successful fecundation presupposes fertility, which exists 
only during a definite period in woman’s life. In our civiliza- 
tion this period is bounded by the ages of i6 and 50. It is asso- 
ciated with definite bodily processes that are determined physio- 
logically and anatomically. The entire internal-secretory 
physiologic process that prepares for fecundation is probably a 
psychosomatic unit in all its phases and is constantly influenced 
by both the psychic and the organic life. The function of the 
hormones as “chemical messengers” — this term is often used— ^ 
is in all probability constantly influenced by psychic factors. 
This complicated messenger service is highly organized, with a 
central station, branches, interactions, and separate functions; 
it extends to the organs situated far from the original source 
of the message as well as to the immediately adjacent organs. 
Determination of the spot in the route of the messenger service 
in which a psychogenic disturbance may be taking place is 
usually a physiologic problem. 

When we refer to psychologic difflculties of conception, we 
mean that the given woman’s inability to become a mother has 
psychic causes that have disturbed some part of the physiologic 
process. Modern medicine recognizes that various disturb- 
ances of the bodily functions, especially where no organic reason 
for them can be discovered, are in causal connection with psy- 
chic disturbances. Such an involvement of psychologic factors 
is generally assumed in the development of gynecologic func- 



tional disorders. The psychic influence here affects especially 
the hormonal factors. 

Seen as a functional disorder, psychogenic sterility in woman 
is a very complicated and stubborn phenomenon; its initial 
cause is usually difficult to discover, even though modern 
methods of investigation can find the disturbances in the hor- 
monal messenger service. Yet, strikingly enough, the symptom 
(sterility) frequently persists despite favorable treatment of the 
hormonal defect, because — in our opinion — it continues to be 
fed by psychic energies. Vice versa, psychologic treatment 
proves ineffective if it is opposed by incorrigible organic factors 
(even if originally these latter were psychically determined). 

Although the various psychologic tendencies that under cer- 
tain circumstances may lead to sterility appear with greater 
clarity and plasticity in the processes of pregnancy, delivery, 
and motherhood, it seems appropriate to survey the psychic 
factors that can prevent pregnancy before dealing with the later 

We have seen that for the normal, healthy woman coitus 
psychologically represents the first act of motherhood. Diffi- 
culties of conception resulting from disturbing psychic factors 
C^n appear directly in the mechanical aspects of coitus without 
the complicated detour of hormonal disorders. The innerva- 
tion process can be influenced psychically in such a way that the 
woman by means of precise muscular motions succeeds in me- 
chanically preventing the sperm from entering her body. In 
such cases, the woman attributes her excessive secretion of fluid 
to her masculine partner’s clumsiness or to a peculiarity 
of her vaginal glands. She remains completely unconscious of 
the psychic influences involved. Usually, however, sterility 
stems from more complicated sources. Correct insight into 
the processes of the sexual act helps us to understand many a 
case of sterility caused by a psychogenic difficulty of concep- 
tion. This does not mean that we hold the course of the act 
responsible for the failure to conceive; but the act often supplies 
us with a clue to the given woman’s whole psychic preparation 
and to the structure of her psychic personality, especially to 



that psychic component which is directly connected with 
reproduction d 

We have analyzed woman’s sexual act and studied its com- 
ponent parts — sexual gratification and the first act of mother- 
hood, feminine giving and taking, energetic sucking-like intake 
and gentle expulsion, the will to be a child herself, motherly 
tenderness toward the man-child, feminine-erotic readiness for 
adjustment, and competing aggressive independence. We 
know that deep in the unconscious, associative bridges between 
coitus and the act of birth are hidden. All ^diis forms a psycho- 
logically closed circle, partly real and partly symbolic — the 
beginning and the end of the reproductive service. Each of 
these components, when taken out of the synthetic unity of the 
circle, can become a peace breaker with regard to the sexual act 
or the reproductive function or both. Predominance of giving, 
that is to say, of passivity, may restrict woman’s active par- 
ticipation in the sexual process, and we do not know what 
amount of activity on the part of the woman is required for 
conception; excessively strong taking may be associated with 
simultaneous aggressive expulsion, or the motherly component 
may be entirely spent on the man and may divert the wish for 
the child and its conception. On the other hand, a woman 
who is emotionally unprepared to grant her sexual partner the 
maternal tenderness that involves such great — perhaps the 
greatest — gratification for herself, begins her pregnancy in an 
unmaternal way, even though she may later compensate for 
this deficiency in her relation to her child. We have men- 
tioned that such a maternal attitude is probably necessary for 
the harmonious course of the sexual act, but that it does not 
always lead to orgastic gratification and sometimes even in- 
hibits it. The conflict between the woman’s individual pleas- 
ure experience and service to the species can thus begin in the 
sexual act. Her idea of the reproductive function may come 
too strongly into consciousness (as in the case of Mrs. Andrews) 

H do not discuss here the psychology of conscious birth control. For a treatment of 
this problem, cf. Mbnninger, K.: Psychiatric aspects of contraception, BuIi.Men- 
ninger Clin., vol. 7, 1943; idem: Love against hate, New York: Harcourt, 1942. 



and influence sexual pleasure; or unconscious fears connected 
with reproduction may have an indirect inhibiting effect. 

It may also happen that although the sexual act is fully 
gratifying, such ideas of reproduction, successfully suppressed 
in favor of the pleasure experience, may act all the more power- 
fully internally and become a psychic influence for sterility; in 
other cases they appear only later, during pregnancy, and lead 
to complications. 

I recall a a8-year-oId woman who suffered from depression and 
states of inhibition* She had been married for several years, 
and from the beginning her relations with her husband had 
taken an unfavorable form, although she had married him 
out of love, after a long period of friendship. Later she even 
felt an insurmountable aversion to him that seemed wholly 
unjustified by any real facts. She stayed married only because 
of the great gratification she obtained in her sexual relations 
with her husband. Her orgasms were extraordinarily gratify- 
ing; according to her description, she experienced them in full 
consciousness, but had the impression that she was not herself: 
she felt as though she were living in a different world, “as 
though in heaven.” Her husband lost his real significance in 
-the act, and she seemed to merge with him in a marvelous unity 
alien to the rest of her being. After these orgasms, she ex- 
plained, there followed immediately a feeling of emptiness, 
solitude, and estrangement from her husband and a depression 
that was interrupted only by the next intercourse. 

This patient’s state of mind was all the more surprising be- 
cause usually a woman achieves full readiness for sexual gratifi- 
cation only when she loves and respects her partner and feels 
an erotic interest in him during intervals free of sexual tension. 
Analytic observation revealed the mechanisms that led to her 
peculiar behavior. Her sexual gratification could be achieved 
for the very reason that she depreciated her husband in the 
intervals between intercourse by depriving him of his fatherly- 
tender role and punished herself, in her depressions, for the 
various forbidden and suppressed wishes that she fulfilled un- 
consciously during the ecstasy of intercourse. Her painful 



renunciation of tender love and her self-punishment through 
suffering were prerequisites for her achievement of pleasure. 
As a result of this spacing in time, she could experience the 
sexual act with almost supernormal pleasure. Her reaction of 
disappointment began immediately after the state of tension 
was over. But her renunciation and self-punishment were 
most profoundly expressed in the fact that her ardent but un- 
conscious wish for a child remained unfulfilled. This fact was 
also the core of her depression. She felt that she had no right 
to receive a child from a tenderly loved man, and she did not 
want a child from a devaluated and unloved man. Thus she 
nad nothing left in life but sexual pleasure, which she experi- 
enced in a state of depersonalization (as though she were not 
herself), because her real ego was absorbed in the repressed and 
forbidden motherhood. In her case, an unconscious but deep 
sense of guilt became the cause of psychogenic sterility. 

Another illustration is offered by an obsessive-neurotic pa- 
tient of mine who remained childless after being married for 
five years. After a fairly long psychoanalytic treatment, her 
severe neurotic symptoms markedly regressed. Although all 
the psychic material clearly showed that her sterility was a 
partial manifestation of her illness, and was connected with the ^ 
severe sense of guilt so characteristic of obsessional neurotics, 
no noticeable change occurred with respect to fecundation. 
Shortly before the end of her analysis she fell gravely ill of 
pneumonia, which almost caused her death. A few months 
after her recovery she became pregnant. Those who ascribe 
great importance to somatic factors might be inclined to ex- 
plain this occurrence as due to physical circumstances connected 
with her pneumonia. But to the patient and myself it was clear 
that the threat of death acting as a punishment, and the expia- 
tion of her guilt feeling through her suffering, supplied a thera- 
peutic reinforcement that made possible the final success that 
could not be achieved by analysis alone. 

In cases psychologically less complicated, unconscious feel- 
ings of guilt also frequently cause psychogenic sterility. In 
every woman’s psychic life the idea of the child plays an enor- 



mous part, and this is true in all the phases of her development 
and maturity. We have seen that woman’s valuation of her 
own body and the fear of punishment related to it are trans- 
ferred from the genitals to the inside of the body and thence to 
the child. Instead of man’s fear of castration, we have in 
wom'an the death fears connected with childbirth and the fears 
for her child. But long before the wish for a child is realized, 
the obscure anxiety-laden idea '1 will never have a child” is 
present, and this idea, stemming from various fears, serves 
chiefly to gratify ptmitive psychic tendencies. 

In this process we see the dynamism underlying the identifi- 
c cation of the penis and the child, which at first sight appears so 
absurd. In his idea of his organ, man connects already enjoyed 
and always expected pleasure with the obscure unconscious urge 
to reproduction; and the fear of loss of the organ — the fear of 
castration — relates to both these goals. The deepest root of 
this fear is, as we know, the sense of guilt. In woman, the 
anticipation of sexual pleasure is connected with the dynami- 
cally much stronger wish for a child, and the threat of loss and 
fear of punishment are transferred to the idea of the child. 

The symbolic agency of this punishment, the “witch,” exerts 
TQUch greater influence on woman’s sterility than is generally 
suspected by gynecologists. I know of numerous cases in 
which the Black Madonna of Czestochowa (Poland) asserted 
her supernatural power against the witch and helped barren 
women to conceive children. Psychotherapeutists, especially 
women, are often able to influence their patients before the 
rational effects of scientific treatment have manifested them- 
selves. At the risk of injuring our own professional pride, we 
must admit that such seemingly irrational interventions are 
often more reliable in cases of psychogenic sterility than the 
long drawn out reconstruction of the patient’s psychic person- 
ality by an analyst. 

Many gynecologists who treat sterility by physical methods 
admit the part played by psychic influences, but insist that 
these are only secondary. In many cases, however, the oppo- 
site is true. Physical treatment actually plays the part of 



liberating punishment, permission, or some other psychologic 
factor, and it is this factor that is often of primary importance 
in achieving a successful result. 

From my own psychoanalytic experience I can define specific 
types of psychogenic sterility. But I wish to emphasize that 
every form of psychogenic sterility is only relative, that is to 
say, it can be eliminated if the psychic conditions are changed 
(provided the organic situation permits), and that the same 
psychic factors may manifest themselves o^ly in later phases of 
the reproductive function without disturbing its first phase, 
fecundation. In such cases the energy of the germ plasm 
proves stronger than the counteracting psychic tendencies. 

In general, it can be said that the most frequent cause of 
sterility is unconscious fear. This fear may relate not only to 
the reproductive function, but to everything sexual, thus elimi- 
nating any possibility of physical motherhood by exclusion of 
the sexual experience. 

The sources of this fear are manifold, and puberal experi- 
ences seem to play a great part in its later effects (cf. case history 
of Molly and its analysis, vol. i). Its principal element is the 
sense of guilt, which usually derives from the deeper uncon- 
scious sources of psychic life. But we must not forget the 
case of Mrs. Andrews, which shows us in a very instructive 
manner that the same kind of fear, instead of functioning as a 
warning signal, can be a condition for pleasurable experience 
of intercourse, and thus lead to a result opposite to sterility, 
that is to say, to compulsive conceptions. 

With these reservations, I shall now define several types of 
psychogenic sterility on the basis of my own observations. 

I. One type is found in the physically and psychologically 
infantile woman, who, despite her normally functioning repro- 
ductive organs, seems to exclude the idea of motherhood even 
in its natural habitat.^ She is small and dainty and always 
needs someone to lean upon. - At first she leans upon her mother 

*Cf. WiTTKOWER, E., AND WiLsoN, A. T. M.r Dysmenorrhea and sterility: Personality 
Studies, Brit. M. J., vol. a, 1940; Wittkower, E.: New developments in the in- 
vestigation and treatment of sterility, Proc. Roy. Soc. Med., vol. 36, 1943. 


or father (usually the former), then upon her husband Usually 
she is vaginally frigid; nevertheless she enjoys sexual inter- 
course a great deal. Her sexual organ was and remains the 
clitoris, but she knows how to handle the situation in such a way 
that her vaginal '‘unawakenedness’' disturbs neither herself nor 
her husband. She insatiably demands proofs of tenderness, and 
her own tenderness is that of a child, not of a mother. In many 
cases, such women long before marriage — usually in puberty — 
develop physical symptoms that we regard as typical manifes- 
tations of pregnancy fantasies. These include vomiting, tend- 
ency to swellings, painful sensations in various organs, with 
typical transferences from upper to lower ones (or vice versa) 
and from inside to outside (and vice versa), desire for opera- 
tions, and, above all, eating disturbances of all kinds, including 
anorexia nervosa. 

When confronted later with the possibility of realizing these 
fantasies, this type of woman proves completely incapable of it. 
She remains immature, tormented by fears, and often her main 
interest in life is the treatment of her sterility. Sometimes she 
conceives after many years, more under the influence of events 
in her life that make her more mature than of the various treat- 
-ments to which she has subjected herself. Often she conceives, 
only to transfer her psychic difficulties to the later phases of 
the reproductive function. 

In psychosomatic medicine there is a tendency to ascribe cer- 
tain organic disturbances to definite personality types. The 
type of sterile woman discussed here would fit into such a 
scheme, were it not for the fact that this same type, with similar 
bodily and psychic characteristics, is found among women who 
conceive with particular facility and bring forth many children 
in quick succession; I have often had opportunity to observe 
this type of mother. Obscurely realizing her immaturity and 
lack of motherliness, such a woman tries with the help of reality 
to grow into the role that she consciously wishes very much to 
play. Often she belongs to a circle of young women who are 
all more or less of the same type and goad one another into 
competing for motherhood. 

2 . A diametrically opposite type is that of the woman who, 


although endowed with all the qualities of motherliness, re- 
mains sterile for psychic reasons. If we observe her sexual 
personality as manifested in coitus, we find that she is of the 
type that achieves the greatest gratification in tender giving and 
motherly embraces. The physical and psychic structure of this 
woman is almost the exact opposite of that of our first type; 
what both have in common is the inability to conceive. 

The type of woman we are now discussing spends her rich 
motherliness on her love for her husband; guided by profound 
feminine intuition, she feels that he does nqt and cannot want 
a child. His love for her is based on her motherliness: he needs 
her for himself, for his aims, his prosperity, his achievements. 
If she is ripe for motherhood, he is not ripe for fatherhood; he is 
often an introverted artist or scholar, still (or always) restless, 
who needs a mother and freedom from responsibility in order 
to develop further or even to be what he is. His motherly wife 
senses the dangers threatening him through fatherhood and 
renounces the child out of love for him. Her instinct of self- 
preservation also warns her against the burdens she would have 
to assume if she made an unfatherly man the father of her chil- 
dren. Moreover, she sees the erotic harmony of her marriage 
threatened in the event of her pregnancy, not because she op-^ 
poses eroticism to motherhood in herself, nor because she fears 
loss of her attractiveness, but -because her husband’s erotic 
capacity would not stand up in face of real motherhood in her. 

The man, although he loves a motherly woman, sets a definite 
limit to her motherliness; exceeding this limit involves dangers 
for him. Thus there are men who choose motherly women for 
their love partners, but become impotent when their wives are 
pregnant, or later after the children are born. In some cases 
that I have observed, such men fled from their homes in a panic 
when their wives became pregnant. In one case, the husband 
vanished for several years; in two others, the beginning signs ot 
acute alcoholism appeared in the husbands at this time. 

The motherly woman is more or less consciously aware ot 
such dangers and wards them off by unconsciously influencing 
her ability to conceive. The current belief that a man matures 
by achieving fatherhood is usually invalid in such cases, and 



more often than not an Intuitive grasp of the situation on the 
part of the wife can be relied upon. On the other hand, the 
woman’s unconscious distrust of her husband’s capacity for 
fatherhood sometimes proves unjustified. In two instances I 
observed couples who decided to adopt children; the women 
took this step because they did not want to remain childless 
any longer, the men because they lovingly respected their 
wives wishes. In both cases, the husbands — to their own and 
their wives’ surprise— reacted to the adopted children with 
great tenderness a»d pride, and grew more ambitious in their 
work and more attached to their wives. In both cases the 
women became pregnant less than a year after the adoptions. 
One of these two women told me: “I would never have believed 
that my husband could be such a good father. If I had, I 
might have become a mother earlier.” Such changes in the 
psychologic situation are often decisive in removing the cause 
of relative sterility (cf. chap. xi). 

The type of women discussed here must not be confused with 
the motherly woman, described in chapter ii, who avoids physi- 
cal motherhood and directs her motherliness into other chan- 
nels (the midwife. Aunt Tula, etc.) . In the latter the protective 
, mechanism has developed a long time before and is present in 
early youth, so that physical motherhood is completely avoided. 
This type tries to sidestep the conflict by renouncing sexuality 
and gratifying maternal feelings with secondhand motherhood. 
The sterile woman whom we classify as our second type is com- 
pletely willing to be a real mother and her sterility is a kind of 
secondary adjustment to her husband. Modern medical prac- 
tice requires that gynecologists in treating sterile women take 
the husbands’ generative processes into account. Usually 
physicians content themselves with establishing the fact of the 
husband’s potency and of normal behavior of his sperm. But 
in many cases it seems as important to examine the husband’s 
psychologic make-up as it is to investigate the wife’s. And 
usually, if we are to gain a clear psychologic picture, it is not 
enough to know that the couple want a child and have a satis- 
factory relationship with each other. 

3. The third type is represented by the woman who often 



is diverted from motherhood by other interests, although, like 
the second type, she may possess great capacity for motherli- 
ness. I propose to divide this type into two subtypes: 

a) The feminine-erotic woman who fears the competition of 
motherhood with her w'arm, rich erotic life. All her 
motherliness is consumed in the fire of erotic love. Her 
type is particularly close to the second type, without being 
identical with it. 

(J) The woman who devotes her life to an ideology or another 
emotionally determined interest. Pere belong those 
women who play a part in great revolutionary movements, 
the artists, scientists, etc. They are not averse to mother- 
hood, they often long for children, but they unconsciously 
avoid the conflict that might result from a split in their 
affective interests, and thus remain sterile. 

4. A very frequent type is the masculine-aggressive woman 
who refuses to accept femininity. She may remain sterile, but 
usually her active-aggressive striving asserts itself here too, and 
she often has many children. She succeeds in finding an outlet 
for her aggressiveness in pregnancy and motherhood. 

5. Finally there is the emotionally disturbed woman who 
fears additional emotional burdens and remains sterile not 
because she has found an outlet for her feelings elsewhere, but 
because she perceives the poverty of her own emotional life. 
Like our first type, she tries in many cases to overcome her 
deficiency by means of frequent pregnancies and numerous 

As occurs in all attempts at classification, these types are not 
pure, their characteristics often merge. Moreover, as I have 
said, the difficulties of conception can lead to a shift in behavior 
in an opposite direction. For this reason, we shall encounter 
all these women again in discussing the later phases of repro- 

Many other types of sterile women could be established. 
Furthermore, there are cases of psychogenic sterility that have 
purely individual explanations, as for instance the following. 
A young woman was childless after four years of marriage. She 


1 17 

was the elder of two children; her brother was one year younger 
than she. Brought up in an exceptionally cultured milieu, both 
brother and sister had had a definite ideology and definite life 
tasks from their childhood on. The boy was supposed to enter 
the ministry, as his father had; the girl was to become an intel- 
ligent, educated, feminine mother. Common family plans 
were often made, in which the girl figured as the mother of 
numerous children and her parents as happy grandparents. 
This plan seemed to promise realization, but was frustrated by 
the fact that the brother married before the sister and soon 
brought a child into his parents' home. The girl, who until 
then had brilliantly compensated her competitive feelings 
toward her brother by her femininity, had a neurotic collapse 
because her brother had outstripped her in achieving the special 
goal of parenthood. She married hastily to compete with her 
brother, but he had a head start; gradually she formed an atti- 
tude that can be defined thus : “Since you have usurped my role, 
I will assume yours." 

She conceived intellectual ambitions, felt inferior, and, al- 
ready very neurotic, tried to transfer the arena of her struggle 
to her own body. In order to minimize its feminine character, 
^he stopped eating; her menstruation was interrupted, and 
she developed anorexia nervosa, with fits of ravenous hunger 
during which she unconsciously tried to realize the typical 
infantile idea of pregnancy by absorbing the fecundation mate- 
rial through the mouth. Because she realized her pregnancy 
fantasies through compulsive eating, and because she harmed 
herself physically by combating her femininity, she did not 
become pregnant, although she was obsessed by the desire for 
a child. A large number of similar examples could be cited. 

We justly ascribe psychic difficulties to the destructive forces 
in the human soul. For instance, when we are dealing with a 
sterile woman's relation to her husband, it is easy to assume 
that her hatred, indifference, jealousy, her fear of the effect 
of pregnancy on the harmony of her marital relationship, etc., 
are the cause of her sterility. But sometimes, although not 
often, one encounters a married couple, ardently in love, who 


experience great happiness in their love relation and feel a con- 
stant urge to make it even more perfect: they wish for a child, 
yet are unconsciously compelled to renounce the fulfillment of 
this wish. Realization seems to be prevented by their uncon- 
scious fear that their harmony will be disturbed, that fate might 
be tempted to turn against them if they had an excess of good 
fortune; this is the old mythical fear of the revenge of the gods. 

An endless number of variations, types, individual histories, 
etc., could be adduced to illustrate the reasons for psychogenic 
sterility. In former years the task of psychiatrists and psycho- 
analysts was in a sense easier. A reliable gynecologist would 
declare that physically everything was in order and that the 
therapeutic task was now entirely the psychiatrist’s. But the 
latter’s efforts were not always crowned with success and he 
alone bore all of the responsibility for failure. It is certainly 
better to have a companion in misfortune in this respect. How- 
ever, with the immense advance of the science of hormones, the 
two methods of treatment and investigation often clash and 
occasionally interfere with each other. Gynecologists now are 
not so ready to declare that everything is in order ; they attempt 
more and more frequently to explain sterility on the basis of 
defective functioning of one or more hormonal factors, and thdr 
attitude toward the psychiatrist is one of deprecation and rejec- 
tion or, at best, tolerant forbearance. They turn to the 
rejected psychiatrist only if their own failures leave them un- 

Even if sterility is often — and perhaps in most cases — deter- 
mined psychically, there still remains to be answered the vexa- 
tious question: How does the physical result come about, where 
does the psychic factor intervene in order to assert itself in this 
form? The science of hormones still owes us an answer to this 
question, and it promises to give us a certain one in the future. 
Neither has the priority of the organic as against the psychic 
cause been clearly established as yet. Does a definite hormonal 
disturbance create a predisposition to certain psychic reactions, 
paving a way for them, or do psychic elements provoke a hormo- 
nal disturbance through the detour of the autonomic nervous 



system? The important practical question is: To what ex- 
tent can somatic disturbances, whether psychogenically de- 
termined or not, be cured by psychotherapeutic intervention? 
Possibly, the therapy of the future is in the hands of somatic 
medicine, but we feel that the chances of success in this field 
will be increased if psychology can help medicine to find its 
way in the psychic elements. For the time being, the two 
sciences march separately and strike together — somewhat after 
the fashion of the allies in the present war. 

I have discussed the problem of sterility from the aspect 
of inability to conceive or difficulty of conception. Several 
other related questions will be discussed later, such as psycho- 
genic abortions, secondary reactions to sterility, etc. However, 
one problem, because it seems diametrically opposed to that of 
sterility, calls for immediate discussion. I refer to the 
numerous cases of quasicompulsive readiness for fecundation, 
to what might be termed ‘*overfertility'^ in women. It may 
seem incredible or even absurd that psychologically this con- 
dition is as close to abnormality as sterility. Theoretically, the 
normal and ideal condition of fertility in woman is this: con- 
ception follows her first intercourse, a child is born after the 
regular period of gestation, and the same process is repeated 
just about every year until the end of the woman’s sexual life. 
But among humans this scheme undergoes far reaching changes, 
even without conscious, voluntary influence. Fecundation in 
the first coitus is rare, and woman’s reproductive powers are 
only exceptionally used to the fullest during her years of sexual 
activity. In addition to voluntary control of fertility, uncon- 
scious inhibitive psychic influence certainly plays an important 
part in these ‘‘phenomena of degeneration,” as they would be 
termed from the point of view of sociology or biology. 

It seems that voluntary control and “degeneration,” that is 
to say, the processes by which fertility has moved away from the 
above described ideal condition, have gradually led to a read- 
justment and reduction of woman’s service to the species. 
For the time being it looks as though woman’s social situation 



will further this movement — until new changes begin to operate 
in a different direction. Biology and the psychology of the 
unconscious will play their part here. 

Within the framework of the existing state of affairs, what 
may biologically be an ideal condition may paradoxically be- 
come a manifestation of abnormality. Thus there are women 
whose fertility defies every attempt to reduce it, and who are 
constantly taxed to the limits of their physiologic potentialities 
by the business of reproduction. Their entire emotional inter- 
est is devoted to their struggle against tfieir fertility, just as 
that of the sterile woman is centered upon her inability to con- 
ceive. Since the fertile woman often uses every means to pre- 
vent conception, her failure seems just as inexplicable as 
psychogenic sterility that has no discoverable physiologic 
causes. But it is naturally easier to assume unconscious neg- 
lect of preventive measures in fertility than to concede un- 
conscious influence on physiologic processes in sterility, all the 
more so because we regard fertility as normal and sterility 
as abnormal. 

Women who conceive so very much against their will usually 
complain, like Mrs. Andrews, that a man needs only to look at 
them or touch them to make them pregnant. Psychoanalysis 
of overfertile women shows that their problem is not one of 
exuberant motherliness yearning unconditionally for fulfillment. 
On the contrary, these women are usually unmotherly, they 
bear their children a grudge for having been born, and are too 
much preoccupied with trying to prevent increase of their off- 
spring to turn to the children already borne with joy and solici- 
tude. Their compulsive conceptions have motives far removed 
from anything like an instinctual urge to motherhood. 

Many of the women who passively “do nothing about it” 
rationalize their behavior with a curiously naive ignorance. “I 
cannot help it,” they say. Others adduce ideologic or religious 
motives that may mislead the ill-informed. Where such mo- 
tives are absent, they wage a pseudostruggle against fertility 
with all the means at their disposal. But this struggle remains 
unsuccessful, because (like the struggle against sterility) it runs 



into unconscious opposition. They have frequent abortions 
and the condition of their generative organs is such that it is 
often incomprehensible that they are still able to conceive and 
bear children. They often insist upon being sterilized, and xi 
they succeed in having this wish fulfilled, they usually react to 
the operation with severe depression and organic misery. If 
we consider psychogenic sterility as a psychosomatic syndrome, 
we should perhaps not reject completely the possibility that the 
converse phenomenon of overfertiiity is also connected with a 
hormonal condition. • Possibly a particular potency of the germ 
plasm and an intensified activity of the hormonal energies are 
here put at the disposal of the psychic tendencies, and an 
interaction between psychic and somatic elements produces the 
condition described by Mrs. Andrews: ‘‘The germs fly in the 
air to fecundate me.’’ We must not be misled by the pseudo- 

We shall later have occasion to discuss in detail some cases or 
such excessive fertility. It will then be seen how often sterility 
and excessive fertility stem from identical sources and merely 
represent two faces of a psychic Janus. 

• After this short digression into pathology, let us return to the 
normal reproductive functions. Although the sexual act is in- 
tertwined with these functions, the goal of the conscious expe- 
rience is “pleasure, undisturbed pleasure.” In the later proc- 
esses, this question always emerges for the woman: To what 
extent does the child disturb me in the pursuit of my individual 
interests? The polarity of the experience, “I or the child,” is 
thus defined from the outset. Every mother experiences this 
polarity to some extent, deeply or superficially. The child 
always represents a disturbance of her individual life, but at the 
same promise, an optimistic experience with regard to the 

future. ^ Every pregnancy, especially the first, is for the woman 
the dawn of a new development, a new turn in her fate, if the 
imminent motherhood expresses her true personal wish. If 
this inner expectation of the future is absent, the experience of 
motherhood is less complete, and the child has only the sig- 



nificance of a desired, tolerated, or undesired reality, without 
the gratifying emotional, optimistic investiture. As a result 
there are mothers who from the outset bloom and mothers who 
fade, mothers who serve the future embodied in the child and 
mothers who, in a metaphorical sense, feel that their own ego is 
consumed by the child. 

Still other conditions must be fulfilled to endow the feminine 
woman’s pregnancy with the character of completeness. To 
the principal one of these I apply the term “interiorized social 
security.” It consists in woman’s need lo feel in her man 
fatherly tenderness and secure protection. Ail the dangers of 
motherhood, the real and the fantasied ones, the inner fears 
related to the reproductive functions, fears that are present from 
the beginning to the end of the process, are assuaged if the 
woman senses fatherliness in the father of her children. 

Each woman experiences pregnancy in an individual manner; 
yet there are definite forms within which the individual varia- 
tions take place. Is this general framework “an attribute of 
the species, a manifestation of instinct,” so to speak, a re- 
awakening or renewal of phylogenetic memory? To the psy- 
chologist the notions of biologic determination or disposition 
seem narrow and restrictive, but they give him the comfortable’ 
feeling of having a scientific basis and of being able to place the 
results of his subjective observations into an objective frame. 
It is advisable to cling to a recognized pattern, in order to in- 
crease the objective value of the facts observed, if in so doing 
one is able to avoid the danger of being inhibited in seeing, 
understanding, and above all in communicating to others things 
that cannot be explained by biologic or sociologic realities. 

The organic phenomenon of pregnancy is filled with psychic 
material; more quantitative and qualitative psychic elements 
enter into the normal biologic condition then is generally as- 
sumed even by experts. What is typical, valid for all women, 
will be found above all in the psychologic accompanying 
phenomena of certain constant organic manifestations of preg- 
nancy. For example, the very anatomic characteristics of 
pregnancy favor the mobilization of various tendencies that we 



encounter in childish psychic life and neurotic symptoms. The 
inside of the body, we know, is a source of the most peculiar 
ideas and above all of anxiety in early childhood fantasies. 
What panic fear seizes the little girl when she hears of an inflam- 
mation or a foreign body in someone’s insides! As we have 
seen, many operations are performed upon young girls, espe- 
cially during their puberty, because they persistently demand 
them. This demand stems from anxiety expressed in organic 

Another instance* of interest in the anatomy of the inside of 
the body is the childish fear of worms coming from the stomach; 
this fear, as we know, is often repeated later in symbolic dreams 
in which the ‘‘worms” acquire the significance of small, usually 
newborn children. 

Also in accord with the realism of childish thinking is the 
idea that one can find in the inside of the body only what has 
been put there, that is to say, food. 

Still another group of ideas is connected with fear of the 
mother’s menstrual blood, which can be associated with the 
processes inside the body and later endow them with a danger- 
ous character. 

Even more than the anatomy, the physiologic processes of 
pregnancy are apt to provoke accompanying psychic phe- 
nomena. In fact, every physiologic phase in the course of 
pregnancy has its specific psychologic accompaniment. The 
surplus of innervations, the gradual reorganization of the 
somatic excitation processes, the changes in the circulation of 
the blood, the glandular functions, and the process of nourish- 
ment of the tissues connected with pregnancy constitute an 
added physical strain that naturally must extend to the psychic 
sphere. It may be said that we have here automatic, reflex-like 
psychic reactions for which the normal course of the somatic 
process is a prerequisite. These processes are tied up with 
definite groups of reactions that must be termed normal and 

When speaking of the more individual psychic reactions to 



pregnancy, we must above all consider the influence of the en- 
vironment in a narrow and in a large sense. Naturally every 
civilization has its own forms of expression. How does the 
concept of a “psychology of pregnancy” relate to the mental 
life of a highly civilized woman in North America or western 
Europe, to that of a Slavic peasant woman, of an orthodox 
Jewess, or of a primitive North African? 

The psychologic processes studied here are certainly not time- 
less and I do not claim universal validity for them; I do not 
wish to extend our horizon beyond the environment of women 
whom we really know, who are accessible to our direct observa- 
tion. Yet many elements seem to be so deeply rooted in 
woman’s nature that tliey survive for centuries and can be found 
at various levels of civilization. Let me cite the following ex- 
ample without at this time entering into detailed explanations. 
Periodically in every pregnant woman there arises an obscure 
feeling, reminiscent of old fears and superstitions, that her new 
happiness-giving possession will arouse the envy of super- 
natural forces, of the spirits and the gods. In fairy tales and 
myths the wicked witch wants to steal the child by means of 
charms; in the idea of the simple-minded peasant woman of 
various countries, it is the “evil eye” of the hostile neighbof 
that would accomplish the same purpose; in the educated 
woman of our own civilization, the feeling is an “irrational 
sensation” that perhaps corresponds to a feeling of guilt stir- 
ring in the unconscious. The threatening power is represented 
by the woman’s own mother, who assumes the role of the witch. 
Fantasies of monsters and unnatural births disturb the joy of 
expectation and fill the pregnant woman with anxieties. These 
are typical and are found all over the world; women who have 
never been superstitious develop superstitions, fears of magic 
forces, etc. These examples suggest an identity of psychic 
reactions under completely different environmental conditions. 

Naturally the woman’s relation to her own pregnancy is 
strongly influenced by her immediate surroundings. The 
treatment of the pregnant woma;i by society depends chiefly 
upon the value that society ascribes to the blessing of children ; 



this value varies at different periods and in different countries. 
National political and economic interests as well as ethics and 
constitutional law play their part here. Social developments 
do not always take biologic laws and factors into account. 

The psychologic experience of pregnancy to a large extent 
depends upon the conditions under which the woman has con- 
ceived and in which the expected child is born. That great 
power in human psychic life,/^^;*, whatever its nature, certainly 
has a considerable influence on the emotional course of preg- 
nancy. The socia? fear of the unmarried woman accompanies 
the psychologically determined normal or neurotic fears. 
Economic difliculties and illnesses and deaths in the family may 
play their part. In brief, environmental factors, direct and 
indirect, certainly have an effect on the course of the repro- 
ductive process. 

The degree of the pregnant woman’s psychic health is per- 
haps the most potent factor. We are rarely able to observe a 
process that is ‘'normal” from the psychologic point of view. 
In the first place, such a normal process is unusual; in the second 
place, a normal woman, in life situations that hold for her the 
greatest positive value, is not inclined to grant another person, 
'^especially a psychoanalyst, insight into her psychic life, and 
rightly so. Incidentally, it is striking that the most intuitive 
and introspective women shy away from observing their own 
psychic processes during pregnancy; one might almost say they 
are deliberately trying not to observe them. This profoundly 
motivated behavior is one of the reasons why we have so little 
information about the psychic life of the pregnant woman. 



T he processes of pregnancy are the concern of biology, 
psychology, and social science. I shall deal first with 
the psychologic phenomena that accompany the biologic 
processes. ^ 

Conception is followed by a tremendous upheaval in the 
female organism as a whole. Many women maintain that 
they can perceive the occurrence of conception. However, I 
have heard this assertion only from women who wished to con- 
ceive and subsequently perceived their readiness for it as the 
process itself; this reaction is particularly frequent after a 
period of voluntary birth control that has deliberately been 
given up. 

When the fecundated ovum has imbedded itself in the lining 
of the uterus, the womb enlarges, its blood vessels become 
fuller, and it increasingly adjusts itself to its task of sheltering 
the embryo. The genital processes enormously influence the 
woman’s whole organism through a number of physiologic 
phenomena, so that it is completely mobilized to serve the re- 
productive task. Each cell participates more or less in this 
task; gradually the whole physical personality of the woman 
becomes the protector of the fetus; only the central executive 
role is assigned to the genital organs. 

From these physiologic occurrences the psyche receives stimu- 
lating and depressing impulses of various kinds; it is directly 
implicated through the excitations experienced by the nervous 
apparatus ending in the genitals. The organic processes of 
pregnancy are readily used by the psychic apparatus to give 
expression to pre-existing emotional tensions; as a result, one 
can not only observe the influence of somatic processes on the 
psychic ones, but, conversely, one can also discover the relation 
between emotional conflicts and the physical symptoms of preg- 
nancy. But I must again emphasize that these psychic con- 




tents must be related to the somatic process of pregnancy if 
this interaction is to take place. 

Each woman brings into pregnancy certain emotional factors 
and conflict situations, which come into relation with her con- 
dition as a whole and with the organic manifestations character- 
istic of pregnancy. On the other hand, various typical groups 
of organic pregnancy processes also mobilize definite emotional 
attitudes that now emerge openly, exposing the entire dynamic 
background associated with them, even though this latter is not 
directly connected •with pregnancy. For example, the organi- 
cally determined nausea can bring to the fore all the feelings of 
disgust that have been preserved in the unconscious for years 
without manifesting themselves. Inversely, feelings of disgust 
that have become associated with definite ideas of pregnancy 
often strongly reinforce the organic provocation of nausea and 
may then lead to pathologic vomiting. The contrast with other 
psychosomatic processes is obvious here. In the latter, the 
organic symptoms are a complicated final result of a number 
of organic events, even though the change has been inaugurated 
by a specific psychic content. In pregnancy a normally pre- 
formed somatic phenomenon becomes the immediate expression 

definite psychic contents. 

We know that pregnancy fantasies fill the psychic life of 
children, especially girls, from their earliest childhood. These 
fantasies have a quite typical character and are mainly fed by 
that group of childish impulses which accompanies the various 
phases of infantile instinctual life. Oral intake and expulsion, 
anal retention and ejection, aggressive taking — all these primi- 
tive impulses accompany definite bodily functions. From the 
beginning they are connected with definite elementary psychic 
tendencies. They play an important role in the biologic process 
of pregnancy and dominate a large part of the psychic dynamdsm 
of this condition. 

In discussing coitus we noted the analogy between oral intake 
and the receptive sucking function of the vagina. In pregnancy 
all the ideas and fantasies of childhood and puberty that are 
connected with oral intake and expulsion can be revived 



through the physiologically determined proneness to nausea. 
Here we see how definite innervation processes serve for so- 
matic provocation of long-prepared and fixed ideas; it is a case 
of ‘'organic compliance/’ to use a current term. But psycho- 
analysis has taught us that psychogenic intensification of the 
oral pregnancy symptom of vomiting takes place only when the 
oral expulsion tendencies are accompanied by unconscious and 
sometimes even manifest (or about to become manifest) emo- 
tions of hostility to pregnancy or to the fetus. 

These emotions can be varied: they may take the form of 
angry protest, self-punishment for hostile feelings, fear, and 
similar violent affiects. The more they are in the servicj of 
hostile impulses directed against the fetus, the more uncon- 
scious they are, and the more violent the use they m.ake of the 
innervation process. If the unconscious tendencies are accom- 
panied by a conscious counterwish to keep the child, there 
develops an inner conflict that transforms the psychosomatic 
process into a neurotic, usually hysterical symptom. In 
analysis I could often see that the psychologic content in 
pregnancy vomiting was exactly the same as that in the hysteri- 
cal vomiting of young girls that is induced by an uncon- 
scious pregnancy fantasy and not by a real condition. Thcr 
connecting bridge is usually formed by the fear contained in the 
symptom — in the young girl by fear of the content of the 
fantasy, in the pregnant woman by fear of the real, material 
content in her body, that is to say, of the fetus. In both 
cases, the old infantile idea of fecundation through the mouth 
is revived. But in the vomiting of the pregnant woman there 
is always present a strong actual afl'ective cause that provokes 
the anxious negative relation to the child and thereby the 

The same applies to other, frequently peculiar oral manifes- 
tations, especially during the first half of the pregnancy period. 
Here belong the characteristic ravenous hunger alternating 
with complete lack of appetite and the stomach complaints that 
cannot be explained on physical grounds alone, as well as 
eructations, heartburn, nausea, and overseiisitiveness to ob- 



jects that arouse disgust — in other words, normal manifesta- 
tions of pregnancy that exceed the normal limits. The various 
extravagant food cravings, even though seemingly in direct 
opposition to vomiting as manifestations of compulsiveness in 
intake of food, express the same conflict between destruction 
and preservation of the embryo; in one case the eliminatory 
tendencies, in the other the incorporating ones, are victorious. 
In vomiting, the conflicting positive wish to keep the child 
asserts itself in the relieved, triumphant feeling that predomi- 
nates after the food has been expelled: '‘And yet he remained 
inside.” One patient always looked with panic fear for frag- 
ments of the fetus in the vomit, and always laughingly realized 
the absurdity of her behavior afterward. Similarly, in connec- 
tion with the wish for reincorporation expressed by cravings 
for certain foods, the opposite tendency manifests itself in the 
woman’s cannibalistic, destructive attitude toward the most 
peculiar foodstuffs. Madame de TEstorade complains in 
letters of her lack of motherly feelings for her expected child 
and describes her violent cravings for certain foods. The fact 
that some women suffer more from these symptoms than others 
results from a number of causes. Very often these cravings 
♦ express an obsession to consume foods that are familiar to 
psychoanalysis and folklore as symbols of fecundation (fruit, 
cucumbers, fish, spices, etc.). Thus the obsessive desire is a 
sort of repetition of the act of fecundation, a symbolic affirma- 
tion accompanied by an opposite tendency, cannibalistic 
destruction. Often the new symbolic fecundation is revealed 
as obsessive undoing of an unconscious tendency to destroy 
the child. 

To be sure, the modified gastric secretions supply a provoca- 
tion for the compulsion. Whenever it is persistent, closer 
examination shows that the patient previously manifested 
compulsive tendencies, though under normal circumstances they 
were held in check. Pregnancy permits woman to be free and 
rationalizes actions that would otherwise seem absurd. In 
such cases, there is always a strongly ambivalent relation to 
the father or the child and to the child, as well as a strongly 



aggressive component intensified by pregnancy. It is as 
though a somatic signal from the modified secretory processes 
had revived a latent compulsion. In many women these crav- 
ings are confined within normal limits, in others the obsessive 
element is unmistakable. 

Many women postpone the conflict between the eliminatory 
and preserving tendencies to a somewhat later phase of preg- 
nancy and resort to other organs to express it, especially those 
suitable for serving such ends and associatively connected with 
the psychic content of the conflicting ten/iencies. Constipa- 
tion, diarrhea, and genital expulsion tendencies express this 
struggle, which under certain psychosomatic conditions mani- 
fests itself in labor activity long before delivery. If the expul- 
sion tendencies predominate, abortion may occur. 

The fact that some women have these typical symptoms 
while others have different ones results from various factors. 
In the first place, the dispositions brought into pregnancy play 
a part, ilnalogies between the new condition and old ideas 
and memories, the need to lend psychic contents to the physical 
sensations of pregnancy, increased tendency to regressive 
revival of earlier fantasies as a result of the increased introver- 
sion characteristic of every pregnant woman — all these lead^ 
to intensified, pathologic distortion of the biologic phenomena. 

What seems most important to me, however, is the fact that 
there is in almost every pregnant woman a constantly active 
tendency to interrupt the harmony of the pregnancy state. 

I have found this tendency repeatedly in both healthy and 
neurotic individuals. But an excessively strong or abnormal 
reaction to the physiologic signals that are normal in pregnancy 
takes place only if additional motives leading to a quantitative 
increase of the normal response are present. 

If it is true that latent hostile expulsion tendencies in relation 
to the fetus normally accompany pregnancy, does not this fact 
contradict our previous assertion of the power of motherliness? 
This seeming contradiction requires an explanation. 

First of all, it is clear that from the biologic point of view 



there is no differentiation between the mother and the fetus. 
Mother and child are an absolute organic unity, and the same 
biologic process governs the needs of both. This unity is 
expressed with regard not only to the positive life processes but 
also to the destructive ones. Within the framework of the 
biologic process, disturbances in the organic functions of the 
one are also disturbances in those of the other, the well-being 
of the one is the well-being of the other, and the death of the 
one frequently involves the death of the other. 

Biologically and physiologically, the mother-child identifica- 
tion plays a great part in the. whole process of pregnancy. 
Psychologically this identification represents a complicated 
phenomenon that we shall study later. In the biologic identity 
the fetus lives parasitically on the mother (Ferenczi^ calls the 
fetus an ‘‘endoparasite”) and the mother’s body is exploited. 
As long as there is insufficient psychologic positive willing- 
ness for masochistic loving and giving, and motherly-tender 
identification does not rise above the parasitic significance of the 
fetus, the fetus remains a trouble maker psychically and in 
certain circumstances physically. As we know" (vol. i), will- 
ingness for emotionally positive identification and masochistic 
giving are characteristic features of femininity that are also 
attributes of motherliness in all the phases of reproduction. 

This la\¥ of femininity extends in a psychophysical parallel- 
ism: if there are psychic difficulties in the acceptance of the 
biologic situation, the embryo becomes psychically what it is 
biologically, an enemy exploiting the maternal organism. Posi- 
tive counterideas lie in the realm of future wish fulfillments: 
they are connected with the desire to have a child. They are 
not rooted in a positive emotional attitude toward the fetus 
itself, which as yet does not at all correspond to the idea of the 
child. If the wish for a child is not strong enough, if it is in- 
hibited externally or internally, or if anywhere in the pregnant 
woman’s psyche difficulties arise in accepting the role of giver, a 
psychically determined protest, manifesting itself in any of the 

1 Ferenczi, S.: Thalassa: a theory of genitality. Psychoanalyt. Quart., vol. 2, 1933; 
vol, 3, 1934- 



forms of the expulsion tendency, will oppose the biologic 

If the pregnant woman is externally or internally deprived of 
love and is not sufEciently compensated for it, her own willing- 
ness to give may be weakened to such an extent that the soma- 
tic sensations that she normally tolerates only because of her 
willingness to give can become a signal for expulsion. Whether 
the expulsion takes place in the oral, anal, or genital way de- 
pends on dispositional motives. Her own still existing infantile 
desire to receive can be mobilized anew by the growing demands 
of the fetus and come to the fore as an intensification of the 
som^atic pregnancy symptoms. It can also happen that the 
identification with the fetus is carried cut too literally, so to 
speak, so that the woman regresses to a fetus-like behavior and 
in her pregnancy appears as a curiously passive, dependent 
creature absolutely intolerant of privations. 

The protest against the biologic giving can assume numerous 
forms. If it is accompanied by strong aggressive tendencies, 
the expulsion tendency becomes dangerous not only for the 
child but also for the mother. The physical symptoms may 
be accompanied by a spiteful neglect of prenatal care, some- 
times explainable by the woman’s passive-infantile attitude r 
and sometimes by her urge to destroy the fetus without con- 
sideration of the possible injury to herself. The form in which 
such a negative attitude toward pregnancy and toward the fetus 
manifests itself depends on the dispositional factors. The 
signal for its mobilization, unless we are dealing with severe 
psychic or physical illness, always comes from the immediate 
consciously or unconsciously experienced life situation. 

The following case will illustrate this point. For many years 
Alice, a young, beautiful, and talented girl, could not make up 
her mind to bring her engagement to a happy conclusion by 
marrying her fiance. Finally the impatient young man con- 
fronted her with an alternative that induced her to seek psycho- 
therapeutic intervention. She declared that she loved the 
young man but could not make up her mind to marry him be- 
cause of an idea that was unclear to herself. She feared 



that he would be incapable of performing his marital duties, 
although, as she knew, her fear was groundless, because the man 
in question was young, active, and successful. She had no 
other neurotic difficulties and considered herself absolutely 
healthy. Yet she granted at once that her difficulty was 
not real but ‘‘imaginary.” Her childhood, she related, had 
been a happy one, except that she had suffered for many years 
from severe constipation, so that once she had to have her 
bowels cleaned out under anesthetic by a physician. Her 
mother used to giv^ her enemas with the greatest patience and 
devotion; these were often painful but were usually followed 
by a feeling of relief and gratitude to her mother. 

It became clear that she had transferred her old problem 
of defecation to her genitals, that she feared defloration, and 
that she did not believe that her fiance would be able to over- 
come her physical difficulties and psychic resistance. She 
obviously reproached him for not having been aggressive enough 
to seduce her during their long engagement. 

After a short treatment she married, and for several years 
her marriage was very happy. Without the slightest difficulty 
in either pregnancy or delivery she gave birth to two children 
^nd was in the third month of another pregnancy when her 
husband volunteered for military service. She consented to 
this patriotic action on his part but unconsciously held 
it against him that he had left her “in this condition.” 

She moved with her children to her mother’s house and at 
once her first pregnancy difficulties began. She had contrac*^ 
tions of the uterus and was threatened with miscarriage. Her 
physician prescribed absolute rest in bed; as soon as she tried 
to move about she felt pains similar to labor pains. At these 
times the presence of her mother or kind words from her or 
myself allayed the young woman’s spasms. Simultaneously 
she began to suffer from very stubborn constipation and her 
gynecologist found it very difficult to overcome her double 

With her separation from her husband and her return to her 
mother, the patient apparently had to solve several conflicts, 


and pregnancy made it possible for her to express her psycho- 
logic problems in specific organic reactions. Neuroses have 
made us quite familiar with such transfers of old and new 
psychic conflicts to the body; they are characteristically fre- 
quent in pregnancy. 

Our patient bore a grudge against her husband for having left 
her; because he had left she did not want a child of his, a father- 
less child to whom she obviously transferred her vindictive 
tendencies relating to her husband. Probably her fear for 
him and her increased responsibilities played a part too. Her 
psychic reactions were obviously ambivalent: her genitals had 
changed their receptive and retentive function into an elim- 
inatory, expelling, hostile one, while the opposite retentive, 
sparing, and preserving function was left to the intestines or the 
anus. In this division she repeated something that had taken 
place before. As she turned away from her husband she 
resumed her old affective tie with her mother, wdiich formerly 
too had been expressed through constipation. Actually she 
wanted to preserve the child; she made honest and strenuous 
efforts to this end, but her impulses strayed from the genitals 
to the intestines, and the more strenuous her efforts, the more 
intensively did the two opposing tendencies operate in the*' 
wrong places. We recall that such a confusion of localization 
had taken place in her fantasy wdien she feared that her husband 
would be incapable of violently penetrating her body aperture, 
as her mother had done with the enemas of her childhood. 

Another patient protested against her unwdshed-for preg- 
nancy by continuous diarrhea; she also expressed her relation 
to the fetus by mediation of the adjoining excretory organs, 
although in a manner opposite to that of the patient discussed 

We have seen (chap, iii) that the contents of the intestinal 
tract and the child are generally identical in childhood fantasies. 
It seems that the unconscious of the pregnant w^'ornan more 
readily restores this identity than that between the fetus, 
unknown as an object, and the child she is willing to love in the 
future. The physiologic processes induce a revival of this 



early identification and produce a psychophysical union be- 
tween the child and the feces that is sometimes expressed 
organically. As long as the physiologic regulatory mechanisms 
of pregnancy are in a certain balance, no organic disturbances 
take place. Only overdetermination — that is to say, the addi- 
tion of psychologic factors to the physiologic upheaval of preg- 
nancy — creates the organic afflictions often typical of preg- 
nancy. This resembles the situation in childhood; here again 
the psychic contents can utilize the language of the organs. 

We have also soen that the physiologic signals indicating 
that the mother’s bodily economy is overburdened by the 
fetus, and developing into agents provocateurs for certain pre- 
figured somatic reactions, are often associated with various 
emotional energies directed against the fetus. Sometimes the 
mother’s emotional relation to the fetus in her body is full 
of the crudest murderous impulses, which remain unconscious 
while consciously the child is expected with love. These im- 
pulses assert themselves in the woman’s general mood, in 
psychic and even psychotic states, in dreams, etc., without 
resort to bodily expressions. I have also often observed that 
hysterical women who previously suffered from conversion 
^symptoms in which pregnancy fantasies were of decisive im- 
portance, remain strikingly free of bodily symptoms during 
their real pregnancies, although their old neurotic conflicts 
have not been solved. These conflicts are now expressed on the 
psychic plane, in general states of anxiety, in phobias, etc. 
The relation to the real fetus is determined by many factors 
and the final effect is obtained by the combined action of all 
of them. 

The physiologic processes of pregnancy are self-regulatory, 
unless they are disturbed by excessive quantitative or qualita- 
tive physiologic changes. If the positive relation to the child 
as a future reality fills the woman’s emotional life, the physio- 
logic processes lose their abnormal psychic charge: the feces 
no longer become the child, the disgust leading to vomiting is 
reduced to the organically determined morning sickness of the 
first months, etc. But if the infantile counterideas are too 



Strong, or if the expectations for the future are disturbed by the 
woman's negative relation to her motherhood, the physiologic 
process loses the proper moderation. 

On the other hand, a healthy pregnancy is not always proof 
of motherliness. The favorable course of pregnancy or later 
motherhood can also be ascribed to strongly positive values 
deriving from secondary motives, such as desire to stabilize 
a shaky marriage, pride in the achievement, liberation from 
other burdensome obligations, etc. Or, paradoxically, preg- 
nancy can be so completely denied that eVen its negative ele- 
ments and physiologic burdens are not perceived. In very 
youthful unmarried mothers we often observe ‘'brilliant" 
pregnancies that are brought about by such a denial. In other 
cases the emphasis the woman puts on her own efficiency, her 
unconcern with the disturbing phenomena, result in a brilliant 
pregnancy; well-being is here exhibited as superiority. This 
is especially often the case with masculine-aggressive women 
who do not allow themselves to be disturbed in their activities 
by pregnancy and do not develop any symptoms. From 
analyses of such women we know that their longing for preg- 
nancy is often an expression of their wish for a bodily possession, 
a wish that conceals the old penis envy. ^ 

Whether the fetus is assigned the role of hostile parasite or 
receiver of the tender mother-child currents, depends upon the 
psychophysical situation as a whole; it expresses the end effect 
of that polarity which we call emotional ambivalence. 

I do not intend to enter into the pathology of pregnancy. 

1 have mentioned certain abnormal physical phenomena be- 
cause they belong to the constant inventory of the normal 
process as well, and because they show the importance and 
influence of infantile instinctual development. 

These influences are studied in greater detail in a publication 
by S. M. Payne.2 And B. Warburg has given us an impressive 
insight into the instinctual processes in the case of a severely 
pathologic pregnant woman. ^ 

2 Payne, S. M.: A conception of femininity, Brit. J. M. Psychol., 1936. 

® Warburg, B.: Suicide, pregnancy and rebirth. Psychoanalyt, Quart., vol. 7, 1938. 



We have just seen the influence of fantasy life on the physical 
symptoms and, conversely, the influence of biologic events on 
the psychologic. A typical and unique phenomenon of preg- 
nancy is the interweaving of the intensified introversion with 
the simultaneously intensified turn toward reality. The most 
interesting problems of pregnancy result from this apparent 
opposition. The harmonious interplay of the two factors 
brings about a blissful pregnancy; their disharmony produces 
tolerant indifference or profound emotional misery. 

We have mentioned the fact that pregnant women say little 
about their psychic experience. This is only partly the result 
of their unwillingness to lose the freshness of what is perhaps 
woman’s greatest emotional experience by communicating it, 
or to diminish its immediacy and intensity by subjecting it to 
their own or others’ critical observations. “Woman does not 
betray her secret” because she is hardly ever intellectually 
aware of her deepest psychic experiences. Psychoanalysts are 
lamiliar with this psychologic phenomenon. The child’s 
strongest psychic experiences rarely reach his still immature 
intellect, and information received from children about their 
tears and fantasies rarely takes the path of conscious and 
^ formulated communication. Amnesia, the forgetting of the 
strongest psychic experiences of childhood, Is not entirely due 
to the repression of conscious experiences ; the greater part of 
the emotional reactions of childhood remain separated from 
the conscious ideas because the childish intellect is not mature 
enough to absorb these ideas and elaborate them. Even those 
who directly observe children rarely suspect the extent of their 
unconscious experiences, the childish megalomania behind their 
weakness and dependence, the many childish fears, unless these 
exceed the normal limit. Only gradually, by interpreting 
children’s indirect utterances, have we come closer to the truth 
and learned to understand “the language of the childish soul*^ 
without the mediation of the intellect. 

The psychic experiences of pregnancy are in this respect 
similar to those of childhood. But here it is no longer intel- 



lectual incapacity that keeps the psychic processes from being 
consciously experienced, but the intensity of the turn inward."* 
The fact that pregnancy is accompanied by intensified intro- 
version can easily be demonstrated. Pregnant women them- 
selves complain that their former lively and sincere interest 
in various outside events seems to wane, and no particular 
sagacity is required to verify this statement objectively. They 
may continue their accustomed occupations automatically, 
but inner participation is lacking. The diversion of the 
psychic energies from the outer world meafis the first more or 
less decisive step in the process of turning inward, i.e., intro- 
version. With this step the polarity between individual 
existence and service to the species changes its balance in favor 
of the latter. Little has as yet been accomplished thereby for 
the preservation of the species, but the prelude, the beginning, 
has taken place. 

This interest diverted from the outside world now turns to 
that part of the mother’s ego which psychically represents the 
biologic upheaval materialized in the fetus. This materializa- 
tion gives the woman the promise of a child in the near future, 
but is not yet the child as the object of maternal love. The 
child itself still remains a fantasy product in the mother’s^ 
psychic life, differing from other fantasies only in the certainty 
of its realization and the definite term set for this fulfillment. 

Here we have the second act of the service to the species: 
the woman’s interest turns toward a fantasy that as a prelimi- 
nary stage of an imminent realization is also the preliminary 
stage of emotional motherliness. The fact that her emotional 
interest is more or less exclusively turned toward an object that 
will be real only at some future date, and that for the time being 

* A sensitive writer, Nancy Hale, has aptly formulated this attitude of the pregnant 
woman: “When I saw her, her eyes passed me and went away to some other focus, 
and at the same time seemed to me to turn in upon something in her own mind. . . . 
They were living in a private dream, on the other side of the fence; I could not guess 
what they were thinking of, nor what fears they had, nor what they talked about 
together when they were alone. But it was all secret and all within themselves. . . . 
The preoccupations of pregnancy are a dream that is forgotten as entirely as the 
dream of birth pains/* Cf. Hale, N. : The season of summer. In Aswell, M. 
L., op. cit,, p. 81. 



does not exist, gives the real biologic process the character of a 
partly dreamlike experience. 

Since this future reality for the time being has no independent 
biologic or psychologic existence, the child is psychologically 
what the fetus is biologically — a part of the mother's own self. 
The biologic process has created a unity of mother and child, 
in which the bodily substance of one flows into the other, and 
thus one larger unit is formed out of two units. The same thing 
takes place on the psychic level. By tender identification, by 
perceiving the fruit^of her body as part of herself, the pregnant 
woman is able to transform the ‘‘parasite" into a beloved being. 

Thus, mankind's eternal yearning for identity between the 
ego and the nonego, that deeply buried original desire to re- 
achieve the condition once experienced, to repeat the human 
dream that was once realized in the mother's womb, is fulfilled. 
Aspired to in coitus on the one hand and in religious ecstasy 
as unio mystica on the other, this identity becomes real in the 
mother-child union of pregnancy. But the feeling of unity can 
be achieved only if no disturbing influences assert themselves 
in the ego. The drives must be at rest, the ego must feel free of 
guilt, the ego ideal must be satisfied by the values ascribed to 
the still nonexistent being. These conditions are fulfilled only 
if fears and feelings of guilt do not burden the psychic life and 
hostile aggressive impulses are silenced, which is not always the 
case. There are women whose self-confidence is markedly 
disturbed during pregnancy. They see in their coming mother- 
hood a strong obstacle to their own possible development. 
Instead of happiness they have feelings of bitterness, revenge, 
and hatred toward both the man and the still unborn child and 
of resigned renunciation of their own personal life. 

The sense of guilt that dwells in every human soul 
particularly burdens the reproductive processes. Motherhood 
and pregnancy are laden with old guilt feelings and these lend 
greater power to the guilt motives acquired later. The more 
pregnancy is experienced as a yearned-for promise of future 
happiness, the more severely is the prospective mother threat- 
ened by the vengeance of fate. 



In every woman, even the most mature and best balanced, 
imminent motherhood is a fulfillment of an old wish and a 
consummation of an old promise that destiny or her educators 
gave her at the moment when she recognized and accepted her 
feminine nature. 

Postponement seems to every girl a disappointment and a 
nonfulfillment of that promise. We have had occasion to ob- 
serve such disappointment reactions especially in puberty. 
They are often preserved in the unconscious as the idea ‘T 
cannot have a child,"’ and thus contribute to this typical fear 
of pregnancy, which stems from many sources. The feeling 
that the promise now so real will nevertheless remain unful- 
filled results from the anachronistic effects of a former bad 
experience. This motive often plays a large part in the sterility 
of the first type of sterile woman discussed above. In itself, 
the little girl’s wish to have a child is free of guilt feelings, she 
never suffered prohibitions or threats of punishment as a result 
of it. Guilt feelings burden this wish only secondarily. One 
of their sources is masturbation: we recall that the most im- 
mediate expression of the sense of guilt is associated with the 
genital trauma and refers to the girl’s fear that she has des- 
troyed her genitals. Later, with the transference of the girl’s^ 
interest to the inside of her body, the guilt reaction ‘T have no 
genitals” is transformed into the threat 'T will have no child,” 
and acts as a second powerful determinant of pregnancy fears. 

The guilt feeling connected with masturbation can inhibit 
the reproductive functions from the outset and make conception 
difficult. Women who have this feeling observe all their bodily 
sensations during pregnancy with particular acuteness, and 
perceive them as threats of loss; their joy in the future child can 
hardly establish itself, because they doubt that their wish will 
be realized. Such women have a tendency to miscarry and 
must often bolster their tottering belief in the child by self- 
imposed sacrifices and renunciations of other joys and activities. 
These sacrifices are rationalized as ‘‘prenatal care.” 

It is interesting and comprehensible that normal birth and 
the actual achievement of motherhood do not always cause a 



change in this infantile attitude. Since real births do not affect 
the unconscious source of their doubts and thus cannot remove 
it, such women must prove to themselves by repeated preg- 
nancies that their bodies are capable of producing children. 
These women burdened with guilt are among the many whose 
pregnancies serve goals other than the urge to motherhood. 

A deeper and more powerful source of guilt feelings lies in the 
pregnant woman’s relation to her mother. It can even be said 
that this relation is at the center of the psychologic problems 
of pregnancy and offthe whole reproductive function. In many 
women the degree of their freedom from psychologic dependence 
upon their own mothers decides the fate of their motherhood. 
If the pregnant woman displays a high degree of psychic infan- 
tilism, is passively devoted to her mother, and has no active 
tendency to free herself, she has no guilt reactions and the 
course of her pregnancy is characterized by a typical lack of 
seriousness and dignity — she takes the whole thing as ^^un.” 
She communicates all her excitement to her mother, makes 
all the necessary preparations under her aegis, and in general 
conducts herself in a manner reminiscent of that of the little 
girl playing with dolls. 

• The psychology of the prospective grandmother plays an 
important part in the behavior of her daughter. The latter’s 
pregnancy often gives the mother an occasion to realize her own 
frustrated wishes, and mother and daughter are involved in 
common daydreaming. We recall here the young girl whom I 
termed an assistant mother (p. 73); she constructed such 
motherhood fantasies with her mother even in puberty. A 
v/idowed or divorced mother, or a mother who has no other life 
tasks, is particularly prone to devote herself completely to her 
daughter’s condition, to intensify her solicitude for the ‘"poor 
child,” and experience the responsibilities and joys of preg- 
nancy all over again through identification with her daughter. 

It is interesting to observe that the pregnancies of these 
infantile women are normal, smooth, without symptoms. 
Such a woman is not only free from the care of the future child 
and all practical everyday problems; the dark forces of destiny 



The inner protest that usually accompanies such dependence 
often makes itself felt during pregnancy. “Now I am the 
mother, not you,’’ is what the pregnant woman's attitude indi- 
cates, and this overemphasis on independence points to its 
opposite. The mother must know nothing of the pregnancy, 
she must know less of it than anyone else. These declarations 
of independence last only until the first weaknesses and fears 
manifest themselves; then the conflict between the dependence 
and the protest begins. The more the prospective mother 
feels that she will, be unable to bear her new responsibility 
precisely because of her dependence upon her own mother, the 
stronger is the protest. The child was supposed to play the 
part of savior from the mother but instead it only intensifies 
the danger. “Away with him," therefore, says the unconscious 
in such cases. And I have observed several miscarriages pro- 
voked by the sharpening of such a mother conflict. Twice I 
have seen a conscious triumph when the prematurely born 
child died immediately after delivery. In both cases the 
children were much desired firstlings, and the young mothers 
were stunned and terrified by their unusual reaction to their 
loss. In the first of these cases the young woman intended, 
jifter her confinement, to join her soldier-husband in the town 
where he was stationed and to leave the child with her mother. 
She begrudged her mother the child and her unconscious pre- 
ferred it to be dead. In the second case likewise, the real life 
situation sharpened the latent mother conflict; here too the war 
compelled the woman to return to her mother’s home with 
her newborn child. The child intensified the danger of the 
young woman’s dependence upon her mother and she 
unconsciously preferred its death to this dependence. It is 
noteworthy that the first of these women had suffered from 
anorexia nervosa as an adolescent and the second from agora- 
phobia; in both these neuroses excessive dependence upon the 
mother plays a great part. The psychic motive that led these 
two women to react abnormally to the loss of their newborn 
children leads others to still earlier renunciation of the child 
through miscarriage. 



Much more diiEcult and complicated are those pregnancies 
in which an unconscious feeling of guilt with regard to the 
mother exceeds the normal fears and forebodings. Every 
woman’s unconscious guilt feelings lead back to the childhood 
phase in which the mother’s pregnancy, real or fantasied, is 
the greatest burden of the little girl’s emotional life. The 
arrival of a new brother or sister naturally intensifies her 
interest in problems of birth and spurs her fantasy in that 
direction. But even without this real experience, her fantasy 
feeds on apprehensions, investigations, and suspicions. All 
her reactions to reality and the accompanying fantasies are 
characterized by considerable aggression. If in her fantasies 
she wants a child for herself, she hates her mother as a success- 
ful rival; if she clings to her mother with love demands, she 
takes her mother’s interest in the new child very much amiss, 
and with childish emotional unrestraint wishes both of them 
dead. This wish produces reactions of guilt. 

The destructive urge is particularly aggressive in relation to 
the pregnant mother, realistically if she is really pregnant, in 
fantasy if the pregnancy is only built on suspicions. 

Pregnancy as the fulfillment of woman’s deepest yearnings 
may disturb the psychic balance because it brings to the fore 
old conflicts that have hitherto remained relatively dormant. 
As long as the psychic regulatory processes had to take into 
account only the individual self-preservative tendencies, peace 
prevailed. But they no longer suflice for the emotional tasks 
of the reproductive function. Previously the old guilt feelings 
with regard to the mother and the self-punishing tendencies 
could find an outlet within the framework of a more or less 
neurotically functioning masochism. The expectation of a 
child may be accompanied by the strongest emotions of happi- 
ness; at the same time, the masochistic idea of the really ex- 
pected pain and danger to life may grow immeasurably under 
the impact of guilt feelings. In women who undergo this 
process, the optimistic idea “I shall have a child” assumes 
the character of an ecstatic experience that is at once opposed 
by the pessimistic negation “I shall have no child, I have no 



right to have one, I shall lose it, I shall pay for it with my 
death/’ This split can be gradually evened out by the preg- 
nant woman’s reality adjustment to her own motherhood; 
otherv/ise the conflict continues to rage and the woman re- 
nounces the child by way of sterility or miscarriage, which act 
as miechanisms of defense against future dangers. 

In severe cases, the destructive tendencies win the upper 
hand, and the more the woman wishes for a child, the more 
easily does she lose it or actually pay for its birth with her own 
life. Her own mother’s threatening voice is not always as 
clear and unmistakable as the curse laid on Mrs. Andrews 
by her mother: “You will die in giving birth to your first 
child.” Usually this voice is a more veiled and more un- 
conscious element. Often the old guilt feeling is increased by 
a new burden that makes it virulent, so to speak: I have ob- 
served several instances in which motherhood was made 
difficult by the fact that another woman, deserted by the 
beloved man, accompanied the happiness of the chosen one like 
a shadow. The new and old shadows allied themselves into a 
mother’s curse on the young wife’s motherhood. 

« The fate of the identification with the mother is another 
factor that determines the course of pregnancy. In every 
instance the capacity for motherhood is related to this identifi- 
cation. The ego of the pregnant woman must find a har- 
monious compromise between her deeply unconscious 
identification with the child, which is directed toward the 
future, and her identification with her own mother, which is 
directed toward the past. Wherever one of these identifica- 
tions is rejected, difficulties arise. In the first case the fetus 
becomes a hostile parasite, in the second the pregnant woman’s 
capacity for motherhood is weakened by her unwillingness to 
accept her identification with her own mother. 

The following case clearly illustrates this problem. The 
patient, whom we shall call Mrs. Smith, was the youngest in a 
family with many other children, one boy and several girls. 
After this boy had disappointed the ambitious hopes of the 



parents, they wanted to have another son, but instead my 
patient was born. Her mother never concealed her disappoint- 
ment over this fact, and her attitude toward the girl was 
unmistakably: ‘"It would have been better if you had not been 
born.'’ The patient was saved from traumatic reactions to 
this attitude by two compensations — her father’s deep and 
tender love for her, and the maternal affection of one of her 
sisters, twelve years older than herself. Her father’s love 
aroused in her the wish to become a substitute for his son and 
she successfully turned her interests and ambitions toward this 
goal. She was saved from the dangers of the masculinity com- 
plex because her father’s love for her emphasized and encour- 
aged her femininity. The two tendencies frequently conflicted 
but did not lead to a neurotic result. 

Only after she had married and conceived an ardent desire 
for a baby did her childhood difficulty come to the fore. As a 
little girl she had reacted to her mother’s rejection with 
conscious hatred and devaluation. The idea of identification 
with her aggressive mother had filled her with almost conscious 
horror. Up to her pregnancy she had been able to be feminine 
by disregarding her mother problem; but this method no longer 
worked when sHe herself was about to become a mother. 

Her identification with her older sister, her childhood sub- 
stitute mother, was also disturbed. During her early puberty 
Mrs. Smith had discovered that her sister, like herself, was 
engaged in a hate-filled conflict with her mother, and perhaps 
unconsciously sensed that this sister had many children not 
because she was motherly but because she was sexually sub- 
jected to her husband. With whom, then, could she identify 
herself, in order to become a mother? Her tragic feeling that 
she would never achieve motherhood was intensified when she 
gave birth one month before term to a stillborn child. 

Soon she was again pregnant; and her joy was now even more 
mixed with fear of loss than during her first pregnancy. By 
this time she had come into close relation with a former friend 
of hers who was also pregnant and expected her first child in 
joyful, undisturbed tranquillity. Thanks to this friendship, 



Mrs. Smith felt relieved; only from time to time she aroused 
the friend’s laughter by remarking, ‘'You are the luckiest 
person in the world, you will have a child” — thus expressing 
her doubts as to the fulfillment of her own wish. In her full 
identification with her friend she nevertheless began to feel 
more hopeful. Only later, during her analysis, did she realize 
that the success of her identification with her friend was not 
due to the latter’s inner harmony but to another motive. The 
friend had a mother who was the opposite of her owm. While 
her own mother w^s tall, domineering, cold, and aggressive, 
her friend’s mother was very small and full to the brim with 
maternal warmth. She spread her motherly wings both over 
her own loving daughter and Mrs. Smith, who was thus able 
to achieve motherhood by sharing in this benign mother- 
daughter harmony. 

One danger threatened her. Her friend had conceived a 
whole month before her; thus during the last month of her 
own pregnancy she would be left to her owm fate. This fact 
aroused great fear in her, because she had once given birth to a 
child one month before term. As her friend’s expected date 
of delivery approached, she grew" more and more fearful. But 
To the surprise of everyone concerned, her friend did not have 
her child at the expected time; she refused to have her delivery 
hastened by medical intervention, and gave birth to a boy 
overdue by a w^hole month on the very day that Mrs, Smith 
expected her own delivery. A few hours later, Mrs. Smith 
began to have labor pains and thus fulfilled her seemingly hope- 
less wish that both babies be born on the same day. The 
children were later referred to as twins of different parents. 

Since I was particularly interested in the authenticity of 
these tacts and suspected that Mrs. Smith’s friend had been 
mistaken as to the date of her conception, I investigated the 
matter and ascertained beyond any doubt that her child really 
was born late by a whole month; and this was confirmed by her 
doctors, who established the fact that the child’s growth during 
its additional stay in the uterus was more than equal to one 
month’s normal growth of a child outside the uterus. Appar- 
ently Mrs. Smith’s friend had mobilized all the energies of the 


“retaining” powers in order to help Mrs. Smith by waiting for 
her term. I think that in this case the psychologic force of 
simultaneous loving identification was the determining factor. 

There is an epilogue to Mrs. Smith’s career as a mother. The 
two friends now consciously adjusted themselves to each other 
in regard to their next pregnancies and conceived in the same 
month. This second time, Mrs. Smith had no fears or doubts. 
But during the third month of her pregnancy her friend told her 
that her husband had been offered a position in another town 
and that the family would probably movS there. Mrs. Smith 
felt panicky and asked her friend what would happen to her 
own pregnancy. The friend replied laughingly that this time 
she would have to struggle through it alone. That very day 
Mrs. Smith started on a miscarriage and the physician who 
was summoned was unable to do anything about it. The clini- 
cal diagnosis was that of overexcitability of the uterus. This 
woman could not manage to have a second child. She was very 
motherly and greatly enjoyed her motherhood in relation to 
the one child she had, though with an admixture of fear. Psy- 
choanalytic treatment did not remove her difficulties. She 
ironically called herself an “appendix mother” who could 
bring her pregnancy to a successful conclusion only by leanirfg 
on another woman. Beyond this she was not neurotic, and 
could solve all the other problems of her life. It was only to 
the heavy task of pregnancy that she was unequal, for reasons 
of which she herself became aware. After her friend had failed 
her she could no longer chase away the shadow of the mother 
she had rejected. We were able to study the psychologic 
process in Mrs. Smith; in her friend we could only conjecture it. 
We cannot answer the question as to what physiologic changes 
had taken place in both women to subject them so deeply to 
psychologic factors. 

Upon recommendation of the attending gynecologists I 
have often been asked to give therapeutic assistance in cases of 
habitual miscarriage. Several times I have found that the 
first miscarriage, whatever its cause, had become an invincible 
trauma. The strong wish for a child was intensified by the 



loss, and the bad experience created or intensified the anxious 
tension; “Will I have a child?” There developed a com- 
pulsion to repeat the traumatic experience. After every mis- 
carriage the wish for a new pregnancy was increased — like the 
desire for a drug in an addiction — and with it the tendency to 
miscarry. In one case the vroman gave up all hope of success, 
adopted a child, and when she later became pregnant did not 
take any of the precautions against miscarriage that she had 
taken previously. Only then did she give birth to a normal 

The changes that take place during pregnancy are gradual; 
only gradually does the pregnant woman realize that her 
personal real world will soon change and grow, and that this 
change will be her own accomplishment, already really begun 
with pregnancy. Later this accomplishment will reach full 
expression in the differentiation between the mother and child. 
It sounds paradoxic that we should ascribe a real meaning to 
such a real and present condition only by referring it to the 
luture. However, the idea of the future sets various reactions 
in motion In the present: some of these share the passive charac- 
ter of waiting, others aim at actively preparing the envi- 
ronment for the future, at improving it, etc. This double 
attitude toward the future constitutes an Important component 
of all the psychologic processes of pregnancy. In the passive 
component all the fantasies about the future find an outlet. 

The tendency to fantasy, as opposed to turning toward 
reality, naturally characterizes those women who had it to a 
considerable degree before, especially those who are not satis- 
fied with reality. Even if they are motherly and the child as a 
real object later gives them much satisfaction and compensates 
them for many privations, they enjoy pregnancy for its own 
sake more than for the sake of the child. It is for them a kind 
of refuge in which they are allowed to live their conscious and 
unconscious wishes, a permission to be introverted without 
social feelings of guilt. They assume the right to escape present 
responsibilities in the name of the future they bear within 


themselves. In such cases delivery means the return to reality, 
to which these women react in typical fashion. 

The fantasies of a mature, active mother naturally focus upon 
the future child. However much she may be controlled by a 
sense of reality, every woman feels that she bears a future 
hero in her womb, and the content of her fantasy is the “myth” 
of his birth. He not only represents her own masculinity — 
even when she is the most feminine of women — but he also 
represents all the overvaluation that once applied to her 
father and possesses all the virtues his own father lacks. 
A man likes to think that in the eyes of his wife Junior is a 
repetition of Senior, but this is seldom true. Only when death 
or some other kind of separation glorifies the person of the 
husband, can he approximate in his wife’s fantasy the ideal that 
the son is supposed to realize. When a woman is really in 
love, eroticism fills her life to such an extent that her yearning 
for a child is not a real, elementary need. Only when the 
ecstatic stage of being in love is succeeded by love does the 
maternal woman begin to yearn for a child from the beloved 
man. But at that point her erotic overvaluation has subsided, 
and the ideal demand, the nonfulfillment of which has been 
painful, is transferred to the future child. The model of this 
demand lies in the past, and a very large percentage of women 
want the first child to be a boy, independently of the quantita- 
tive relation of their own psychic components of masculinity 
and femininity. This boy becomes for his mother the embodi- 
ment of her previously developed ego ideal and of all the 
perfections that were once ascribed to her own father. Among 
several primitive peoples the belief prevails that the grandfather 
is reborn in the grandson. T. Reik analyzed this belief.® 

The daughter, especially the first-born girl, is supposed to 
fulfill these demands of the ego ideal to an even greater extent. 
It has been observed that pregnant women very often dream 
of a little child swimming. Pregnancy is here projected into 
the dream with typical symbolism. The child can always be 

*Reik, T.: Probleme der Rcligionspsychologie: die Couvade. Vienna: Internat. 

Psychoanalyt. Bibliot., vol. 5. 



recognized as the dreamer herself, embodying all the qualities 
that make her particularly valuable and above all made her 
valuable in her childhood, as a kind of proof and illustration of 
the ideal formation for which the expected child serves. When 
analyzing the particularly prominent characteristics of the child 
in the dream, one often hears : ‘'Oh, my father particularly liked 
that feature in me.’' 

The illusion that the expected child will be blessed with all 
the virtues and talents is opposed by the painful idea that it 
will be a monster, ai! idiot, a cripple. This idea is sometimes 
obsessive and stubborn; the pregnant woman looks for sup- 
porting material in encyclopedias and medical books and her 
hopes are deeply shaken by such fears. 

It is difficult to say which among several is the most constant 
motive of all these fears — feelings of guilt, masochistic dis- 
turbances of the joys of anticipation, influences of old incest 
wishes. Psychologic analysis discovers all these determinants. 
The fears are always conscious and are readily communicated 
to others. In contrast, the extravagant hopes are not divulged, 
and only in pregnancy psychoses does one hear about the 
“Savior within the body.” 

If the relations between the future child’s mother and father 
are good, the psychologic foundations of the parent-child 
triangle (cf. vol. i) are laid during pregnancy. The character 
of this triangle depends upon the level of the parents’ maturity. 
A naive form of common daydreaming arises if they are both 
very young and their relation is comradely, especially if they 
are reality-inhibited, or if the husband consents to share in the 
wife’s playful fantasies for the sake of companionship. 

Such parents speak of the child as real, assign various func- 
tions to him, anticipate his development, etc. His sex and his 
name assume great importance, and usually the two parents are 
unaware that in these preoccupations they are expressing 
unconscious feelings and acting out fantasies. Without 
realizing it, they betray what importance the child’s sex has for 
each of them. It may be chosen narcissistically as “what I 



could not be” or out of love for the partner — “a being like you.” 
The child may be desired as an object of care to be dominated 
or as someone expected to fulfill their own unachieved ideals. 
Especially the naming game expresses various long dormant 
but obviously persistent tendencies. Favorite figures of his- 
tory, literature, sports, and the theatrical w'orld with whom 
the parents once identified themselves as adolescents now come 
to the fore; members of the family are suggested, in order that 
their names may be accepted as an expression of love or em- 
phatically rejected as an expression of late'nt hostility. In the 
case of one young woman, who apparently lived in great 
harmony with her mother-in-law, the suggestion that the child 
be named after the latter, if it turned out to be a girl, led to 
the first serious conflict with her husband. Concealing her 
hostility, the young wife herself had first suggested the name, 
and it was her husband’s joyful consent that aroused all her 
hostile feelings against him. Of course there are as many 
different possibilities here as there are parents. 

Even if the child has been accepted into the mother’s ego as 
an object of identification, her strong expectation, and the mo- 
bilization of her maternal feelings as a preparation for the fu- 
ture, also endow him with the value of an object lying outside 
the ego, to which are directed many positive and negative 
emotional attitudes. The child is also the child of the sexual 
partner, and much of the love and hatred that were directed 
toward the latter may be transferred to the child still in the 
uterus. Thus many conflicting tendencies confront one 
another; the future child is still part of the mother, surrounded 
by boundless narcissistic love, the embodiment of all perfection, 
the gratifying extension of her own ego. This relation plays an 
important part in the dynamism of the positive anticipations 
of pregnancy. But even this apparently most happy mother- 
child union can have negative and sometimes actually danger- 
ous effects. If the mother’s masochistic tendencies are 
excessive, the child will occupy that part of her ego which she 
loves because it inflicts suffering on the rest of the ego. The 



woman, turned inward, groaning under the cross of pregnancy 
and yet happy in this condition, exceeds the normal bounds of 
feminine masochism and even during pregnancy distorts her 
maternal function too much in the mater dolorosa direction. 

It is important that the child as future object should be 
wished for, loved, expected with joy, and accompany pregnancy 
as a positive idea. This strengthens the optimistic energies of 
the genuine experience. If the child is an involuntary burden, 
an object of future hatred in the mother’s fantasy, of hatred 
still unopposed by conciliatory maternal feelings, pregnancy is 
a curse, not a blessing. 

Even in pregnancy women psychically prepare for mother- 
hood by giving up all their emotional interests for the sake of 
the idea of the child and thus create the soil for instinctive 
altruistic devotion to the real child. Possibly the most power- 
ful source of maternal love lies precisely in the fact that the 
narcissism of pregnancy erases the boundaries between the I 
and the you. Selfless love for the child would in that case be a 
continuation of this relationship, which with the birth of the 
child and the splitting up of the inner process is transferred to 
the outside world, and the child as object would thus be 
k)ved as a part of the mother’s self. This curious mixture of I 
and non-I in the mother-child relation during pregnancy is 
another interesting problem of the polarity of this condition. 

The harmonious course of pregnancy presupposes many 
factors — above all, a definite emotional maturity in the preg- 
nant woman, a sufficient amount of psychic and physical 
health, and fairly favorable environmental conditions, among 
which rank first the marital situation, then the social and eco- 
nomic factors, etc. Psychic maturity and physical health are 
particularly important if the woman is to bear the diversion of 
her emotions from the outside world without affective disturb- 
ances. Excessive introversion can damage the real relation to 
the environment; it involves the danger of overintensified 

The psychic hygiene of pregnancy must aim at making the 
child more and more an object, so that delivery does not have 



the effect of a painful separation from a part of the ego and a 
destructive psychic loss. From the very beginning, the preg- 
nant woman’s psyche develops defensive mechanisms that aim 
at stressing the child’s significance as an object. These are 
manifested in her strong turn toward reality, which proceeds 
simultaneously with and parallel to the turn inward. The 
first distinct signs of the “mother instinct” seem to appear 
here. For no matter how passive and introverted, how careless 
and helpless, how intellectually and emotionally absorbed, how 
rich or poor, how proud or asham.ed of., het pregnancy the 
woman may be, she is seized at this time by a nest-building ac- 
tivity, a need to build, on a large or small scale, for the expected 
child. A new house, a perfectly comfortable or beautiful 
nursery, a layette or a little sacque knitted with her own 
hands — all these are real even though sometimes extremely 
modest or symbolic products of this activity, which every 
pregnant woman develops in the midst of her inner absorption. 
The same activity is also manifested in her strict attention to 
prenatal care, as well as in her provisions for the immediate or 
remoter future, according to her temperament, degree of initia- 
tive, and possibilities. 

Thus a link arises between the strongly introverted and thp 
socially oriented ego, and even during pregnancy the maternal 
activity prepares the awareness of the inevitable mother-child 
dualism. It depends upon the psychologic situation as a whole 
whether these preparations are accompanied by joyful expecta- 
tion or sadness of separation, a relatively carefree spirit or the 
fear of death. For the unloved woman, the “asocial” unmar- 
ried mother, the harassed working woman, the sick or tired 
woman, the masculine-ambitious woman who has turned her 
productivity to other ends, the approaching reality is full of 
dangers. Worried and embittered, such women negate the 
inner positive energies, defiantly reject constructive solicitude, 
refuse help and prenatal care, and justify the skeptics’ doubts 
as to the existence of a primary mother love. Flowever, the 
negation of it here is usually not the result of an initial lack, but 
the fruit of material conditions or emotional distortions — in 
brief, of secondary influences. 



The withdrawal of large amounts of emotional energy from 
the outer world, and the incorporation of these into the psychic 
process of pregnancy, leads to various manifestations in the 
pregnant woman’s subjective, emotional life. Many an intro- 
spective woman admits that the amount of happiness she ex- 
perienced during her first wished-for pregnancy (unless it was 
overshadowed by negative counterideas) far exceeded the joys 
of real motherhood. Despite the intellectual controls, despite 
observations to the contrary, she had the feeling that he7' preg- 
nancy was something extraordinary, that the child she expected 
would give her unprecedented bliss. But because she believes 
that her experience contradicts the prevalent ideas, she usually 
remains silent about it, since she wants above ail to appear 
normal in the eyes of her fellow men. 

There are women who, despite their ‘‘dreamlike” experience 
of pregnancy, subsequently have a dim memory of a “marvel- 
ous” condition, without being able to define it. All one can 
learn from them is that they lived in anticipation of joy. Often 
they also admit their strange but pleasant indifference to all the 
other affairs of life during pregnancy. Because of this sub- 
conscious memory, despite all rational arguments and all 
(iifiiculties, they feel an ever renewed wish to re-experience the 
condition of pregnancy. 

It goes without saying that the limits of the experience are 
set by various other inner and outer experiences; what is later 
accessible to retrospective observation is always a mixture of 
the original condition and newly acquired elaboration of it. 
The intellectual woman readily assumes a certain coolness and 
hardness toward the confusions of her condition. The idea of 
possible disappointment is always present in her as an inhibit- 
ing and protective reservation, as well as a sense of the improba- 
bility that any exaggerated anticipations will be fulfilled. Many 
nonintellectual women likewise are unable to experience the 
tremendous enrichment brought about by pregnancy and share 
the feelings of those to whom this condition is only a more or 
less burdensome biologic process. They hardly remember the 
more profound aspects of the experience, even less do they 
make use of these in their subsequent life; but they remember 



with particular vividness the burdensome or even morbid 
physical consequences of it. Women mistreated by life show 
no understanding or sympathy for the whole experience of 
pregnancy, with all its irrational fear and sensations of hap- 

Among the previously discussed overfertile women who are 
repeatedly pregnant without being motherly, there are those 
who merely want to re-experience the pleasure of pregnancy and 
consider the child an inevitable consequence that must be ac- 
cepted. As a rule, it is impossible to find out from them what 
is so gratifying in this condition; most of them do not even 
consciously remember the pleasure they unconsciously want to 
re-experience. In many cases the woman feels particularly 
well when pregnant because this condition signifies for her a 
sort of vacation from her ego. The feeling of inferiority that 
at other times impels her to make a self-denigrating appraisal 
of her own abilities and inabilities, her tense desire for achieve- 
ments to which she is unequal, subside during pregnancy, and 
she seems to be saying to herself: '‘Now I do not have to be 
anything else, after all I am pregnant. To all those who suffer 
from awareness of their own ego weakness, pregnancy is a wel- 
come opportunity to enhance their own importance. 

Often a kind of depersonalization takes place and the preg- 
nant woman complains that she has no emotions. This con- 
dition is intelligible on the basis of the general situation 
discussed above: the outer world becomes unreal, the inner 
world is overcharged, the objective existence of the child to 
whom the emotions ordinarily turn is dubious. The forms in 
which this confusion of feelings manifests itself are varied. 
For instance, one woman declared that during her pregnancies 
she felt very little and had constantly to think about her child. 
The moment she stopped thinking about it, she was over- 
whelmed by the feeling that the child did not really exist. No 
doubt she had accepted the reality of the child intellectually 
but not emotionally, and instead of a sense of enlargement or 
shrinkage there arose a feeling of emptiness. This woman was 
compelled to fill her emotional vacuum by the conscious idea of 



the child as an object. The content of her intellectual relation 
to the child was very poor: ‘T think that I have a child and this 
makes me happy because I want one/’ 

Another reported that she had to be constantly aware of the 
existence of the child in order to experience pregnancy as some- 
thing positive, otherwise she too had a feeling of emptiness, 
difficult to describe. However, she was able to give us more 
details concerning her thoughts about the child. These had 
an extraordinarily gratifying but unusual character. In her 
“fantasies” — as she called her thoughts — she never considered 
the child as an object in the outside world, as something in the 
future; it was something that existed only as long as it was 
inside herself and belonged to her. For instance, she said: “It 
is like a stove in the winter that is always lit, that is there for 
you alone, entirely subject to your will. It is also like a con- 
stantly gushing cold shower in the summer, refreshing you. 
It is there.” 

For these two women the child did not exist emotionally as 
an object. They experienced the differentiation between them- 
selves and their children as objects only when they thought of it. 
When they ceased thinking about it, this differentiation disap- 
• peared, and with it the gratifying feeling of having a child. 
Thus the happiness-giving mother-child union in pregnancy 
assumes a negative character when it weakens the mother’s 
self-reliance and at the same time erases the independent ex- 
istence of the child in the emotional experience. In both these 
cases, the compulsive need to give an anticipated emotional sit- 
uation a concrete intellectual content, and the incapacity to 
experience something emotionally without objectivization, 
expressed a deeper emotional disturbance, which came to the 
fore only as a result of the new demands of pregnancy. Of 
course these two women were pathologic, but they present a 
good illustration of the normal process in a distorted form. 

The objective weakness of the child’s existence results from a 
fact I have emphasized on more than one occasion, namely, 
that it is only an object in the future. Hence the frequent 
occurrence of the curious phenomenon that precisely women 



with a strong emotional life — warm, loving, motherly women — 
declare with a kind of self-castigation that they rejoice over the 
future child but nevertheless do not love it. “How can I love 
something that does not exist?” they ask, usually later, when 
the child is already part of the outside world and their great 
self-sacrificing love for it has been stabilized. This question is 
asked by women who in their harmonious emotional life are 
particularly sensitive to the difference between the experiences 
of pregnancy and the object love of the mother for the child. 

Many neurotic women say that they never at any other time 
feel as free from their neuroses as they do during pregnancy. 
This is understandable. Hysterical persons now have a real 
motive for their tendency to fantasy, and the anticipation of 
the future so characteristic of them achieves a worth while 
reality value. As for the obsessional neurotics, they can 
achieve a period of rest from their constant conflict between 
hatred and love, for the object on which they, like all other 
women, center their emotional interest is frequently incapable 
of mobilizing their ambivalence, since it does not exist inde- 
pendently. It is true that for many of them the absence of the 
conflict between love and hatred is equivalent to the absence of 
emotions and, like the depersonalized women, they too complain 
that they do not have any feeling for the child. Other obses- 
sional-neurotic women transfer the entire conflict between hatred 
and love to the pale idea of the child. In them, pregnancy pro- 
vokes the severest obsessional symptoms centered around the life 
and death of the future child. In many neurotic women, the 
anticipation of the painful and sometimes dangerous process of 
birth produces a discharge of guilt feelings that is favorable to 
their condition and thus results in an improvement with respect 
to their neurotic illness. 

Seen objectively, the mother’s existence develops in two 
opposite directions during pregnancy. First, it is enlarged 
physically and psychically — physically by the organic addition, 
psychically by the consciousness of a new being that is con- 
nected and identical with her being and creates new emotional 



possibilities and a new future. Second, it shrinks, also physi- 
cally and psychically — physically because the woman’s body 
is now in the service of something that is not herself, psychically 
because she does not receive anything but only gives, and in the 
next phase of her life will only give. 

This duality of attitude can assume boundless proportions, 
so that the inner experience of the pregnant woman moves 
between infinite enlargement, ‘T am the whole world,” and 
infinite shrinking, ‘T am nothing.” The first attitude gives 
rise to life, love, motherly pride, and feelings of happiness, the 
second to depression, shame, hatred, destruction, death. The 
deeper life of the pregnant woman moves between these op- 

In its positive, optimistic aspect, this antithesis is sometimes 
subjectively expressed in a feeling of gratifying harmony. 
During pregnancy the woman feels more and more that she 
bears a real life in her womb, a life that would be helpless and 
lost without her devotion. The fact that by her own strength 
she will give birth to another creature that will face her as an 
independent being, the approaching duality in the still existing 
unity, is perhaps woman’s most powerful experience. But the 
pessimistic aspect of the antithesis arises from the same experi- 
ence: severe anxieties cast a deep shadow and trouble the peace 
and harmony of pregnancy. They crystallize into two ideas: 
'T shall die in childbirth” and *T shall not have a child.” What- 
ever individual and universally human guilt feeling, vestiges of 
memories, threats, and real motives feed these fears, one has the 
impression that something very deep and primitive lies at the 
bottom of them. 

The realistic acceptance of the child as a future and beloved 
object cannot completely overcome the inner unwillingness to 
give up the gratifying union. The inner voice objects: ‘'What 
it will be later in the outside world is not what it is now. What 
is now in me, with me, a part of my own self, will be lost. It 
will be there, but as another being, not myself — something that 
will breathe with other lungs, pulsate with another pulse, that 
will achieve independence by its own actions. Now it is still 



in me, but at the same time is not I. It is another human being, 
soon to be a world outside me.” 

To make it the being that is outside her, the pregnant mother 
must deliver the child from the depths of herself, and thus she 
discharges herself not only of it, but with it, of herself. She 
loses not only it, but herself with it. This, I think, is at the 
bottom of that fear and foreboding of death that every preg- 
nant woman has, and this turns the giving of life into the losing 
of life. 

If the separation is not felt as the loss of pne’s own ego, but 
on a more objective plane, the fear of death is replaced by the 
painful feeling: “I shall not have a child, I shall lose it, for it 
will leave me, it will not be hereT This feeling corresponds to 
the inner perception of the later separation. 

The irrational death fears of pregnant women, motivated 
psychologically by guilt feelings and reminiscences of older 
fears, had a real basis in former times. Women used to die in 
childbirth, victims of their own physical constitution and un- 
favorable external circumstances. Today, modern science 
saves them from the danger of death and alleviates their pain; 
yet in their profound psychic life we find manifestations of the 
groundless lurking fear of death that has remained uninfluenced 
by the conquests of civilization. Despite her fully accepted 
intellectual knowledge of her condition and the exact determi- 
nation of the date of her delivery, despite her absorption in 
preparations for the expected child, every pregnant woman har- 
bors in a corner of her soul the doubt: “Will it really come?” 
At first she doubts her pregnancy in proportion as she desires it, 
but outwardly she silences these doubts, trusting the strong 
argument of medical diagnosis. Later, when the life of her 
child becomes increasingly manifest, she wants again and 
again to have its existence confirmed, she notices its movements, 
and is often seized by fear when she perceives a moment of rest. 
For behind all her intellectual knowledge there remains the pain- 
ful doubt: “I shall not have a child.” Here too the old guilt 
feelings and experiences of childhood supply the inner rationali- 
zation. But the unadmitted, often quite unconscious idea, “I 


shall not have a child/’ contains a deep truth. For separation 
is death, and only when the mother’s love again receives the 
child in the outside world are the specters of death banished. 

I have briefly surveyed the psychic processes of pregnancy. 
If it were possible, as in a laboratory, to isolate the phenome- 
non from all the influences of past and present environment, 
and to observe directly all the stirrings of the soul that go hand 
in hand with the development of the fetus, we should probably 
learn much more aT^out the subtle correlations between mother 
and fetus. In the psychoanalytic procedure, pregnancy 
appears as part of the psychic whole; the condition itself, and 
especially the future child, appear psychologically as a product 
of the interaction of factors that are not directly connected 
with the reproductive function and not connected with it alone. 
The material cited above comes largely from analyses of 
pregnant women who wanted to be treated in order to get rid 
of morbid pregnancy symptoms, or to save pregnancies that 
they felt were threatened because of previous unfavorable 
experiences, e.g., miscarriages. In most cases these patients 
had become pregnant in the course of the analysis, sometimes 
even as a result of it, and it seemed wise to continue their treat- 
ment until delivery, for the sake of their psychic condition as a 

In all these cases the individual processes of pregnancy were 
so interwoven with neurotic symptoms that it was almost im- 
possible to obtain a pure picture of them. For instance, the 
fantasies and dreams of the patients often seemed to be influ- 
enced more by the analytic situation and the analyst’s attitude 
than by the fact of pregnancy, and the whole experience seemed 
embedded in the general situation. Nevertheless, it was pos- 
sible to bring out psychologic phenomena that obviously were 

® I am opposed to psychoanalytic treatment of pregnant women unless there are indica- 
tions that such treatment will have definite therapeutic results, just as I am op- 
posed to analytic intervention in all life situations that must remain undisturbed 
in order to develop into real experiences, as, for instance, a happy love relationship 
or marriage. Only a neurotic illness that disturbs the experience justifies psycho- 
analytic intervention. 

i 62 


directly dependent upon the biologic processes of pregnancy. 
Sometimes I had the distinct and very curious impression that 
the various ontogenetic phases of the fetus affected the psycho- 
analytic material, especially the dream life of the pregnant 

The connection between successive phases in the develop- 
ment of infantile instinctual life and the phylogenetic forms has 
often been pointed out; similarly, it has been shown that 
phylogenesis is the formative force in the ontogenetic changes 
of the fetus (Haeckel’s biogenetic law). Thus we have in preg- 
nancy a triple biologically determined parallelism embracing 
phylogenesis, ontogenesis, and psychic excitations and sensa- 
tions that provoke the return of definite infantile instinctual 
impulses. These impulses often supply oral material during 
the first stage of pregnancy: dreams centered around eating 
appear frequently. Somewhat later anal contents assert them- 
selves, dirty things one would gladly get rid of. The expected 
child appears in typical symbols — worms, disgusting little 
crawling animals (which are usually destroyed) — or, fairly 
frequently, as a dead child. Gradually the fetus assumes 
a more human form; it usually appears in dreams as more ma- 
ture than a newborn baby and shows traits that can be recog- 
nized as wish fulfillments in the dreamer, for instance with 
regard to sex, resemblance, etc. Often it appears as an ideal 
child, usually representing the dreamer herself endowed with 
her own best qualities and all those she would like to have. 

We have seen pregnancy as a biologic and psychologic prel- 
ude to motherhood and have tried to make it clear that the 
emotional manifestations mobilized during this prelude are not 
identical with the emotion of motherliness. Pregnancy as an 
emotional complex is an independent unit from which bridges 
lead to motherliness and in which the relation with the child is 

At this point I wish to recall what I have said before about 
women whose motherliness avoids pregnancy and turns to ob- 
jects other than their own children. Such women wish to es- 



cape dangers that in their unconscious are in conflict with 
sexuality or motherhood, and voluntarily renounce the direct 
gratification of motherhood. Their motherliness assumes the 
character of a yearning that they try to gratify indirectly by 
means of a substitute. 

I have previously pointed out the existence of psychologic 
inhibitions of motherhood that may manifest themselves 
physiologically and lead to sterility. The subsequent reactions 
of these women to sterility vary with the psychologic cause. 
For instance, if th*ey fail to have children as a result of self- 
punishment, the penalty acquires full significance only if it has 
been imposed upon an urgent emotional need to give birth to a 
child. Such women become victims of self-punishment only if 
they narrow all their life interests, do not look for any compen- 
sations, and fall into complete dependence upon their wish for 
motherhood. They try one remedy after another, constantly 
change doctors, insist on various operations, and spend their 
money on quacks. This struggle for a child becomes a symbol 
of the woman’s unique and unattainable goal in life. Some- 
times, when the conscious wish succeeds in triumphing over the 
unconscious inhibition, the self-tormenting activity merely 
changes fronts. It is then expressed in fear for the child, now 
real, in the tyrannical role assigned to him, and in the excessive 
masochistic sacrifices made for him. In other cases, the 
struggle for motherhood is at the same time a defense against 
it. As patients, such women behave exactly like many organi- 
cally diseased persons who want to be cured and yet do every- 
thing in their power to remain sick. It goes without saying 
that there are as many possible reactions to psychogenic sterility 
as there are motives for it. 

But what happens if biology fails to supply the foundations 
on which motherhood can be built, if morbid incidents have 
interfered with physical laws, if a disturbance has taken place 
in the cell microcosm or in the complicated process of matura- 
tion of the ovum or spermatozoid or in the mechanism of 
creation resulting from their union? The energies of the 



corpus luteum, which builds a nest for the ovum in the mother’s 
body, may be paralyzed for constitutional reasons or because 
of organic illness, or the reproductive organs may have been 
irreparably damaged, thus excluding the possibility of mother- 
hood. How is a woman affected by the factual knowledge that 
she will never be a mother? 

We can sum up the result of our observations pertaining to 
this question in a paradoxic formula: The more motherly the 
woman and the richer she is in maternal emotional qualities, 
the more easily will she bear the severe priva'tion that she must 
suffer and the more readily will she find full even though indirect 
gratification of her maternal feelings. This is true of course 
only on condition that she does not react neurotically to her 
physical inferiority and that she preserves the harmony of her 
emotional life despite the impairment of her reproductive 
capacity. A woman who has never been successfully pregnant 
is deprived of an important experience — the joy of anticipation, 
the pride of achievement, the anxious tension and its mastery, 
the dreamlike peaceful introversion, and the joyous preparatory 
activity. Needless to say, this griefof deprivation presupposes 
the capacity for and willingness to undergo the experience, 
which a large number of women lack. 

Recently, some interesting experiments were undertaken in 
the field of animal husbandry, though they seem to have 
stopped as a result of the war. In order to achieve speedier and 
more reliable breeding of a superior race of cows, ova of a fine 
breed of cows, fecundated by stud bulls, were transplanted into 
the bodies of common cows. Thus the better race was given 
an opportunity to produce a larger number of animals of excel- 
lent breed. In other words, the aristocratic animal was given 
a sort of servant cow to relieve her of the task of pregnancy 
so that she could be used exclusively for specialized breeding. 
It seems a grotesque and incredible idea to think of applying 
such a procedure to human beings. But if one recalls that in 
many countries mothers of the so-called upper classes, out of cus- 
tom or a false sense of values, have had their children wet-nursed 
by hired servants, such a proposal seems less terrible and new. 



What is repulsive in it is perhaps its social aspect — not the fact 
that a woman should avoid her biologic function, but that an- 
other should take it over for her. Yet there is no doubt that 
many women who would gladly have children, consider preg- 
nancy an evil and would be willing to entrust it to a ‘‘fetus 

Should our speculation become a reality, question would arise 
as to which of the two women should be recognized as the 
mother in case of a dispute — the one whose germ cells as repre- 
sentative of her whole ego, with all its hereditary factors, are 
alive in the new individual, or the one who has borne him, fed 
him with her blood, and given birth to him? In animals the 
inherited physiologic expressions of the mother instinct are 
prepared during pregnancy and begin automatically upon the 
birth of the young. If we consider these instinctual manifes- 
tations of the animal as analogous to the functioning of mother 
love, our question will be decided in favor of the birth giver; if 
we abide by the idea that the child is part of the woman’s 
organic ego, the woman whose ovum has been fecundated is 
the mother. 

However, if we take the judgment of Solomon as our prece- 
Sent, we shall give the child to that one of the two women who 
supplies the stronger proof of altruistic maternal love. Whether 
this love, as woman’s primal urge, is already contained in some 
form in the germ plasm or is stimulated by hormonal processes 
and further reinforced by fantasies during pregnancy, it be- 
comes really effective only later, when the child, small, helpless, 
and dependent on his mother, develops into a human being 
through her love and tenderness. This conception of mother 
love is based on a late acquisition in the development of the 
species. The higher the animal, the more helpless its young, 
and the longer the time required for maturation. As a result, 
maternal care is more extended in time. With the increas- 
ing helplessness of the offspring in the course of the develop- 
ment of mankind, the function of care became increasingly 
intensive, the “mother instinct” underwent changes, and 
through the development of psychic life in man the primitive 



instinct was transformed into the emotional complex of ma- 
ternal love. This love in turn became the source of masochistic 
devotion and unselfish service, at the same time providing the 
narcissistic compensation of maternal joy. The progressing psy- 
chic development also enabled the child to respond to the 
mother’s tender care with his own tender emotions and gradu- 
ally to replace his original primitive dependence with filial love. 
Mother love is thus a recent phylogenetic development, an 
emotional acquisition that is moving farther and farther away 

.... ^ r 

from the primitive instincts. 

The idea that a form of motherliness is present in the female 
plasm, and that there are later hormonal influences in this 
direction, is still hypothetic. My idea of motherliness as an 
emotional complex is psychologic, and in my view a woman can 
fully possess and €?ijoy motherliness eve?i if she has 7tot conceived, 
borne, and given birth to a child. Motherliness is most imme- 
diately gratified in actual motherhood, but after that in every 
child who needs a mother, and in every creature that needs 
tenderness, care, and altruistic readiness for sacrifice in order to 
survive or develop. The woman must have, in all the substitute 
situations, as compensation for her own altruistic tendencies, 
a narcissistic prize analogous to the one the mother is gener- 
ously given by the child as part of herself. It is erroneous to 
speak of sublimated motherliness, for maternal love, even if it 
is close to instinct, is in itself a sublimation. We are justified 
only in speaking of its transference, displacemient, etc., to other 
objects. The situation is exactly the same as regards the 
tender love of children for their parents, which is the step from 
instinctual life to sublimation. The instinctual components 
of mother love are diverted to various physical functions. They 
are gratified actively, but unconsciously, in the feeding and 
bodily care of the child, in various physical sensations of the 
reproductive organs. The sensual components of mother love 
reveal themselves in the mother’s need for and manner of physi- 
cal contact with the child and in her embraces and caresses. 
There are mothers who exceed the normal level of sensuality, 
who in stormy fits of tenderness betray their voluptuousness 



and unconsciously seduce the child. The sterile woman is 
ot course cut off from the direct physical pleasure sensations of 
motherhood, but she still has at her disposal a world of possi- 
bilities of pleasure. 

The wish for a child of one's own is accompanied by tenden- 
cies that have nothing in common with motherliness as such. 
If we ascribe to motherliness the highest degree — perhaps a 
unique degree — of altruistic emotion, we must realize that all 
the other emotional components of motherhood are par excel- 
lence egoistic and narcissistic. The individual's will to self- 
preservation often falls into conflict with reproduction, but at 
the same time probably constitutes a powerful motive for it in 
both sexes. To have an heir to one’s own ego, a carrier of one's 
own blood, a creature who springs from me^ as fruit from a tree, 
and secures continuity, immortality, for my own transient 
existence — all these are psychologic motives in the desire for a 
child that are far removed from, indeed diametrically opposed 
to motherliness. The idea of immortality, as reflecting an 
unconscious impulse to beget children, accompanies numerous 
secondary narcissistic motives. The religions and customs of 
many peoples express the idea that the childless woman is in- 
ferior. She achieves her full status as tribe member and mar- 
ried woman only when she becomes a mother. Almost all 
nations hold woman alone responsible for sterility; to primitive 
peoples such a woman appears as accursed, to more developed 
ones as a cripple. 

The history of civilization teaches us that the lot of the 
sterile woman has often been a tragic one. She has been de- 
spised, ridiculed, disgraced. Among Jews and Moslems steril- 
ity has been a ground for divorce; among African tribes and 
American Indians, the childless wife is often repudiated, 
although otherwise divorces are infrequent. Among many 
peoples, the mother is respected in proportion to the number of 
her children, particularly her sons. In higher civilizations, 
understanding and tolerance have replaced contempt, and in 
overcivilized circles in various nations, great fertility is some- 



times regarded as degrading and “animal.” But in other strata 
as well, births are being restricted in ever larger areas of the 
world. Social necessity, fear of real obligations, the limitation 
of personal freedom, and, last but not least, the masculinization 
of feminine interests and occupations, have not only contrib- 
uted to the devaluation of fertility, but even threaten to weaken 
the normal biologic and emotional urge to reproduction. 

Our greater knowledge of physiologic processes, and the now 
current realization that the husband too can be responsible for 
the lack of children, have helped to rehabilitate the sterile 
woman. Socially, individually, and erotically, women are 
today largely evaluated without regard to their capacity to bear 
children. And yet woman’s own attitude toward childlessness 
seems to harbor many of the old prejudices and censures. 
“Your body is like a dried-up branch that does not bear fruit,” 
she tells herself, and the feeling of physical inferiority expressed 
in these words can overshadow all other personal and social 
values. This feeling has nothing in common with the depriva- 
tion of the opportunity to express motherliness. It is a harcis- 
sistic reaction to an important organic disadvantage, and it is 
noteworthy that the psychologic reactions of many sterile 
women are extraordinarily similar to those that characterize 
the female castration complex. I mention only a few typical 
ones. When the defect is perceived, the question arises: 
“Why?” The explanation of the physician, the operation that 
has taken place, etc., all these rational elucidations are intellec- 
tually accepted. But the need to find a profounder cause 
ignores the rational reasons. The answer transfers this cause 
to the woman’s own guilt feeling or to the guilt of others. All 
the irrational motives contained in the fertile woman’s anxious 
question — “Will I have a child?” — come to the fore in the now 
rationally founded negative answer : “I myself have injured my 
body, I am responsible for my sterility,” or, “Fate or other per- 
sons are responsible, I am an unfortunate victim.” The old 
popular condemnation of the barren woman, and the myth of 
evil spirits, are revived here, deriving their contents from the 
infantile reactions of the little girl at the time when she first 
perceived her physical inferiority in her genital trauma. 



Inability to find a normal solution for the psychologic diffi- 
culties resulting from sterility often leads to neurotic reactions 
or a definite personality structure in the sterile woman. As a 
rule, intensified narcissism and aggression characterize women 
who have been unable to master the “sterility trauma.’’ To 
these women one could apply a paraphrase of the saying of a 
great Polish poet: “Feminine hearts are beehives: when the 
honey of maternal love does not fill them, they become vipers’ 
nests.” ^ 

The most frequent type is the woman who transfers the 
center of gravity of her existence to the organic disturbance 
that is the cause of her sterility, sometimes to pursue a vain 
hope, but usually — in the case of absolutely sterile women — 
with a narcissistic behavior that is a caricature of motherliness. 
The diseased organ is made the object of the most solicitous 
care, like a beloved child. Suffering and perpetual sickliness 
satisfy the masochistic wishes and, indirectly, the aggressions 
against the sympathetic entourage, above all against the* hus- 
band. Such women are eternal patients, frequently the torment 
of their gynecologists. 

Another type is the woman who denies the trauma. “As a 
matter of fact, I never wanted to have a child,” expresses her 
narcissistic attitude, which denies any inferiority, but without 
the expected favorable effect. Here the traumatic reaction is 
only delayed. To replace the child, these women turn to sub- 
stitutes that, they maintain, are more valuable to them than a 
child. But since they have no genuine interest in or talent for 
these substitute activities, they prove sterile here too and are 
exposed to an additional traumatic reaction. The process of 
displacement continues, and they turn to other substitutes to 
prove their worth, again with the same result. In the psychic 
economy, the advantage of such a displacement is that it offers 
a favorable opportunity to abreact the painful frustration and 
to accept one’s inability. Moreover, the environment can be 
accused of “not allowing me to prove my worth.” 

Even when these women are capable, they always turn to 
fields far above their intellectual level, thus stressing their 
conviction “Naturally I can do this.” Narcissistic oversensi- 



tiveness, pride, and self-overestimation, with a simultaneous 
powerful tendency to feelings of inferiority, characterize this 
denying type. Every disappointment experienced by such a 
woman is turned into an accusation against others, her depres- 
sive moods gradually intensify, and with advancing age her 
oversensitiveness is transformed into a paranoic change in 
character. Often she reproaches her mother — “She should 
have brought me up to be something better” — or her husband : 
“I cannot develop my own capacities becayse he overburdens 
me with everyday cares.” The fact that these are reactions to 
sterility is usually denied by these women and overlooked by 
their entourage. 

Another type is distinguished by extraordinary envy, above 
all envy of mothers, of pregnant v/omen, and then in regard to 
everything that others possess: they feel compelled to acquire 
similar things in order to rid themselves of their tormenting 
feelings of jealousy. These things vary with the cultural 
milieu — they may be position, social success, absolutely or rela- 
tively valuable objects, dresses, hats, finally foodstuffs; but 
most of the time they are things for which someone else can be 
envied at a given moment. Most of the perambulator peepers 
are recruited from among these women — not that they want 
to see the babies because of their own longing for or interest in 
babies, but because of their gnawing envy. These women also 
are resentful and vindictive. As we have said, all these reac- 
tions are often identical with those deriving from the female 
castration complex and from penis envy. It is difficult to say 
whether these women are predisposed to such reactions because 
the castration complex or penis envy was particularly strong in 
them. My own impression is that the new physical trauma re- 
opens the old wounds that to a greater or lesser extent exist in 
every woman, and mobilizes the old readiness for reactions. A 
child would probably have served normally to compensate these 
women and to mobilize their latent motherliness. But they 
have not enough of this quality to overcome the failure of direct 
gratification of the wish for a child. Really motherly women 
do not have such reactions. 



There still another sterile type that I call pseudomotherly. 
These women actively console themselves for the trauma by 
turning to occupations of a motherly character. They devote 
themselves to the care of the sick, preferably children, they 
attend courses in pedagogy, offer their services to kindergar- 
tens, nurseries, etc. Charity, often of a self-sacrificing kind, is 
also their domain. When they have to make a living, they try 
to adjust their occupations to their ''maternal urge’’ ; when they 
are well-to-do the]^ also make financial efforts to the same end, 
and often bequeath their fortunes to this impersonal child 
substitute. Socially, the value of their actions is often consider- 
able; psychologically, it is very small. They only imitate the 
externals of motherliness. They lack the gift of the motherly 
woman, the warmth that makes her the child’s providence. 
It is striking how heartless such women often prove in personal 
relations; one must keep in mind their kind deeds in order not 
to find them repulsive. They act something that they are not, 
their motives are purely selfish, inspired by their desire to prove 
that they are motherly. Inwardly they do not mourn their 
lack of a child; they smart under the trauma of physical inferi- 
ority, the shock of the realization "I am a dried-up branch.”^ 

It seems superfluous to give additional details regarding the 
difference between real motherliness and its substitutes. In the 
latter, as in the former, we often find an interaction of narcis- 
sistic and altruistic-masochistic forces, and a large amount of 
productive activity centered around objects of care. What the 
substitutes lack, and what distinguishes them from genuine 
motherliness, is motherly-loving identification with the object 
and the happiness deriving from this love. 

So far I have limited my discussion to women who react 
traumatically to sterility but whose motherliness might have 
developed under favorable conditions. 

As I have emphasized before, motherliness is a complex struc- 

^ These women should not be confused with those previously discussed who devote 
themselves to such substitute activities because of a real need to gratify their 



ture, not merely an emotional unit. The emotions are accom- 
panied by a dynamic force that steers the motherly woman’s 
activity in a definite direction. I have called this activity 
nest building: it has the tending, protecting character of the 
instinctual actions of female animals; in the human female such 
actions are accompanied by motheidy emotions and conscious 
aspirations directed by will. The sense of duty toward the 
child that characterizes motherliness has something of the 
strength of an instinct and is radically different from the char- 
acter trait of dependability developed under the influence of 
education, or from sense of duty prompted by feelings of guilt. 

In the course of this study I have often referred to the type of 
woman In whom motherhood is at the service of masculinity. 
In such cases, pregnancy is explicitly experienced as bodily en- 
largement; the child in the womb becomes not an object of ten- 
der identification, but a possession taken hold of from the 
beginning of its existence, and dominated. The maternal 
activity here assumes a definitely aggressive character; but the 
boundary between masculine-aggressive and motherly-tender 
activity is often difficult to delineate, because both are directed 
toward the same goal of caring for the child. 

Since pregnancy has a definite wish-fulfilling significance for 
women of this type, and since for them the child is a productive 
achievement, they react to sterility in a specific manner. They 
are dominated not by grief over the deprivation of motherhood, 
but by the tendency to self-assertion. If a w'oman of this type 
cannot master the trauma with the means at her disposal, she 
may become subject to a severe depression, behind which there 
can easily be discovered a destructive, raging aggression against 
the persons surrounding her, whom she holds responsible for 
her frustration. This is the same aggression for which she 
would have found a more useful outlet in motherhood But 
most women of this type escape the morbid reaction and turn 
toward the outside world in order to gratify their urge to ac- 
tivity. If their creative urge finds suitable fields, if their need 
for productivity is matched by their capacity for achievement, 
they only change their life goals by accepting their sterility, and 
nothing essential changes for them or in them. 



Here we must guard against a certain confusion in terms. 
Motherliness as an emotional experience cannot be further 
sublimated; but the productivity of child bearing can yield to 
another, more masculine kind of productivity, and maternal 
activity can serve purposes other than the most immediate, 
direct, and feminine purpose embodied in the child. 

Feminine-motherly intuition, that quality which is woman’s 
peculiar characteristic, can be creative in other fields, above all 
in artistic endeavor, provided it has a talent at its disposal. 
Here a conflict may* arise, not the familiar and frequent oppo- 
sition of masculinity and femininity, but a conflict between two 
manners of applying the psychic creative force inherent in 
motherliness, that is to say, between the direct, immediate 
manner and the indirect manner. I had occasion to observe 
the productivity of a prominent woman painter. She wanted 
and had several children and did not feel that they disturbed 
her artistic activity. During her pregnancies she even felt an 
increased artistic urge. But in this condition she was unable 
to paint anything but children. She painted them with greater 
artistic devotion than ever and loved her models, but what 
she produced was only a series of rigid photographs without 
*a trace of soul in them. She was gradually forced to the 
realization that all the creative powers that at other times 
flowed into her artistic creation, were now concentrated on her 
expected child. After her confinement, she again produced 
notable paintings, but was unable to nurse the child or to devote 
herself to him in any other way. Apparently it was easier for 
her to turn her inner interest away from the child when he had 
become an outside object than during the phase of absolute 
identity between her ego and the fetus. 

Every original production, particularly every artistic work, 
perhaps combines two fundamental elements — the maternal, 
birth-giving principle, which leads to intuitive creation, and the 
masculine, begetting activity. Woman usually invests her 
creative urge in the reproductive task and the child; man in- 
vests his in his work. But perhaps it may also be true that 
without a component of motherliness in his psychic condition 
man for his part could not bring his work into being, just as the 



productivity of woman cannot come about without masculine 

In the case of many artists, it is possible directly to perceive 
these two principles in their style and work. In the statues of 
the French sculptress Ghana Orloff, the mother-child unity, in 
which the child seems to be present as an individual entity and 
yet is still united with his mother’s body, is impressively real- 
ized. Feminine empathy and experience certainly directed the 
tools that made such a striking projection of the pregnancy idea 
possible. And it is obvious that in this artist the mastery of 
the material and the energy of the realization have a masculine 

Modern medical research has shown that a childless marriage 
is not always chargeable to the fact that the wife is sterile; it 
may also result from the husband’s incapacity to beget children. 
Knowledge of how men react to sterility in their wives, and 
especially of how they react to this condition in themselves, 
would be an important contribution to the psychology of men. 
The urge to reproduction as a phylogenetically determined force 
is exhausted in man with the secretion of the sperm and the 
sexual discharge. As for his ontogenetic role as father — pro-" 
tector of the life of his offspring — he has already, in the course 
of phylogenesis, reallocated this to various goals outside of re- 
production; he has learned to turn his urge to beget to indirect 
goals too. Thus, only part of the productive principle in the 
begetting male is reserved for care of the offspring; the rest is 
devoted to life goals other than reproductive. In contrast, 
woman is hardly able to separate her sexual life from mother- 
hood; moreover, her entire psychic existence is woven by 
innumerable threads into the reproductive tasks and the rela- 
tionship with the child. To renounce the child means far less 
to the man than it means to the woman, although in him like- 
wise deeper psychic motives raise the will to fatherhood above 
a purely biologic level. 

The Brahmanic myth of the father’s rebirth in his son, the 
idea frequently expressed in folklore that the grandfather’s 



spirit reappears in the grandchild, is doubtless deeply rooted in 
man’s psychic life. Psychoanalysis casts light on this very 
ancient theme by the discovery that becoming a father is for a 
man — just as becoming a mother is for a woman — the fulfill- 
ment of old infantile longings, and that his child is not only a 
revival of himself but also a reconciliation with his unresolved 
past. Fatherhood gives him a feeling of triumph: now he can 
transform the old unconscious identification of the little boy 
with his father into a real and permanent one. The conflict 
between the hostile and tender impulses can now be decided in 
favor of tenderness. Loving care for the new generation helps 
the mature man to free himself from his own childhood, and the 
urge to this liberation is one of his motives in desiring a child. 
The physical proof of his masculine potency strengthens his 
faith in himself as a man. His unfulfilled aspirations and 
expectations, now charged with new hopes, can be shifted to the 
child’s future. 

Despite all this, men can much more easily renounce the 
direct realization of fatherhood than women can relinquish 
that of motherhood, provided that the personal development of 
these men has paved the way for sublimation of their infantile 
wishes and conflicts and that their other activities secure their 
adulthood and partial immortality. 

For the woman, the failure to have a child because of her 
husband’s incapacity constitutes a multiple trauma. First of 
all, she is disappointed in her husband, through whom she 
wants to experience the rebirth of her father in two ways — in 
him and in the child. Then there is the severe injury to her 
femininity as a result of nonfulfillment of the demands arising 
from her feminine passivity: she wants to have the man’s 
virility proved by his begetting a child. The absence of the 
family triangle constitutes a frustration for the two partners. 
This situation is needed not only to help them to achieve a 
biologic unity, but also to enable them to create new identifica- 
tions through the child, by realizing through him antagonistic 
and complementary elements. Thus the husband can realize 
a part of his motherliness through his tenderness toward the 


child, and the wife a part of her masculinity through common 
plans for the child’s future; he is complemented by enriching 
his emotional life, she by strengthening her purposeful will in 
the interest of the child. 

In sound, well functioning psychic organisms frustration of 
the desire for motherhood sets in motion protective forces that 
help the woman to compensate for it. But these protective 
forces operate only under favorable conditions. For instance, 
when childlessness results from the man’s sexual impotence, 
even the most motherly and tender woman seldom succeeds in 
bearing her fate without being unhappy or falling victim to a 
neurosis. No intellectual understanding or tolerance helps her 
to get over her injury and her contempt for the impotent man. 
Women’s conscious reactions to male impotence naturally vary 
individually. But the woman’s conscious willingness to help 
the man is rarely successful. The intervention of the active 
woman only intensifies the impotent man’s fear; her motherly 
and patient consideration increases his boyish dependency. 
But since even the most stubborn psychic impotence in men is 
oiten relative and can be sporadically interrupted, it does not 
always exclude conception. It is interesting to note how much 
a child, especially a son, can compensate a motherly woman' 
tor sexual frustrations. Maternal love can extend from him to 
the father and a harmonious triangle can come about despite 
the unfavorable sexual situation. But disappointment in the 
child, especially if it is an only child, brings to the fore the 
whole revenge reaction of the disappointed wife against her 
husband. It is easy for the mother to transfer her love for the 
child to the father, but it is even easier to divert her hatred 
from the child to the man. 

A woman can accept childlessness much more easily when 
her husband’s sexual potency seems secure, despite his inability 
to beget. Such a situation may be created by certain 
physical defects of the male genital organ. Three types of 
women can be distinguished, according to their reactions to the 
husband’s deficiency.* 

*To illustrate the types, I have sometimes chosen particularly gross examples; all 

these types, however, can be observed in numerous milder variations. It must also 



I. The masculine-aggressive woman usually finds it hardest 
to accept the situation. She refuses to be satisfied by any sub- 
stitutes, protests against proposals to adopt a child, and 
insists on realization of her obstinate wish for motherhood even 
though she knows that it is impossible. She herself must bear 
and give birth to the child; a child not of her own body would be 
worthless in her eyes. In the course of my professional activity 
I have seen many childless women who asserted that they 
loved their husbands, but demanded the latters’ consent to 
their conceiving chi^jiren by other men, under threat of dis- 
solving their marriages. These unfemlnine would-be mothers 
are the exact opposites of the biblical figures of Sarah and 
Rachel : 

Now Sarai Abram wife bare him no children: and she had a handmaid, 
an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold 
now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my 
maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her [Gen. 16:1-2] 

And . . . Rachel . . . said unto Jacob . . . Behold my maid Bilhah, go in 
unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by 
her [Gen, 30: 1-3]. 

I have discussed one such case in volume i. In the other 
three known to me, the marital difficulties ended In divorce, 
after the women were for various reasons unable to achieve their 
goal. This type show’^s us the purely narcissistic component of 
motherhood; here the center of gravity of the idea of “my child’’ 
lies in the ‘"my.” What is at stake here is not motherly readi- 
ness for love. 

We have seen that a woman can hardly experience a real 
relationship with her future child even when she is pregnant, 
let alone when she is not pregnant. She is not confronted here 
with the tragic conflict between husband and child or between 
eroticism and motherliness. The forces of such a conflict stem 
from other and unconscious factors. In the type under discus- 
sion here, the revenge feelings against the husband and the 
narcissistic greed solve the conflict only apparently in favor of 

be stressed that a given mode of reaction is always based upon a pre-existing 




■2. The woman of the second type lives on good terms with 
her sterile husband; she renounces the child, but engages in a 
perpetual pursuit of proofs of her husband’s masculinity. He 
must show constant successes, according to his occupation, 
financial, political, professional, scientific, or artistic. She 
has a characteristic need to be part of this achievement, to feel 
each success almost as a gift to herself. She records every 
advance in his career and is aggrieved over every failure. The 
substitute formation is obvious here, as well as the double 
compensation — one intended to procure a high valuation of her 
sexually inferior husband, the other to satisfy over and over 
again the pride of an ambitious mother. In this type likewise 
the grief over the lack of a child has a very narcissistic charac- 

3. The third type is the truly motherly woman: she is the 
woman who reacts to her own sterility by a readiness to transfer 
her motherliness to other children or objects. She does not 
ask who is responsible; if she loves her husband, she conceives 
the situation thus: ''JVe have no child.” In their great 
common frustration, husband and wife are capable, even with- 
out the child, of creating the necessary third being in whom 
the husband gratifies his fatherliness and the wife her motherli- 
ness, whether this third one is real or symbolic, physical or 
spiritual. To repeat what I have said before: The more 
motherly the woman, the more easily can she satisfy her 
motherliness even in her frustration. 

In childless marriages in which the causes of sterility cannot 
be ascribed with certainty to either party and where harmony 
has not been achieved, the marriage may be transformed into a 
tribunal. Its most important task appears to be the solution 
of the problem as to whose fault it is, and according to whether 
masochistic or aggressive forces predominate, the answer is a 
silent or open self-accusation or a constant hateful reproach of 
the other partner. The unborn child here too becomes the 
third corner of the triangle. All the hostile impulses of the two 
individuals in relation to each other, their whole conflict of 
ambivalence, all the guilt feelings and disappointment reactions, 



fuse into this one problem of the unattainable child. And 
the problem is insoluble because it gradually becomes a vehicle 
for other conflicts. 

According to the woman’s personality there are individual 
reactions here too, fluid levels of transition between the types 
described. Roughly speaking, the question '‘How does a wo- 
man react to childlessness?” must be answered by two counter- 
questions: "How genuine is her motherliness? What are the 
relations between husband and wife?” 

The problem of sterility leads us to that of induced abortion, 
which is often the secondary cause of sterility. 

In this connection we must first of all realize that legal and 
religious imperatives exert an external influence on the psycho- 
logic situation. Wherever these imperatives prove to be an 
irresistible power, either because of the woman’s fear of 
violating the law or because of her loyalty to her faith, the 
situation is beyond the pale of psychology. It should be noted, 
however, that the secular and religious laws are sometimes used 
as rationalizations that conceal deeper psychologic motivations 
against abortion. In my view, every woman has the right to 
-iichieve motherhood and to renounce motherhood, and every 
normal woman seems to assume this right emotionally, whether 
it is legal or not. 

In a psychologic examination of a woman’s reaction to 
induced abortion before and after It has taken place, it is 
important to learn for what reasons the elimination of the 
child was desired and carried out, whether the pregnancy was 
legitimate or illegitimate, whether it was a first conception or 
one of many. Economic disabilities, social morality, fear of 
relatives, objections on the part of the man involved, or inhar- 
monious love relations, are the generally recognized deterrents 
to extramarital motherhood. 

It is obvious that extramarital motherhood must expect 
social punishment for the "forbidden” intercourse, especially 
If the social laws are strict and social care inadequate. The 
inhibiting influence of public morals on motherliness must not 


be underestimated. There is an unmistakable tendency to 
grant women, particularly economically independent women, 
greater sexual freedom — but only if society is not burdened 
as a result of it. An extramarital child, even in a democracy, 
is still a moral and social burden. The external appraisal of 
her motherhood must naturally react on the individual woman's 
emotional reactions, and she often makes use of the existing op- 
portunity to separate her sexual life from motherhood. Rejec- 
tion of extramarital motherhood is in a large number of in- 
stances the expression of social compulsion and not of absence 
of the desire to become a mother. For many women this 
renunciation is very painful and in the course of time disturbs 
even the strongest love relation. But the compromise may 
prove bearable as long as the woman is not confronted with the 
fact of accidental pregnancy. 

At that moment the conflict between the instinct of self- 
preservation and the urge to motherhood is unleashed. The 
woman's positive attitude toward the child as a promise for the 
future runs counter to a powerful negative idea, and as a result 
the child is felt to be a heavy, anxiety -producing burden. 
There are three typical reactions to this predicament. The 
first, the '‘revolutionary" reaction, gives the victory to mother^ 
liness in its struggle against society, and the woman decides 
to take all the consequences and assume social responsibility 
for the child. The second type of reaction achieves the same 
result passively: without desiring motherhood, the woman 
accepts it as an inescapable personal fate, in the face of which 
she feels helpless. We shall encounter both these types of reac- 
tion among unmarried mothers and shall discuss them later. 

The third type of reaction — outwardly perhaps the best 
adjusted to reality — consists in an attempt to eliminate the 
consequences by abortion. The woman who accepts and the 
one who rejects pregnancy often have almost identical person- 
ality structures; their different reactions are only different 
aspects of the same psychic orientation. An active-aggressive 
woman may resist social morality and keep the child or, appeal- 



ing to the idea of equal rights with men and sexual freedom 
(like Genia, the fictional protagonist of this attitude discussed 
in vol. i), may unhesitatingly eliminate the child. The passive 
woman will not permit her desire for a child to interfere with 
the convention and will eliminate it as a matter of course under 
outside pressure. The more individual differences of behavior 
can easily be discovered only under a figurative magnifying 
glass. Thus the motherly woman has her silent ideas about 
“how nice it would be”; the aggressive woman may be furious 
about social injustkre and toward the man; the woman pre- 
disposed to anxiety has fears of death; the woman laden with 
guilt feelings reproaches herself, etc. 

In contrast to the attitudes of unmarried women, fear of 
social morality plays no part in those of married women. Here 
the real motives for induced abortion are social difficulties of 
another kind, such as disturbance of definite plans, the wish 
(in newly married couples) to remain alone for a time, a feeling 
of not yet being ready for motherhood, fear of responsibility, 
and, among more mature couples, the presence of other children, 
making a further increase of the family undesirable. In both 
married and unmarried women, the psychologic reactions to 
• abortion depend upon the motives for it. A harmonious- 
motherly woman who finds sufficient gratification for her 
motherliness in her previously borne children, reacts to the 
loss rationally, that is to say, without further emotional compli- 
cations, provided that she is not neurotic. 

The woman who has a compulsion to conceive and give birth 
repeatedly (cf. above) reacts to an induced abortion that she 
herself has insisted upon either with severe neurotic manifesta- 
tions or with an immediately following new conception. The 
immediate reaction is often very characteristic: it is a kind of 
triumph over her own compulsion to be pregnant, which she 
has defeated by abortion. But shortly afterward a depression 
or a new pregnancy sets in. 

Other women feel pregnancy as an external compulsion, as a 
servitude; they hasten to get rid of their fetters, and once they 



are rid of them their first reaction is a blissful feeling of libera- 
tion. These are often the same v/omen for whom even marriage 
constitutes fetters, and who, ignorant of their inner and uncon- 
scious shackles, make external circumstances responsible for 
their lack of freedom. 

Women prone to excessive guilt reactions use a situation like 
abortion for severe self-accusations. Even if such a woman 
intellectually claims the right to self-determination, her tyran- 
nic superego does not miss this opportunity, and often the 
guilt feeling is revived subsequently, sometimes even after 
several years. In climactericai depressions, for instance, the 
self-accusation 'T am a child murderer’’ often refers to a long- 
forgotten abortion. I once observed an obsessional, conscienti- 
ous woman, otherwise not pathologic, who was compelled, 
because of her physical condition, on two occasions to lose a 
3 month fetus. She felt obliged to erect little tombstones for 
them, which she treated with great piety. “They would have 
become human beings,” she maintained, and her ideas on this 
subject remained unchanged even after she had given birth to 
several children. 

Another woman postponed her guilt feelings for only two 
years; when she gave birth to a defective child two years after-- 
an abortion, she held her “criminal deed” responsible for her 
misfortune. It goes without saying that whether old guilt 
feelings are mobilized by removal of a child, as well as the extent 
to which they are mobilized, depends on the woman’s psychic 
disposition — more accurately, upon her outposts of mother- 
hood. The tormenting feeling “I have killed a child” is usually 
a reminiscence of the old past when aggressions against her 
mother’s pregnancy or against younger brothers or sisters 
burdened the unconscious with the guilt of having wished 
elimination of these siblings. 

Closer examination of the inner dynamisms operating in a 
large number of cases of induced abortion reveals that at 
bottom there is hardly a woman who reacts to it with complete 
realism even when the rationalization is the best possible one. 
Logically it seems inconsistent that the same woman should 


urgently demand an abortion from realistic motives and at the 
same time reject it. Additional information proves that this 
contradiction rarely involves an urge to motherhood that has 
fallen into conflict with reality. We must take into considera- 
tion here the inner associative connections of unwanted preg- 
nancy. Despite the conscious opposition, such pregnancies 
nevertheless fulfill old wishes; these are outposts of mother- 
hood, as we have called them, and for that reason interruption 
of them must constitute a trauma regardless of reality. On 
the other hand, an unexpected pregnancy itself is an interrup- 
tion of an existing psychologic order — a sudden assault of life. 
But the additional interruption from outside (abortion) also 
breaks off the psychologic process that accompanies the bio- 
logic events and thereby makes it impossible to carry it through 
to its end. 

Thus the psychologic picture is a complicated one: an old 
wish fulfillment is interrupted, the trauma of the conception is 
only apparently repaired by the abortion, de facto it is compli- 
cated by a new trauma. The social conflict alone can be solved 
and avoided by abortion. Only subsequently, from the psycho- 
logic consequences, do we learn that something has taken place 
^besides the obvious conflict. We learn that pregnancy, espe- 
cially the first pregancy, is even under the most unfavorable 
circumstances the experience of an expected fate for which 
the woman has been psychically prepared for many years, 
W^e also understand why the subsequent reaction to an abortion 
may be stronger than that to separation from the child after it 
is born. The inner attachment, the identification with the 
child that we consider characteristic of pregnancy, takes place 
despite the external circumstances. Even if this attachment 
lacks the positive cooperation of the normal, joyful maternal 
ideas of the future, it has that of the woman’s whole past in so 
far as this referred to a child. As a result of the identification 
process, the removal of the embryo strikes not only at the un- 
desired child, the ‘‘endoparasite,” but also at a part of the 
woman’s own ego. For this reason the loss reaction must be 
described less as that of ‘T have destroyed a child” than as that 



of “I have destroyed something of myself/' At the same 
time there is a counterdesire to emerge from the situation 
‘‘unchanged" — but this is not always achieved. 

Many young women, after overcoming their early fears, at 
first display a quite rational attitude; they consider the preg- 
nancy as an accidental result of intercourse, which is an action 
desired and sanctioned by the ego, and the fetus as a piece of 
burdensome tissue that must be removed. Only after the 
fact do they begin to regret their sexual activity, and the 
reproach is regressively shifted from abor^tion to sex. Sexual 
abandon becomes a humiliation through the devaluation of its 

It is noteworthy how often the woman's relation to the man 
is disturbed by the discovery of undesired pregnancy and the 
determination to get rid of it. The man is often, and in the 
most decisive manner, prevented from interfering in the situa- 
tion; sometimes there is even a tendency to eliminate him alto- 
gether from any part in the matter. It is as though the woman 
were making a special point of settling this difficulty on her own. 
The stronger the love relation has been, the stronger may be 
the woman's feeling of being devaluated. In their comm*on 
fantasies about the future, the two partners considered the- 
child — her child — as something “wonderful" ; now it has become 
something worthless, disturbing, destined to be destroyed. 
The woman is suddenly confronted with the necessity of 
destroying what has been her greatest value — often only to 
enable her husband to preserve his values (career, ambitions, 

Frequently, despite the best understanding between the two 
partners before the abortion, a change takes place in the 
woman after it. Even if both have weighed all the pros and 
cons and taken the decision together, their communion is 
broken afterward. Suddenly the previous simple reasoning 
proves wrong; the woman realizes now that her agreement with 
her husband or lover regarding the abortion had an ambivalent 
quality. Her suffering and the restriction of her existence, 
even though for only a short time, for the sake of no positive 



goal, have produced a change in her. As an after-effect of 
her physical experience, she feels: ‘‘I am not the same as 

Abortion often signifies an attack upon the woman’s narcis- 
sistic need that her body be a desired '‘sanctum” to the man. 
The common feeling in the young girl that a man loses all 
respect for her after he has possessed her is reactivated by this 
new experience. Her emotional reactions are in many cases 
distinguished by an extraordinary yet only apparent incon- 
sistency. This canine illustrated by the case of a young couple 
who found themselves helplessly confronting a situation beyond 
their grasp. They had known and loved each other for several 
years; a year before the events described here they had begun 
to have sexual intercourse, both being fairly inexperienced. 
The girl soon became pregnant and the man immediately 
declared his willingness to marry her in order to be able to keep 
the child. But she suggested an abortion, on the ground that 
his career and ambitions would be impaired by the founding of 
a family at this time. She had always admired him for his 
accomplishments and talents and both dreamed of a brilliant 
future on this basis; the idea of a child had been postponed to 
•a much later date. Both were freethinkers; the girl’s morality 
was strict, but it did not condemn her abortion. When her 
lover visited her during her subsequent illness, their relation 
was still warm and tender. But after her recovery she refused 
to see him, saying that although she did not hate him, she “felt 
a vacuum” in his presence; she had lost her old feeling for him. 

The results of the psychologic observation of this case, 
briefly summarized, are as follows. The woman voluntarily 
and spontaneously subordinated herself to her lover’s aims and 
interrupted her pregnancy; but she did not realize the extent 
of her sacrifice and the fact that the sacrifice would mean more 
than a bodily discomfort. Later she repented her action — she 
felt that she should not have sacrificed so much. She also 
felt that she was spiritually unequal to her lover, her physical 
and her feminine inferiority strongly invaded her consciousness, 
because she had been forced to experience something without 



his sharing it psychologically. One could see how the woman’s 
psychologic processes were interrupted, how her previous 
identification with him was split by her experience. A new 
possibility of identification in a family triangle did not come 
about. She was not quite clear whether she regretted having 
renounced the child; what she felt was that something of her 
own self was gone. 

The summation of several psychologic reactions produced 
the neurotic feeling of a vacuum. These reactions consisted 
of subsequent regret for the sacrifice, the feeling of separation 
from a physical part of the ego, the feeling of feminine inferior- 
ity as a consequence of the biologic process, and, finally, a 
goodly dose of repressed vengefulness toward her lover. The 
girl had apparently underestimated the significance of mother- 
hood for her emotional life, for she recovered her former very 
dynamic ego after she married her lover and gave birth to a 

The behavior of those women whose path to abortion is paved 
in advance with all the reactions of shame, fury, and vengeful- 
ness toward the man naturally runs a simpler and more normal 
course. Such a woman recovers from her trauma with particu- 
lar rapidity and completely disposes of her previous personality, ^ 
Some aggression and masculinity renders a woman good service 
in situations in which her femininity comes off badly. Too 
large a measure of these components, however, can become a 
continuous, burdensome threat to the man, who does not 
always succeed in leading the aggressiveness thus provoked 
into harmless channels. 

Ultimately, in so far as the psychic life is concerned, the 
problem here is to find a balance between the narcissistic and 
the masochistic forces. Suffering without compensation is 
difficult to bear and goes beyond the limits of feminine maso- 
chistic readiness. 

As a whole, the trauma of induced abortion is not irremedi- 
able unless it has caused an organic injury. It sometimes 
happens, especially when the matter is handled by nonpro- 
fessionals, that the woman’s genital organs lose their capacity 



for reproduction, so that she becomes sterile. Then the experi- 
ence becomes fatal and the former relatively good solution of 
the conflict is no longer adequate. This form of sterility is the 
most difficult to bear, for it constitutes not only deprivation of a 
child, but also a constant source of guilt feelings and, above all, 
of hostile accusations against the man. ''Had he been a really 
loving man he would have mastered the situation,’" expresses 
the feeling of such disappointed women. A socially determined 
renunciation of children always produces more or less resent- 
ment against the rAan; if this renunciation becomes a perma- 
nent circumstance no longer controllable by the will, the re- 
proach is intensified and often insurmountable. 

My aim has been to show that in woman’s life there are 
definite situations connected with the reproductive function 
that are so deeply rooted that even when they are solved real- 
istically, without opposition of doubts or counterwishes, the 
solution is not necessarily successful. Adjustment to reality 
sometimes involves severe emotional disturbances. Neverthe- 
less, the most advantageous choice between the ambivalent 
alternative answers to the question "Should I, can I, do I 
wish to preserve the child?” is the one that seems to involve the 
lesser immediate dangers; the later dangers may be equally 
unavoidable whether the decision is positive or negative, and it 
is impossible to estimate in advance which danger will prove 
greater in each individual case. 

The laws and religious injunctions directed against abortion 
are, as we have mentioned, complicating factors. Incidentally, 
it is interesting to note that public opinion, common sense, 
and normal moral judgment support the woman’s human right 
to be a mother or to avoid being a mother by any of the means 
at her disposal, according to her wishes. For apart from the 
attitude of certain groups influenced by the Catholic church, 
the normal emotional reaction to abortion is overwhelmingly, 
in the most varied civilizations, to take the woman’s part de- 
spite any laws to the contrary. 

Racial, political, or social interests do not always coincide 
with the rights of the individual. Perhaps in the near future 



we shall find a reasonable balance between these two rights of 
woman — the right to motherhood, strengthened by a greater 
protection of it, and the right to voluntary control or renuncia- 
tion of motherhood. 

Induced abortion is a more or less voluntary act, often a good 
adjustment to reality. Spontaneous abortion is a different 
matter. It frequently expresses a psychic process just as 
completely uninfluenced by conscious will as the organic process 

The advances of endocrinology increasingly enable us to 
diagnose the somatic forces that tend to produce spontaneous 
abortion, particularly when no obvious organic disturbance is 
involved. Today we know that a large percentage of spon- 
taneous abortions and premature deliveries are caused by gen- 
eral endocrine imbalance, primary ovarian deficiency, thyroid 
and pituitary disturbances, etc. The uterine contractions 
occurring in abortion and premature labor are the end result of 
a process that can be traced back to a disturbance of the 
hormonal supply, but that can doubtless also be inaugurated, 
provoked, or intensified by emotional factors. 

The considerable number of abortions that I have observed^ 
were unmistakably so much influenced by psychogenic factors 
that these latter could be held responsible for the process. 
Such cases differ from instances of induced abortion in two 
ways: (i) the inducing agent is in the psyche, and (a) the preg- 
nant woman who resorts to the help of this agent does not act 
from conscious will or in accordance with conscious wishes. 
On the contrary, in my opinion it is almost typical of these cases 
that the unconscious force directed against the pregnancy is in 
complete opposition to the woman’s strong, often even over- 
strong wish for a child. Future systematic s'-udy of spontane- 
ous abortion will probably show whether the body’s readiness 
to react to psychic stimuli in this manner is based on hormonal 
elements, what part is played by the dispositional expulsion 
tendencies, etc. 

I have not been able to establish psychologic types of women 



more predisposed to abortion than others. But I have gained 
the impression that, particularly in cases of recurrent abortion, 
destructive tendencies directed against the self or against others 
are involved.® One intelligent patient who had several abor- 
tions believed that the term ‘criminal abortion'' denoted 
spontaneous abortion, thus revealing her unconscious ideas. 

Probably a distinction must also be made between acute 
emotional causes operating like shocks, and deeply psychogenic, 
dispositional causes. Personally I have observed only the 
latter, and in each^case I reached the conclusion that multiple 
determinants were involved, and that only when combined 
could they produce an amount of unconscious anxiety, disability, 
and unwillingness sufficient to make the conscious ego, which 
wanted the child, unable to resist the unconscious tendencies. 
We recall that in Alice (p. 132) earlier expulsion tendencies, 
combined with a fear of dependence on her mother, and with 
aggressive anger against her husband, produced uterine contrac- 
tions and a threat of abortion. In other women, pregnancy 
became directl]/" the arena of a struggle in which the child was 
on the side of the hostile forces, or the self-punishing tendency 
had such powerful impetus that to fulfill the ardent wish for a 
child was impossible and dangerous. 

Mrs. Smith (p. 1^1.5) had several abortions because of her fear 
of her own inability to become a mother. We understood her 
fear when we discovered that she rejected identification with 
her own mother.^® 

In many women the idea of the child is so strongly associated 
with that of accomplishment that a neurotic inhibition about 
accomplishing something in other fields may be transferred to 
the child, thus producing a constant fear of failure that expresses 
itself in a tendency to abortion. 

^ I am not referring here to cases of habitual abortion in which deep-lying defects in 
development of the gametes were found to be the causative factor. I do not know 
whether, in addition, psychogenic factors can be found in these cases. 

As a rule, such a rejection of mother identification strengthens the girl’s vdsh to be 
like her father. This can influence her whole life attitude, all her professional 
interests, ambitions, etc., to such a degree as to bring about an increasing conflict 
with motherhood — a conflict that assumes the character of a struggle between 
femininity and masculinity. 



A particularly instructive example of psychogenic abortion is 
supplied in the history of Mrs. Pecka, who underwent psycho- 
analytic treatment only in her later years, at the age of 50. 

As a young college student she entered into a passionate 
love relation with one of her teachers, who was only a few years 
older than she but married and the father of a child. He did 
not love his wife, but could not free himself from the feeling 
that he was inseparably tied to her and their child. Their 
marriage had only a formal character, while his love relation 
with his pupil was very intense and gratifying. During her 
treatment the patient realized that at the time she had accepted 
the status quo, but had always secretly hoped that her lover 
would eventually divorce his wife for her sake. But in those 
days she considered herself ''above'' such bourgeois demands. 
Her wish for a child by her beloved man grew ever stronger, 
but her unfree lover, bound by the necessities of his worldly 
position, comforted her only with promises for the future. At 
a certain point her wish fantasy seemed to be materializing, 
for she showed the first symptoms of pregnancy. The two 
lovers agreed on an abortion; the physician whom they con- 
sulted found that the girl was not pregnant and shortly 
thereafter the symptoms disappeared, as was to be expected.' 

But the woman's relationship to the man was deeply 
damaged. She continued in it as though nothing had 
happened, she ardently yearned for lier lover when they were 
separated, but at the moments of their greatest happiness she 
would say to him: "When we are both very old, I shall tell you 

She meant that she would tell him then how unhappy he had 
made her and how he had destroyed her life by denying her a 
child. Apparently he too wanted a definitive union with the 
girl; perhaps he also felt intuitively how strongly she wished for 
a child, perhaps he feared to lose her. At any rate, he began 
to speak of a future possibility of marriage. An old heart 
ailment of his wife's reappeared and the physicians' prog- 
nostications were unfavorable. The hope of his wife's death 
could only be divined in his accounts, for naturally neither of 



the lovers ventured to have such a wish consciously, much less 
to express it in words. In the meantime the man did his full 
duty by his wife and was very much concerned about her health. 
Then, during a short separation caused by her work, the girl 
received a letter from her lover informing her that his wife had 
died suddenly in a sanatorium as a result of her heart ailment. 

It was clear that fate had brought her to the threshold of 
fulfillment. She was supposed to meet her lover a tew weeks 
later, and in her fantasy she began — this time freely — to in- 
dulge in future plaits. But before she saw him again she fell 
in love with a young man whom she had known before without 
having been particularly interested in him. She immediately 
began a relationship with him and became formally engaged. 

When her first lover arrived he was confronted with 2i fait 
accompli. There followed months of exhausting struggles, 
during which the widower wooed her violently and she herself 
swung between her painful yearning for him and absolute 
indifference to him. Gradually the latter feeling triumphed, 
she married her fiance, and was completely happy. But she 
experienced difficulties in becoming a mother. She wanted 
to have children, was pregnant several times, but never 
"^managed to give birth to a child. Sometimes she had spon- 
taneous abortions, sometimes miscarriages in an advanced 
stage of pregnancy. Since she was an artist and art meant a 
great deal to her, and since her relationship with her husband 
was tender and friendly, she never felt actually unhappy. Her 
former lover died a heroic death in the first world war. Only 
during her analysis did my patient understand why her first 
miscarriage took place immediately after she received the news 
of his death. 

It is true that she wanted to have children, but only by this 
man who had denied her a child. His death reminded her of 
the impossibility of realization of this wish. I found that even 
at the age of 50, long after the events, she had a fantasy that 
fulfilled her motherly yearnings after her separation from her 
first lover. She imagined that when, as a young college 
student, she thought she was pregnant, she really was pregnant. 



but, feeling that her lover did not want a child, she concealed 
her condition, went to a foreign country, and gave birth to a 
magnificent boy, for whom she took full responsibility. In this 
fantasy she was successful in her work, had many friends, and 
gathered around her a circle of highly cultured people who 
w^orshiped her little boy. Her lover tried to approach her, 
but she always rejected him. After many years he came to her 
studio, saw the magnificent young there, and recognized 
him as his son. But he was compelled to renounce him, be- 
cause the mother’s offended love stood betvTeen father and son. 

In her treatment, this patient’s love for the unhappily 
married man, her tenacity in her attachment to him, her in- 
ability to renounce the idea of a child by him, her deep need for 
revenge, etc., could be explained on the basis of profound prede- 
termining motives. Considering that her wish and revenge 
fantasy survived even her former lover’s death, one can imagine 
the extent of her disappointment and narcissistic mortification. 
The fact that the man’s wife had to die before her love wishes 
could be fulfilled was unbearable for the girl’s self-love. 

Our patient recalled very clearly that from the very moment 
wfiien she had heard that her lover’s wife was ill, she feared that 
the woman might die, because this would deprive her lover of ^ 
the possibility of proving that he was willing to break all the 
fetters binding him to his family and to society for the sake of 
his love for her. She could not renounce this demand upon 
him. As she said, she herself was willing to sacrifice everything 
except her demands. Her wish for a child remained attached 
to the very man who did not give her a child. 

The fantasy of the child by this man filled her so completely 
that she had no room left in her for a real child. This fantasy 
was intended to gratify an aggressive vengefulness rather than 
a really maternal yearning. Why she was unable to have a 
child by her husband, although she consciously w^anted one, 
could never be explained by the gynecologist. 

It is noteworthy that her tendency to express psychofogic 
contents in symptoms of the genital apparatus manifested itselt 
even in her youth. In her college days these symptoms ful- 



filled her wish to have a child; later she resorted to organic 
means to express her unconscious protest against a child from 
an unloved man. 

Woman’s struggle against undesired pregnancy uses other 
means besides induced or spontaneous abortion. Many women 
take so strong a psychic attitude against having a child that 
despite obvious physical changes they deny their pregnancy, 
apparently in complete good faith, and thus make it 
psychologically noliexistent in a passive manner. Unwilling- 
ness to have a child is not always the motive for denial. In 
many cases this solution is resorted to in the woman’s conflict 
of strong ambivalence between '‘I want” and ‘‘I do not want,” 
which is thus silenced or postponed. I observed this denial 
in several obsessional neuroses. In other cases, the woman’s 
emotional reorientation fails to take place because of emotional 
obtuseness, and she remains under the impression that ‘‘nothing 
new is happening.” 

In many women, especially very young ones, the denial of 
pregnancy results from a kind of psychic inertia, an unwilling- 
ness to face new complications in life. Such childish women 
are so far removed from the idea of becoming mothers that they 
are absolutely unable fully to accept reality. In others, 
denial is the only way to save a pregnancy threatened by outside 
reality. “I did not know it,” say young unmarried pregnant 
women at a time when the symptoms are visible to anyone and 
when it is too late to intervene. Sometimes such women 
stubbornly deny the facts until they are surprised by labor 
pains. In many cases the denial arises from unconscious guilt 
feelings that assume this expression in order to achieve their 
gratification in the suffering of an unwanted motherhood; 
the denial serves this masochistic motive by making all outside 
help impossible. A denied pregnancy can also surprise other 
persons and thus gratify revenge tendencies to a considerable 

Women whose objective self-observation is disturbed by their 
fear of being unable to bear children can also be found among 



these who deny tlieir pregnancy, especially wlien they play a 
kind of game with fate. “Perhaps nothing will come of this 
after all, and in that case it is better to protect myself against 
disappointment/' their unconscious seems to say; this is ob- 
viously a kind of superstitious fear, akin to the belief that if 
one boasts of one's happiness it does not materialize. 

In summary, unless we are dealing with severe intellectual 
deficiencies, such as imbecility or idiocy, or with conscious 
fraud, the failure of a woman to perceive pregnancy in herself 
results from one of the several psychologic motives described 

The converse of denied pregnancy is imagined pregnancy, 
so-called spurious pregnancy or pseudocyesis. 

The pubescent girl is full of fears relating to pregnancy, 
and her excited fantasy sets various “popular" pregnancy symp- 
toms in motion, of which vomiting is the most frequent. 
Amenorrhea can occur in various age groups, as an isolated 
symptom or In combination with others (e.g., anorexia nervosa), 
and it often expresses an unconscious wish for pregnancy. 
Naturally, a considerable amount of emotional tension must be 
present; the wish alone is not enough to create the conditions- 
for such a functional disturbance. As a rule what we have here 
is a summation of psychic motives, among which fear of preg- 
nancy is the element that leads to the overloading of the psychic 
apparatus and to the physical discharge or inhibition of the 

It is different with young women who, threatened with 
sterility, observe their bodies with anxious attention and imag- 
ine that they are pregnant. This wish-fulfilling imagination 
certainly Influences the subjective sensations and the organic 
processes, and suffices to provoke a more or less protracted 
amenorrhea, morning sickness, and a temporarily inflated 
intestinal tract. Objective control in the form of medical 
examination usually prevents the symptoms from stabilizing. 

The condition of spurious pregnancy or pseudocyesis goes 
far beyond these abortive psychogenic pregnancy symptoms. 



It asserts itself with all the accompanying bodily manifestations 
of pregnancy, consistently from beginning to end. A deeper 
and more complicated psychologic and physiologic mechanism 
is required to achieve the consequences of a long process, to 
induce objective changes in the uterus, to start the produc- 
tion of milk in the lacteal glands, etc.’^ 

I have had occasion to observe several cases of pseudocyesis. 
These girls and women developed their symptoms under com- 
pletely different conditions; nevertheless it was possible to 
discover similarities among them, suggesting that certain 
psychic determinants constantly accompany this complicated 
bodily process. 

One case was that of a 25-year-old unmarried woman who 
was employed as assistant cook in a restaurant. She lived 
with her parents and numerous brothers and sisters. Her 
father was chronically ill and she bore almost the entire burden 
of supporting the family. She had a great deal of work to do 
and constant worries; her life was difficult and monotonous. 
For many years she had passively submitted to her fate, and 
it was clear that she buried herself in her work and in solitude 
out of fear of life. Later she became aware of the fact that what 
she most feared was pregnancy: ‘Tf an unprotected girl like me 
ever ventures to go out, she immediately becomes pregnant.’' 

Gradually her existence became unbearable to her, and she 
felt that she must dare something, but she had no resolution and 
no initiative. Finally, she tried to break the monotony by 
force, and against her real wishes joined her comrades in the 
restaurant in their escapades, which until then she had despised. 
Now her fear of pregnancy was conscious; it limited her freedom 
of movement and kept her from all sexual contacts. Then she 
met a young man. She did not know whether she was in love 
with him, but ‘Vent” with him for one year without having 
sexual intercourse, although they indulged in “necking” and 

Moulton stresses the difference between simple cases of “hysterial mimicking of the 
external signs of pregnancy, with few endocrine changes,” and cases in which the 
objective symptoms of pregnancy have a profound organic character. Cf. 
Moulton, R.: Psychosomatic implications of pseudocyesis. Psychosom, Med , 
vol. 4, 1942. 



he urged her insistently to give herself to him. But she was 
held back by her fear. She confessed this fear to him and he 
promised that he would marry her should things ‘'get that far''; 
he also assured her that he would be careful and that nothing 
of the kind would happen. 

Having apparently grown impatient of her stubborn refusals, 
he threatened to break off relations with her. She thought that 
if she now became pregnant he would have to marry her, and 
that was what she really wanted. But she also felt that this 
made her a sort of blackmailer, that he w6uld be marrying 
her only under pressure and not out of love. Gradually, the 
relation broke off as a result of her continued refusal, and she 
returned to her former mode of life. The very next month she 
failed to menstruate and developed the usual pregnancy symp- 
toms. She went through a difficult time trying to conceal 
her condition, and continued working until she felt labor 
pains and was taken to the hospital, where pseudocyesis was 
the finding. She was then transferred to the psychiatric de- 
partment, where she presented the picture of a woman in the 
second stage of delivery. Her face and behavior were typical 
of a woman in travail, her body was arched, there w’^as colostrum 
in her breasts, and the motions of her intestines w^ere so violent 
that at first sight they could be taken for the motions of the 

It is noteworthy that she had never had herself examined by 
a physician. When her father asked for the name of her 
seducer, in order to call him to account, she refused to give it; 
nor had she addressed herself to him. She believed objectively 
in her pregnancy and at the same time was deeply convinced 
that she would not have a child. She had no feeling of expecta- 
tion, she made no preparations, felt no worry about the future 
of the child, and no fear of the future In general. She had 
impressively realized her pregnancy wishes in her fantasy in 
order to protect herself from their actual realization. She 
put her lover in a position in which he was bound to marry her, 
but only in her fantasy, and thus she saved herself from the 
role of blackmailer. 



We do not know why she feared real pregnancy, what threats 
and punishments hung over her in connection with it. It 
seems that even her fantasied pregnancy brought her much 
punishment, because she had to suffer a great deal in the 
course of it; in addition, she had to endure a great disappoint- 
ment — the lack of the child, a lack for which, it is true, she had 
been unconsciously prepared. At the same time, we observed 
that, at least consciously, she breathed with relief when she 
realized that she had no child. 

Another case is that of a woman who had been married for 
six years without being impregnated. She had two successive 
imaginary pregnancies lasting several months each, and one is 
inclined to suppose that with her it was a case of direct wish 
fulfillment, since to her great despair she was sterile. But, 
strikingly enough, the climaxes of her pregnancies both times 
coincided with the yearly reunions of her former schoolmates. 
During her entire college career she had belonged to a closed 
group of friends isolated from the other students. They were 
known as the ‘'inseparable ten'’ and no one suspected that, 
despite their friendship, a tension of envious competition pre- 
vailed in the group. At first there was emulation in studies, 
then jealousy among the girls themselves, thus creating unrest 
in the circle, later erotic rivalry, and in the end competition as 
to which one of them would marry first and have a child first. 

After graduation the friends swore eternal loyalty to each 
other and decided to have reunions every year at a certain time. 
The woman of our case, who had always been one of the first 
in the competition with her friends, soon found herself far 
behind in the most fascinating race of all, the race for mother- 
hood. The cause of her sterility was an endocrine disorder; 
at the same time she exploited her peculiar symptoms in order 
to appear before her old companions as pregnant, thus fulfilling 
her ardent wish\ 

It is also notable that in neither of these two attacks of 
pseudocyesis would she agree to be examined by a physician. 
Each time she was convinced that she was pregnant, but at the 
same time she felt that it was not true and did not want to hear 


the physician's negative verdict. In the psychiatric interview 
she maintained that her peculiar condition was one of mixed 
knowledge and ignorance; the influence of her competition with 
her friends could not be doubted. Incidentally, she very much 
wanted her circle to accept the plausible explanation that she 
had had a miscarriage each time. It was obvious that she 
had also experienced a kind of triumph of the clever one over 
the stupid ones in having thus slyly deceived her friends. In 
college she and her circle had competed as to which of them 
was the most intelligent, and in the giveii situation she was 
undoubtedly the winner. 

In the earlier mentioned study by Kardiner about the Mar- 
quesans w^e read: 

There was also not infrequent occurrence of feigned pregnancy, w^hich was 
undoubtedly of neurotic origin and may have been motivated by the desire on 
the part of the woman to exercise the privilege of control over chief and sec- 
ondary husbands that went with the state of pregnancy. When the feigned 
pregnancy failed to materialize it was believed that the child had been carried 
away by the vehini-hai or that a fanaua was responsible. . . . 

The neurotic manifestation of pseudocyesis is related to the jealousy be- 
tween women regarding prestige and pregnancy. 

If our patient had been a Marquesas woman, she would have 
had the great advantage of being able to blame the evil spirits. 
It would have been the fanaua who, at the bidding of one of 
her nine friends "'moved by envy and rivalry," had destroyed 
her child in her body. Her psychic kinship with the Mar- 
quesas women seems to me striking, despite the great cultural 

A third case is that of a newly married woman whose chances 
of becoming pregnant were very dubious as a result of an or- 
ganic defect of her husband's testicles. She had fallen pas- 
sionately in love with him and married him despite her parents’ 
protests. Her pseudocyesis lasted for ten months; in the sec- 
ond month her physician gave her a diagnosis of probable preg- 
nancy and she was supposed to consult him again at a definite 
date to check the diagnosis. She failed to do this, and only the 

Kardiner, A,: Op. cit. p. 162. 



unusuallength of her alleged pregnancy forced her to submit to a 
medical examination, in which her condition was diagnosed as 

This woman too spoke of the peculiarly ambivalent fee'mg of 
belief and disbelief in her condition, and like the others she 
feared the objective verdict of the physician. In so far as her 
psychologic motives could be discovered, her pregnancy ex- 
pressed a heroic struggle for the rehabilitation of her husband, 
above all in the eyes of her parents, who had opposed her mar- 
riage (we were unable to find out whether their opposition was 
based on their knowledge of her husband’s defect). At any 
rate, by her pregnancy she said: “You see how wrong you have 
been, he is quite able to beget a child.” 

But, unconsciously feeling deceived by her husband in rela- 
tion to her wish for motherhood, she retaliated by the same 
means: she deceived him with the false promise of a child. By 
her simultaneous self-deception she negated her suppressed 
malicious reproach “You cannot give me a child,” and thus 
was in one act both the deceiver and the deceived. 

Our fourth case is that of a bereaved mother who after the 
death of her second child fell into a depression characterized by 
seif-accusations. She reproached herself ■with having caused 
the death of this child and turned away from her beloved first- 
born, now her only child, evidently in self-punishment: “I am 
not a mother.” 

She was urged to become pregnant again and thus to get over 
her loss. She rejected this advice, but became pregnant in her 
own way, that Is to say, she produced all the typical pregnancy 
symptoms. She herself denied her pregnancy in a typical 
melancholy manner and insisted that “nothing would come of 
it.” No one except herself doubted her pregnancy, but it took 
a long time to convince her that she needed to be examined 
medically, if only to get rid of her hypochondriac denying idea. 
The examination showed that she was right, that her pregnancy 
was spurious. But she herself was deeply shaken and surprised, 
for somewhere in the depths of her soul she hoped that her 



denial of pregnancy was really a morbid nihilistic idea of her 

Here a severe guilt feeling was obviously involved ; real preg- 
nancy could not be accepted and the ambivalent wish for it 
could be realized only in an illusory form, as destructive self- 

In each of these cases the psychologic mechanism was differ- 
ent. However, the following factors are common to all of 

1. There was an ambivalent attitude toward the fact of preg- 
nancy: a simultaneous wanting and not wanting it, a wish for a 
child, and the fear of its realization or its inner prohibition. 

2. The wish for pregnancy did not derive only (or chiefly) 
from the yearning for motherhood, but from secondary motives, 
usually of an aggressive, hostile character. The unconsciously 
expected disappointment was intended to gratify these second- 
ary motives, 

3. Sometimes, or perhaps always, a self-punishing intention 
was fulfilled in addition to the aggression. 

4. The simultaneous knowledge and refusal to know that the 
pregnancy was an illusion were expressed in all our cases by the 
rejection of a medical examination. 

Much in the psychic behavior accompanying pscudocyesis 
reminds us of pseudology: a lying fantasy is pushed to the fore 
in order to deny and avoid a more dangerous truth. The inten- 
sive character of the fantasy produces in the liar, just as in our 
symptom-forming women, a feeling of uncertainty: “Is it true 
or not?” The triumphant feeling of deceiving others often 
seems in both the pseudologists and the pseudopregnant women 
to assume the character of revenge: “This time not I am the 
deceived, but you.” The perception “What I am pretending 
here is quite false” serves in both for self-punishment. 

How the psychologic contents assert themselves in the com- 
plicated organic processes of pseudocyesis, is a problem for 
psychosomatic research. 

We have seen that some women deny real pregnancy and that 
others indulge in the illusion that spurious pregnancy is real. 



All of these women fear the objective truth because in them 
motherhood is the victim of a conflict between wanting and not 
wanting it, between wanting it and being unable to achieve it, 
between the wish and the fear, the inner command and the 
inner prohibition. In brief, in all these cases external and 
internal difficulties prevented the consolidation of a motherly- 



I F delivery were a purely physiologic process, it would 
probably be subject to far fewer individual variations and 
cultural influences than it is. In normal organic con- 
ditions the process would always be the sa;ne. It is the com- 
plications of childbirth that supply us with a clue regarding the 
degree to which it is determined by psychic factors. 

Anthropologists have advanced numerous theories to explain 
the greater or lesser ease of the act of birth in various epochs 
and in various cultures, peoples, races, etc. Some investiga- 
tors ascribe the differences to climatic and other environ- 
mental influences on the endocrine functions that are im- 
portant in the act of birth; others stress the importance of a 
wholesome or unwholesome way of life for the development of 
the female body and in particular of the genital organs. Still 
others consider the pelvic muscles, upon the action of which 
delivery depends, a key factor. According to these latter 
investigators, the functional efficiency of the pelvic muscles is 
higher in primitive women because of their more active way 
of life, while civilization, they think, exerts a disturbing and 
inhibiting influence on the birth functions. Likewise, primi- 
tive women's lesser sensitiveness to labor pains is often em- 
phasized. Their greater tolerance can create the false im- 
pression that the process of birth itself proceeds much more 
easily and rapidly in them. At any rate it is generally con- 
sidered an established fact that the reproductive process in 
primitive women is much simpler than in women ‘‘degener- 
ated" by civilization. But this question is still largely ob- 
scure, and various studies suggest that the relative simplicity 
or complexity of the process does not always depend upon a 
higher or lower degree of culture. 

Very often we are confronted with modes of reaction that 
give the outside observer a distorted picture of the facts. 




Among primitive peoples as well, severe disturbances of the 
process of birth occur, especially subsequent invalidism and 
mortality among the mothers. Nor are the data completely 
reliable with regard to the length of the process, because we 
cannot always establish the actual beginning of delivery from 
the woman’s behavior. Partly as a result of faulty observa- 
tion, and partly because of individual differences in the birth 
process under identical cultural conditions, the existing data 
are confusing. Thus, according to several explorers, the dura- 
tion of the process'^ among Australian tribes (living under the 
same cultural conditions) varies from a period of a few hours 
to one of several days. In some tribes the whole confine- 
ment period is a matter of minutes. The young mother 
immediately bathes herself and the newborn infant in the 
nearest river and returns to her interrupted work as though 
nothing had happened. If a woman is suddenly seized with 
labor pains while traveling on land or by water, she resumes 
her journey immediately after delivery and continues on her 
way until she reaches her destination. 

We learn from an interesting observation made by Kohl- 
brugge^ that the delivery of a Teugerresin woman of Java 
rarely takes more than an hour, but that in scattered indi- 
vidual cases it takes considerably longer, especially in women 
whose mothers likewise had long deliveries. This fact is 
explained on the basis of heredity. If we recall the extent to 
which under our own cultural conditions the process of birth 
is influenced by the woman’s identification with her mother, 
we can assume that among primitives too the biologic process 
is not entirely free from psychologic influences. 

That deliveries do not take place in accordance with the 
ideal of natural functioning even among primitives is proved 
by the fact that many Asiatic peoples, for instance, resort 
to the help of midwives. Since these women have no idea of 
modern asepsis and little real knowledge of the birth process, 
they seem to disturb rather than further it and the rate of 
mortality during delivery is strikingly high. 

^ Floss, H., and Bartels, M.: Das Weib. Berlin: Neufeld, 1927, vol. a, p. 604. 



Many prescriptions, rules, and taboos relating to pregnant 
women suggest that primitives too must have had bad ex- 
periences with delivery. These aspects of custom confirm 
our suspicion that the level of civilization in a given people 
does not determine the ease or difficulty of functioning in 
reproduction. It is noteworthy that many customs and super- 
stitions of primitives regarding pregnancy and delivery show a 
similarity not only to the behavior of neurotic women in our 
own civilization but also to that of our psychically normal 

Thus primitive customs relating to the place of delivery are 
reflected in the very individual preferences of our women in 
this matter. (Civilized hygienic regulations and institutions 
usually disregard these preferences, however.) Among some 
tribes, for instance, parturition takes place in complete solitude 
in the woods or on a beach. The Maori women of New 
Zealand give birth to their children in the bushes on a river 
bank, to which they retire all alone. The Gebrito and Mon- 
tesca women of the Philippines bring forth their infants without 
assistance, and the woman is often alone when the labor pains 
begin. Then she stands up, rests her abdomen against a 
bamboo stick, and presses hard. The child is received in 
warm ashes, whereupon the mother lies down beside it and 
severs the umbilical cord herself. 

The Warram Indian woman in British Guiana leaves her 
village as soon as her time comes. Alone in a hut in the woods, 
she awaits the birth, which is apparently without danger for 
her, and then returns to her kin with the newborn child, with- 
out having resorted to the help of other people. The women of 
certain Indian tribes in Guatemala behave in the same way, 
and similar customs were reported in accounts of early travelers 
to Virginia. 

In our own civilization too many women take refuge in a 
state of ‘'weakness’’ immediately after delivery in order to 
enjoy the baby in peace and solitude, immune from flower- 
bearing visitors. The need to give birth to the child in soli- 
tude and to remain in seclusion with it for a time would mani- 



fest itself much more frequently if our cultural customs did 
not run counter to such a practice. 

Among many primitive peoples the woman is considered 
unclean, even dangerous, during the entire course of her preg- 
nancy. Malevolent demons are thought to people her house 
and the place of delivery, and we find innumerable customs 
that are supposed to free her and her intimates from these 
dangers. The belief in evil spirits that injure the pregnant 
woman and her fruit is very ancient and deeply rooted; its 
existence among primitives is another proof that they have 
had bad experiences with the birth process. 

Among many nations the ‘‘evil spirit’’ is embodied in a fe- 
male being. The malign Labartu of the Semites spread terror 
and devastation wherever she appeared, and was particularly 
dangerous to unborn children and their mothers: “She turns 
over the insides of the woman in labor and tears the child out 
of the pregnant woman.” She caused abortions and mis- 
carriages and threatened death at delivery. The Greek 
Nereids and the witches of many nations were supposed to 
possess the same power. The number of these evil female 
spirits is endless and all of them are, like the vehini-hai of the 
Marquesans (p. 39), the voice of fear that speaks in the soul 
of modern woman too: “You will die in childbirth, little 

A very ancient custom, widespread among primitive peoples, 
demands that women should have a special place for delivery 
separated from their dwellings, a birth hut. Among many 
peoples the same hut is also used for menstruating women — 
a proof that the two functions are subject to the same taboos 
and restrictions. 

In this hut the woman in confinement lives in complete se- 
clusion and has contacts only with women friends of the same 
age as herself who have assisted her in childbirth. In several 
nations these companions follow her out into the open. For 
instance, the Niam-Niam woman in Central Africa at the 
approach of her delivery leaves her husband’s house for the 
neighboring woods, where she gives birth to her child with the 


help of young women friends. Does not this call up the 
implication ojf the frequently heard statement: “My best 
friend is expecting a baby and will be unhappy if I am not with 
her.'’ Thus an old promise dating from the period of puberty, 
when every experience gained its full meaning only if it could 
be shared with a friend, emerges in the memory of women in 
our own civilization. At that time the young girls also vowed: 
“Whoever among us is the first. . . Later, the one young 
woman because she wishes to share the experience by identifi- 
cation, and the other because of her guilt feeling as the happy 
possessor, go together to the neighboring woods, metamor- 
phosed into the modern maternity hospital. We recall the 
woman (p. 145), who carried her child within her for all of an 
extra m.onth in order to be delivered at the same time as her 
friend. But usually the need for communion expresses itself 
more simply. 

Among primitives, for good and rational reasons, the place 
of the companions is gradually taken by more mature women 
with greater experience as birth helpers. The choice of these 
women is very interesting: among the Maoris of New Zealand, * 
the maternal grandmother assists at the birth of the first 
child, or, if she cannot come, the paternal grandmother; among - 
other primitives the mother-in-law must deliver the woman in 
labor. These assistants are obviously chosen not because of 
their greater experience, but for reasons of kinship, that is to 
say, emotional reasons. The custom is only gradually trans- 
formed into a rational action, and then the place of the “in- 
formed” woman is taken by the “knowing” woman and finally 
by the professional midwife. The art of the midwife develops 
from primitive usage through transmitted experience to pro- 
fessional and expert assistance in childbirth. The psychologic 
relation of the birth-giving woman to the midwife is, even in 
our civilization, very much like that based on the primitive 
belief that endows an older woman with the power to summon 
the beneficent spirits and ward off the evil ones. 

2 Op. cit., vol. 2, p. 645. 



The ‘‘old woman/' the wise sorceress, and the modern trained 
midwife make it possible, more or less, for the woman in labor 
to escape the curse of female demons among primitives, and 
the deeply unconscious guilt feeling toward the mother among 
moderns. Among the former the resort is to incantations, 
among the latter to more complex psychologic means. By 
transferring all her feelings against her mother to the midwife, 
the woman in labor can often discharge her fury, and the in- 
fluence of the “wise woman" can free her from the fear of 
childbirth by strengthening her childish belief in the helpful 
omnipotence of the mother and her substitutes. 

Among many primitive peoples the husband must remain at 
a distance from the woman in labor, for he would be exposed to 
great harm if he approached the “unclean one." Among cer- 
tain other more materialistic peoples it is not so much the 
woman giving birth who is unclean as the matter that is 
secreted from her genitals during delivery. It is feared that 
demons dangerous to the husband arise from it. Other men 
and boys too must avoid all contact with these secretions; 
otherwise, so run the anxious superstitions of several peoples, 
their arms and legs will be crippled. 

In our modern places of delivery too one sometimes hears 
curses and execrations against the husband and men in gen- 
eral, which have their far-off source in the belief in evil spirits 
whose destructive spell is lifted only by the counterspell of 
the newborn life. The requirements of modern asepsis keep 
the husband at a distance and simultaneously protect him 
from the curses of demons. 

Not always and not everywhere is the husband excluded from 
active participation in the birth of his offspring. In many 
tribes he assumes actual direction and supervision of the birth 
process, in others he assumes a helper role in a triangle with the 
midwife and the parturient woman. 

Thus it is reported® that at Mincopia on the Andaman Islands 

^ Op. cit., vol. 2, p. 656, 



When the time of delivery approaches, it is the custom for the husband 
and a woman friend of the woman in labor to hold her up; the husband holds 
up her back and presses her when it is desired, while the friend holds a screen 
of leaves over the lower part of her body and assists her to the best of her 
ability in the delivery and in removing the afterbirth. 

In our civilization these two corners of the triangle are occu- 
pied by the nurse and the physician, and this professional and 
objective division of labor also supplies the emotional tenden- 
cies with a favorable outlet: love and hatred, trust and spite, 
discipline and impatience, can now be transferred to and dis- 
tributed among these representatives of the childish emotions 
mobilized in delivery. Thus the active participation of the 
husband is transferred to the powerful father image of the 
physician. The husband himself is allowed only to wait out- 
side the door in a kind of couvade, to walk up and down with 
impatient steps, and to suffer and enjoy his wife’s labor pains 
in his fantasy. The obstetrician has powerful predecessors in 
the medicine men, sorcerers, and priests, even though the help 
the latter gave the woman in labor w^as supernatural and 
magical. Our modern birth helpers do not suspect that the 
wmman in labor passively yielding to them attributes to them 
many magic powers, in order to conquer the disturbing fear -- 
that has taken possession of her. 

We have cursorily stressed some analogies between the birth 
process among primitives and among civilized peoples. These 
analogies could be pursued much further, and one has the 
impression that despite the enormous advances in the field of 
obstetrics, and the great benefits of exact scientific knowledge, 
the psychic life of civilized women in labor still contains many 
elements that bring them close to the fears and superstitions of 
their primitive sisters. 

It is true that with the development of civilization the belief 
in the participation of supernatural forces in the reproductive 
function has gradually weakened. Biology, anatomy, and 
physiology assume full responsibility for the normal or patho- 
logic process. But in this age of greatest scientific advances 
and of materialist philosophy, the spirits and demons of child 
birth reappear in a new form. The psychic accompaniments of 



the biologic function are no longer projected into a demonic 
world. According to our modern knowledge, the process ot 
birth is not purely somatic, but psychosomatic, and the diffi- 
culties arising in the course of it often require the collaboration 
of psychiatrists for their solution. 

One might think that the process of birth unfolds in accord- 
ance with specific, inherent, biologically determined condi- 
tions, and that it is well protected against external or internal 
psychologic influences. It is distinguished from other psycho- 
somatic processes accessible to our study by its typical course 
— that is, the fact that its beginning and end are exactly deter- 
mined in time — also by its inherently normal character, its 
clearly determined goal, etc. On the other hand, it is logical 
to assume that an event involving greatly heightened inner 
tension and a tremendous physical upheaval will produce im- 
portant psychic material. Everything suggests that the pre- 
viously existing inner conflicts become acute in a situation so 
charged, and that the intensified expectations and fears of 
pregnancy are further intensified with the beginning of labor. 

The psychologic observer soon discovers that all the bio- 
' logically predetermined functional processes, from the onset 
until the achievement of the final goal, to wit, real motherhood, 
are furthered or inhibited by psychic influences. Every single 
physiologic gesture, every labor pain, as it were, testifies not 
only to the mutual dependence of the somatic and psychic 
factors, but also to the fact that in all the biologic functions 
of reproduction, the woman's whole psychic development and 
her whole emotional past play a decisive part. 

Psychiatrists usually have no opportunity to observe the 
process of birth directly; they receive their material only 
subsequently, for the most part in distorted form, imbedded 
in other contexts. Moreover, the psychic components of 
childbirth, to an even greater extent than the emotional ac- 
companiments of other female sexual functions (menarche, 
pregnancy), fall easily into amnesia or are unconsciously fal- 

Objective data about the processes that take place during 



childbirth are also unreliable because the perceptions of the 
woman in labor are to some extent weakened and the area of 
her awareness is narrowed by her absorption in the progress of 
the birth. She has an obvious apperceptive insufficiency with 
regard to all impressions not directly connected with it. 

For many years psychiatrists have been interested in the 
mental states of the newborn child, its traumatic experiences 
and fears. The first anxiety state arising from its separation 
from the mother is considered the prototype and cause of all 
its later anxieties. Strikingly, less attention has been given 
to the simultaneous processes in the mother. The develop- 
ment of modern obstetrics seem^s increasingly to reduce the 
mother's active participation in the process of birth, and the 
observations recorded in the following paragraphs may appear 
anachronistic in the near future. 

It is valuable therefore to gain an insight into the psycho- 
logic reactions of a woman who is delivered spontaneously, 
that is, into the greatest of all female pleasure-pain experi- 
ences, and its accompanying psychologically determined dis- 
turbances, before modern technic has deprived psychiatrists of 
the possibility of doing so. Obstetricians and midwives are 
too much concerned with physical processes to bother about 
their patients' psychic experiences. They are usually tired 
and exhausted, and because they concentrate on the somatic 
factors, their interest is awakened only when active interven- 
tion seems necessary. The obstetrician considers his task 
completed when the child has emerged unharmed from the 
mother's body and the mother show^s no pathologic symptoms. 

Further, modern obstetrics does not wait for an abnormal 
difficulty in delivery before intervening actively. The hasten- 
ing of birth by the physician, at the moment when in all prob- 
ability the child is ready to face all the hardships of extra- 
uterine existence, is increasingly accepted, and it seems that soon 
there will be no spontaneous biologic process of birth at^all. 

The following observations are referable in part to a period 
in obstetric science when the spontaneous process was inter- 
fered wfith only in cases of special necessity. Thus it w^§ 



possible not only to follow the psychic accompaniments of the 
physiologic process, but also to track down the psychologic 
factors of an incipient disturbance. I should like to emphasize 
the fact that, except when the contrary is indicated, all this 
material relates to first deliveries. Later deliveries either are 
repetitions of the first, or have a more individual character 
determined by the life situation. The typical factors seem 
most pronounced in the first delivery. 

To understand the psychologic situation at the time of birth, 
we must go back to the last phase of pregnancy. The ap- 
proach of childbirth is indicated by certain harbingers. Sev- 
eral weeks before the event the uterus drops. At the slightest 
outside excitation, or altogether spontaneously, it contracts — 
as though practicing for the labor pains to come. This lowered 
position of the uterus results in pressures, feelings of tension, 
and respiratory difficulties, and even the healthiest woman now 
finds her somatic condition burdensome and uncomfortable. 
In addition there is a psychic impatience; the harmony be- 
tween mother and child is disturbed. It is as though nature 
were seeing to it in advance that the imminent separation 
from the child should not be too painful (psychologically) for 
' the mother. 

We know from numerous experiences that there is hardly 
any biologic process that is not accompanied and influenced by 
psychic processes. In the last weeks of pregnancy the mother- 
child union is disturbed by physiologic factors, and the organic 
changes produce increasing feelings of discomfort. The physi- 
cal burden becomes a background for emotional impulses that 
assume a hostile character with regard to the unity with the 
child. The mother’s inner perception of a pull on her body 
increasingly transforms the fetus into an alien body, just as it 
did in the first phase of pregnancy. With the increase of 
bodily discomfort, the ego of a psychically healthy woman 
becomes gradually weary of the shrinking of her life contents 
produced by pregnancy and of her exceptional physical and 
psychic situation. Apparendy the merger of extremes — ego 
and species — cannot be tolerated for a very long time. The 



relationship with the child is split: the being in the uterus 
already has his double, who is the subject of all expectations 
and fantasied wish fulfillments and whose real existence as a 
distinct person is gradually approaching. With the end of 
pregnancy the I-you polarity is simultaneously strengthened, 
and the psychic management of loving and hostile impulses 
uses this duality: the enemy must get out in order to reappear 
as a precious friend in the outside world. 

Thus during these last weeks there begins the conflict be- 
tween the will to retain and the will to expel, and normally it 
takes place only psychically. The will to retain is above all the 
expression of narcissistic self-sufficiency that has developed 
during pregnancy and that refuses to renounce the established 
unity. The realization, through bodily sensations, of the 
imminent destruction of this unity, manifests itself in the 
mother’s heightened identification with the child and opposes 
the expulsive tendencies. On the other hand, the fantasy of 
the child as an external love object of the very near future has 
been developed during the whole period of pregnancy and it 
now joins with the negative emotions of the expulsive tenden- 
cies (by negative emotions we mean the effects of the phys- 
iologic discomfort). If the conflict between the two tendencies" 
assumes a pathologic character and the expulsive forces win 
the upper hand, the result may be a premature delivery. But 
if, in addition to the narcissistic sense of unity, the mother feels 
concern about the fate threatening the child after it is expelled 
from its secure shelter, and fears her new responsibility, the 
retentive tendencies and with them the tendency to prolong 
pregnancy are intensified. Conservative clinging to the status 
quo, horror at the idea of splitting a unity woven by many 
emotional and physical threads, and fear of the pains and 
dangers of delivery, create resistance to the termination of the 
condition. The chemically and physiologically determined dis- 
harmony between mother and child that manifests itself in the 
last v/eeks of pregnancy, is the prelude to the imminent separa- 
tion that normally marks the victory of the physiologic over 
the psychic element. It is interesting to note that the sharpen- 



ing of the two tendencies is revealed in the dream life of the 
last phase of pregnancy, when the typical pregnancy dreams, 
in which the expectant mother identifies herself with her 
future child (the so-called mother-womb fantasy), are in- 
creasingly frequent. The mother, who in the dreams of the 
previous phases of pregnancy often appeared as a little girl 
swimming in water, now sees herself slipping through narrow 
cracks, falling from a height, laboriously climbing out of water, 
striving to reach a far-off goal, etc. In these dreams her own 
personality can be recognized directly or through associations. 
Since the question of boy or girl is now more acute, and curios- 
ity about it greatly contributes to the mother's impatient 
waiting, the child's sex is particularly emphasized in the 
dreams: the child of the dream is specifically a boy or a girl. 

On this point the mother's conscious and unconscious wishes 
are usually in conflict, and sometimes the wish-fulfilling tend- 
ency of the dream adapts itself to hypocritical consciousness, 
and sometimes to unconscious sincerity. Consciously, very 
many women, masculine as well as feminine ones, wish for a 
boy as their first-born. Perhaps in most of them the wish to 
be reborn as a man plays a great part, but other motives must 
not be overlooked. I shall disregard here the social motives, 
and consider rather the individual and psychologic ones. 
Both the grandfather and the father (or father and husband) 
wish for and expect a boy, in order to be reborn in him. The 
feminine woman joins them in this wish and wants to 'present 
both of them with a boy as a sign of her love. Moreover, she 
is motivated by a wish relating to the distant future: in her 
son she will one day find again a loving and protective man. 
I shall discuss this wish in detail when I take up the psy- 
chology of women in the climacterium. 

Deep beneath this wish, deriving from object love, is con- 
cealed a feminine-narcissistic aspiration: the woman wishes 
for a daughter in order to be reborn in her, endowed with all 
the charm of the new being.'^ It is striking how often the boy 

^ It is this insight into the psyche of the civilized mother that led me to suspect that 
the Marquesas women devour their newborn girls in order to absorb their youth 
and charm. This motive is also familiar to us from folklore. 



in the dream appears as ugly and the girl as beautiful. Thus 
the woman’s ambivalent relationship to her husband is ex- 
pressed: “Here is your boy — he is ugly as you are.” But the 
dreamer’s own Image always appears In the full beauty that 
she desires for herself and her daughter. 

Very often the child In the dream appears not only as al- 
ready born, but as far advanced in his development, speaking, 
walking, etc. In this dream the mother fulfills her wish to see 
her child in the outside world, already freed from the dangers 
that she herself fears. The dreams are not always so optimis- 
tic: the fear of giving birth to a monster is intensified in the 
last weeks of pregnancy, and cripples, idiots, monsters ap- 
pear in the pregnant woman’s dreams just as in her daytime 
anxieties. I have observed that the woman who has had an 
induced abortion, or a spontaneous one for which she feels 
responsible, is particularly inclined to such self-punishing 

With the intensification of the bodily sensations and the 
appearance of the so-called preliminary pains, the content of 
the dreams often reproduces the process taking place in the 
body: the woman dreams of being hurled in two directions, of 
being pushed by a more or less personified force, etc. We find" 
all these dreams and nightmares again later during the process 
of childbirth. 

On the eve of her definitive initiation into real motherhood, 
even the most mature woman is regressively transformed into 
a child. Just as in puberty (cf. vol. i), we are confronted here 
with the peculiar fact that a tremendous advance in existence 
mobilizes regressive forces. The woman’s impatient curiosity 
in the last weeks of pregnancy reminds us of the childish urge 
to explore things, which usually expresses sexual curiosity: 
“How will the child get out?” The adult woman trembles 
with anxiety just like the child: “How will anything as big 
as a child get through that little opening?” And repeating her 
old unconscious desire to look inside the body of her pregnant 
mother, she is filled with the ardent wish: “If only I could look 
Jnside myself once — then I would not mind if the pregnancy 



lasted longer.” The fear that she had during the first phases 
of pregnancy — “Am I really pregnant?” — again comes to the 
fore: “Is it really a baby?” If the fetus moves less than be- 
fore, then something bad must be happening; if it is lively, 
then something else is wrong — “it is so restless.” The feeling 
that her possession is insecure, which accompanies woman 
during her entire pregnancy, is now intensified, and she fears 
not only for her own life, but even more for that of the child; 
“Is it there at all? Will it live? Is it normal? How does it 
look? What is its ’sex?” She is obsessed by worries and 
doubts amid her great joy and anticipation. 

In all women — the happy and the disappointed, the strong 
and the weak, the loving and the hating — the doubts, restless- 
ness, impatience, and joyful expectation all conceal the fear of 
delivery, which is increasingly intensified with the approach of 
term. What are the sources of this fear? To what extent 
is it justified? 

Although childbirth is a physiologic phenomenon, a number 
of its manifestations border on the pathologic. Even under 
the most normal conditions, it is characterized by pain and 
bleeding, w’hich otherwise mark only morbid states. Certainly 
hature did not intend to make the normal process so difficult, 
yet the higher the species in the animal series, the more com- 
plicated is the reproductive function, the graver the dangers, 
and the worse the pain. 

Today w'e have effective methods of overcoming the dangers 
of the birth process. Surgery triumphs over the anatomic 
anomalies and chemistry over the powerful physiologic dis- 
turbances. In 1847 J- P- Semmelweiss, a young Austrian 
physician, made a decisive step in the struggle against the 
worst enemy of childbirth, puerperal fever. Convinced that 
the real cause of this terrible evil lay in infection of the birth 
channels, he created the powerful weapon of obstetric asepsis. 
Sir Thomas Watson in England and Oliver Wendell Holmes 
in America made great contributions in this field. Through 
their work childbirth mortality has gradually been reduced to 
a minimum. 



However, woman’s fear of death has not been eliminated with 
the real dangers. She has merely transferred her miotivation 
from reality to psychic life. Analytic science can discover only 
those determinants of fear that spring from the woman’s indi- 
vidual life. But we assume that all these fears are only provo- 
cations or intensifications of a deep hereditary fear of death 
that accompanies the new life awakening in the mother’s 
body. Its deepest sources are inaccessible to us. But we 
know that the fear of separation is one of its chief representa- 
tives. " 

Because of the identification with the child that takes place 
during pregnancy, the fear of separation is not only that of 
“I am losing the child,” but also that of “The child is losing 
me.” In other words, in birth the child loses the condition of 
absolute protection and security, that primitive condition of 
bliss for which all of us yearn. Analyses of pregnant women in 
the last phase always reveal psychic material in which fearful 
ideas about delivery correspond completely to the content that 
we usually interpret as reactions to the birth trauma. In 
Inhibition^ Symptom^ and Anxiety^ Freud says that the earliest 
infantile anxiety arises with the child’s separation from his 
mother. Rank® in particular ascribes great significance to this 
fear. Through our psychologic reconstructions w^e are indirectly 
acquainted with the hypothetic fear of being born; but we are 
confronted with it really and directly in the fears of the woman 
approaching delivery. 

The fear of separation is also familiar to us from other 
sources. Perhaps the fright that seizes many children before 
they move their bowels is comparable to this fear of separation 
at childbirth. I once had to deal with a young girl who, left 
alone during her labor, was seized with terrible fear and con- 
fusion; in a state of clouded consciousness, as though by 
compulsion, she brought forth her illegitimate child in the 
toilet and flushed it down like feces. She w^as indicted for 
having murdered her child, and there is no doubt that in her 

®RanKj 0 .: The trauma of birth. New York: Harcourt, 1929. 

2i8 psychology of women 

precede and follow the general anesthesia. An unsuccessfully resolved rela- 
tion to the mother contains a still greater, deeper danger. The increased 
tie to the mother which develops under the pressure of anxiety and the bur- 
den of the feeling of guilt, can receive a new regressive thrust in the moment 
of the danger from an operation. The masochistic turning of the agres- 
sions against the person’s own self then bring about the ominous state of 
clinging to the suffering and to the postoperative symptoms.® 

The foregoing applies to an even greater extent to the real 
situation of delivery. It is easy to understand why the custom, 
prevalent until recently, of having the patient’s mother present 
at childbirth, was so important. 

In expectant mothers under treatment for neurotic con- 
ditions, the former neurotic fear is centered at the end of 
pregnancy around the child and assumes a phobic or hypo- 
chondriac character. The phobic woman must now avoid 
definite anxiety-provoking situations, so that the child may 
come into the world easily. The hypochondriac woman 
imagines that the child is afflicted with the most terrible ills. 
One recognizes in these ideas the same predelivery fears that 
can be found in perfectly healthy women, only their amount is 
greater. Old neurotic anxieties endowed with definite con- 
tents related to birth will re-emerge at the end of pregnancy, 
even in patients in whom psychoanalytic treatment has been 

In every pregnant woman the fear of childbirth can receive 
reinforcements from other sources. Its content may derive 
from the real life situation: for instance, the fear has the char- 
acter of objective anxiety if the birth takes place under patho- 
logic conditions, or if the woman continues to be worried 
during delivery about the possible unfavorable fate of her 
child (e.g., when the birth is illegitimate), if her own situation 
is more difficult because of the child, etc. This objective 
anxiety asserts itself only in the first phase of delivery; later 
it gradually yields to the fear associated wfith the process itself. 
The deeply unconscious elemental anxiety that springs from 

®Deutsch, H.: Some psychoanalytic observations in surgery. Psychosom. Med., 

vol. 4, 1942. 



the loss of unity with the child — the fear of separation— is 
present in delivery from the beginning to the end. It can be 
intensified by guilt feelings, it can attach itself to former genital 
anxieties (castration, defloration), and by a detour of the 
mobilized old infantile mechanisms it can revive anal, urethral, 
and other fears. For instance, it is extraordinary how often 
the escape of the amniotic fluid brings the infantile fear of bed 
wetting to the fore, and how, similarly, the sensations of 
pressing, pushing, and expulsion of the child from the body 
mobilize intestinal elements. 

The psychologic process is particulary interesting because, 
in addition to the various individual fears, two opposing fear 
themes are generally dominant. There is the above mentioned 
deep and elemental fear of death, which we might call a 
primal fear; this is accompanied by a more conscious and 
superficial fear, corresponding to the real dangers to life. The 
objective character of this fear may be intensified by the fact 
that the persons around the pregnant woman, those who love 
her and rejoice in her condition or the imminent consummation 
of it, are also full of anxious concern during her delivery. 
All of them, the pregnant woman and her entourage, are in- 
tellectually fully aware that neither she nor the child is in 
danger, that her physical condition leaves nothing to be de- 
sired, etc. They fully believe the physician’s assurances that 
everything is in order. They admit that their common fear 
has absolutely no real basis, and yet they say anxiously: 
“Often unexpected things happen — one never knows.” 

This fear does not disturb the optimistic feeling of the 
psychically healthy pregnant woman and of normal persons 
around her. Their feeling of joyful expectation is based not 
only upon their intellectual knowledge that there is no danger 
but also on their equally elemental faith that life will conquer 
death. If this inner faith is lacking, the mother is in real 
danger; she may prove unequal to the possible difficulties of 
childbirth and its frequent physical surprises. In the polarity 
of life and death, the optimistic feelings are on the side of life, 
the anxious-pessimistic ones in the service of death. 



In many women, motherhood may fall victim to these un- 
conscious fears much earlier. Some avoid the childbirth fear 
by renouncing marriage and children, others forestall it by 
sterility or abortion. Still others, however, let their fears be 
overpowered by the biologic forces and in their motherhood 
find themselves before the gates of a world that seems to them 
tull of pain and terror. Many are willing to make a sacrifice 
of fear and suffering in order to have a child. Only a minority 
can accept the biologic process simply for what it is and in the 
joyful expectation of a child give up the -fear-laden past for 
the sake of the future. It seems, however, that this freedom 
is only relative; whenever one succeeds in eliminating a part of 
the amnesia connected with delivery in both neurotic and 
healthy women, one discovers a m.ore or less well managed 
fear and an associative connection with previous fears. 

This powerful tendency to fear is accompanied by powerful 
defense mechanisms. Observations of patients who have 
undergone operations prove that psychic preparation for surgi- 
cal intervention is very important for mastering of the fear 
and thus, to a large extent, for the success of the operation. 
In other words, it makes a great difference 

Whether the operation was performed as an emergency ^^ithout the pa- 
tient having a chance to prepare himself or whether the more propitious 
situation obtained and the patient had an opportunity for a longer or shorter 
period of inner preparation. In the first case we have to expect a psychic 
shock reaction in the patient and its influence on the postoperative situation.’^ 

The same holds true in relation to childbirth. The long 
preparation, for a definite date, certainly helps to accumulate 
large reserves of protective forces during the entire pregnancy. 
The fear of separation is constantly softened by the euphoric 
idea of the child, unless this idea is opposed by unpleasant 
counterideas (unwelcomeness of the child, financial worries, 
bad marital relations, etc.) 

Interestingly enough, this preparation has negative aspects 
also. The woman has a feeling, which is intensified at the end 

’ Op. cit. 



of her pregnancy, that soon something will take place in her 
life that, in her subjective estimation, will change the order of 
the world, that something will come out of her and will exist 
only by her will, but that nevertheless this something repre- 
sents a power over which she has no control. Whether she 
wants to or not, she who has created this new life must obey 
its power; its rule is expected, yet invisible, implacable. It is 
inside her and yet it is unknown and irresistible. Because of 
these very qualities it necessarily produces fear. This knowl- 
edge of an event that will happen on a certain date, upon which 
one depends, and which, nevertheless, one cannot influence, 
this mixture of power and submission, has something fatal and 
inevitable about it, like death. 

As the end of pregnancy approaches, the woman's restless- 
ness and physical discomfort increase and the child's dual 
significance is emphasized. The nearer the time of delivery, 
the greater is the future significance of the child in the mother's 
emotional life and the stronger the wish to see him in the out- 
side world. This split in the mother's psyche — an interest- 
ing and very temporary state — can, as we shall see later, lead 
to complications. Normally the feeling ‘‘Out with the tor- 
mentor" is helpful, as it facilitates the separation. Only when 
this feeling is excessively strong, when the fear of the future 
attempts to hasten the beginning of this future, when the un- 
conscious counterforce opposes the physiologic commandments 
and the restless anxiety leads to action, is there danger that 
the preliminary labor pains may become the real labor and 
that the fear of separation may paradoxically lead to prema- 
ture separation. The following observation will illustrate such 
hastening and delaying influences. 

In a woman prone to premature births (she had had four such 
births), psychotherapeutic treatment had decreased the un- 
conscious anxiety that was the underlying cause; her over- 
excitability was favorably influenced, and she was able to 
carry a child to full term. When her labor pains appeared 
for the first time at the right date, they were so sluggish that 



active obstetric intervention was necessary. It was not diffi- 
cult to gain an insight into her psychic experience^ because she 
herself developed sufficient introspection to make the process 
comprehensible. She was overjoyed at the prospect of giving 
birth to a 9 month baby, and, as she said, felt perfectly free of 
her old fear. However, during delivery she was seized by a 
kind of fear, and in the interval between two labor pains 
thought to herself: ‘'What will happen if I again fall into my 
old excitable state and throw out the child — will it live then?*' 

The same fear that formerly excited the innervations now 
inhibited them. The same neurotic theme w’-as in the back- 
ground in both these effects — ‘T cannot give birth to a living 

In many women the restlessness of the last weeks of preg- 
nancy is expressed by intensified activity: they can barely keep 
quiet, and have a continual urge to do something, by which 
they betray anxious uneasiness even if they are free of con- 
scious fear. The subjectively strengthened sensation of the 
uterine contractions induces the woman to go to the hospital 
prematurely, while her disappointment at its turning out a 
false alarm may make her swing to the opposite extreme, 
and, as in the case of the above mentioned patient, her term is" 
delayed by an inhibiting process. Such subjectively caused 
disturbances in the last phases of pregnancy can greatly in- 
fluence the later process of delivery. 

To clarify the psychologic accompaniments of this process, we 
shall briefly sketch the physiologic phenomena. We dis- 
tinguish three stages in a normal birth: those of the dilatation, 
the expulsion, and the afterbirth. The dilatation stage often 
lasts for several days and is marked by slight contractions of 
the uterine muscles, associated wflth mild drawing pains. For 
a woman having her first child they are a signal for preparation, 
and almost all women develop a striking activity in this phase. 
Only when they are paralyzed by fear do they yield to fate and 
let others act for them. Normally this fear is, if not mastered, 
at least outweighed by euphoric anticipation: ‘T shall soon 
have a baby.’’ 



Naturally, the woman’s attitude will from the beginning be 
determined by her readiness, by the extent to which she has 
prepared herself, during the last period of pregnancy, for the 
trauma of separation, or, in other cases, by the extent to which 
her impatience to get rid of her burden has disturbed the normal 

This more or less protracted preparatory phase is followed by 
the first delivery stage, the actual dilatation, so named be- 
cause the mouth of the uterus is gradually dilated by the violent 
contractions of the uterine muscles. These contractions draw 
the neck of the uterus so far upward that its orifice is opened, 
thus allowing of the passage of the child. While the opening 
is gradually enlarged, the membranes surrounding the fetus 
push through, pressing against the orifice, and are runtured, 
permitting escape of some of the amniotic fluid. 

During the second or expulsion stage of delivery the con- 
tractions of the uterus continue; that is to say, the muscles in 
the neck of the uterus are contracted in a longitudinal direciion, 
then the adjoining section of the muscles contracts in a circu- 
lar direction. This circular contraction moves constantly 
higher, and the lower section of the uterus and the vagina 
.become a soft sac through which the child, partly through 
the driving force of the rhythmic uterine contractions and 
partly by abdominal pressure, is pushed until its head is 
protruded through the vagina. 

The third stage of parturition, the afterbirth period, usually 
follows from fifteen to thirty minutes after the birth of the 
child. In this phase the remaining products of gestation (the 
placenta) are expelled. 

Only the first two stages of delivery are psychologically 
interesting. The functioning of the uterine muscles, the con- 
tractions and dilations, depend upon the innervation. The 
innervation has three sources: the sympathetic nervous system, 
which inhibits the expulsion of the fetus; the parasympathetic 
system, which stimulates the muscles of expulsion; and a local 
innervation of ganglia within the uterine muscles that par- 
ticipate in expulsive contractions. The normal process of 



parturition depends upon the harmonious interaction of the 
various muscles and their innervations. The latter in turn 
are very much dependent upon internal and external influences. 
Psychosomatic medicine is familiar with the extraordinary 
dependence of the sympathetic and the parasympathetic 
nervous system upon emotional influences; other organs like- 
wise can fail in their functioning under the influence of psycho- 
genically disturbed innervation processes. The task of de- 
livery is thus based upon the antagonistic effects of specific 
innervations. These effects are automatically regulated: an 
excessive hastening of the process is opposed by corresponding 
innervational inhibitions, and vice versa. What is true of the 
organic processes is also true of the psychic processes. They 
too, as we have seen, are full of antagonisms; various psychic 
tendencies and emotional impulses are offset by counterreac- 
tions and inhibitions. The autonomic nervous system, which 
assumes direction of the physiologic process of birth, and like- 
wise the unconscious psychic life, are independent of the con- 
scious will of the woman in labor. The functioning of the 
autonomic nervous system can be modified by drugs; the 
psychic unconscious can be influenced more or less indirectly 
through consciousness. Moreover, the two spheres can enter - 
into a direct but unconscious relationship. 

The process of birth, with its boundless anxiety stemming 
from various sources, offers a particularly propitious soil for 
the action of psychogenic influences. The mother’s attitude 
toward her child, her readiness for motherhood, the events of 
her pregnancy, her whole life situation, certainly contribute 
to the psychic atmosphere of delivery. However, it is strik- 
ing how many deliveries follow their normal biologic course 
despite a miserable life situation, despite poverty and worry, 
fear of social consequences (illegitimacy), an unhappy marriage, 
etc. Conversely, there are disturbances that cannot be ex- 
plained either physiologically or psychologically. Their causa- 
tion lies in the unconscious, and subsequent psychoanalytic 
reconstruction of such disturbances has given us much insight 
into the birth process as a whole. 



The methods of investigation of the psychologic phenomena 
that accompany birth are various. Every woman brings to 
this function definite personality dispositions that color the 
process. In describing the personality factor, we shall limit 
ourselves to somewhat schematic definitions. Thus we speak 
in general terms of the given individual’s disposition to pas- 
sivity and to activity, which puts its stamp upon the de- 
livery. The quantitative degree in which each of these dis- 
positions is present is the next important factor. The third 
relates to the form in which passivity or activity is manifested. 

The difference between the two dispositions is perceptible in 
the period of the preliminary pains. Many women from the 
beginning take a completely passive attitude: the physician 
has promised them that they will not feel anything, that they 
need not worry about anything, and they base their behavior 
on that. When seized by sharper pains, they grow very 
angry and impatient, call for a doctor, demand narcotics, and 
refuse to give any active cooperation. 

As a whole, however, the activity that manifests itself in 
the final phase of pregnancy is a mechanism of defense against 
fear. The driving unrest, the urge to activity, is usually 
' rationalized as a method of making the waiting period seem 
shorter. In actual fact it is a preparation for the active 
process of birth, produced by the inner urge. Woman’s con- 
tribution in delivery is manifested not only by the product — 
the child — but above all by her active participation in the birth. 
Whether she behaves more actively or more passively is usually, 
though not always, determined by the nature of her personality 
as a whole. Some women have turned all their psychic ac- 
tivity to other goals, so that the process of birth is for them only 
a biologic process to which they submit passively. Con- 
versely, women otherwise more passively disposed are thrown 
by the first pains into a joyful excited state that spurs them to 
the greatest activity. 

Some women display particularly intense activity at the 
beginning of childbirth. Mrs. N., whom I observed imme- 
diately after her arrival in the hospital, gave me a direct de- 



scription of the beginning of her delivery. She was a chemist 
by profession; during her pregnancy she felt very well and 
continued to perform all her professional duties. The pains 
began a few days earlier than expected and surprised her while 
she was engaged in making an important chemical experiment 
and demonstrating it, with her superior, to a group of students. 
She worked eagerly while her pains grew increasingly frequent, 
thinking: ^If only we can finish the experiment!'’ When I 
asked her why. she did not interrupt her work, she said that 
she did not have the feeling of two separate actions taking 
place; she felt as though the two were somehow connected and 
as though her task was to carry them both through to the end. 
Fortunately, she was delivered only two hours later; she her- 
self was fully convinced that she had herself in hand, and that 
the birth would come at the right time. Mrs. N. was not a 
masculine woman, but she fully possessed the degree of ac- 
tivity trend that a woman needs to banish her fear and actually 
to participate in the birth of her child. 

Mrs. N. is naturally only an exaggerated example of pre- 
delivery activity. In most women this activity is devoted to 
intensified preparations, in many others it has a more steady 
character, in still others it constitutes only a short temporary 
break-through that soon subsides. 

A woman with a masculinity complex reacts in various ways 
to imminent delivery: she takes everything ‘‘easily,” child- 
birth is just a biologic process that does not bother her at all, 
and “naturally” she has had no complaints during her entire 
pregnancy. She tries to turn the whole process into a minor 
disturbance of her normal life. She negates her fear and pains 
and usually asks for narcotics only when things get “too bad.” 
Usually she herself negotiates with physician, hospital, etc. 

Another type of masculine woman considers childbirth an 
indignity imposed upon women by nature, an injustice that 
must be corrected. Naturally she refuses to endure pains or to 
participate in the delivery; she feels that it is the task of the 
modern obstetrician to make everything pass as quickly and 
painlessly as possible. She puts forward demands and claims 
only with regard to the child as her product. 



The activity of the average normally active woman at the 
onset of the first pains is somewhat as follows. She herself 
packs her suitcase, casts a last glance over the nursery to see 
that everything is in order, wants to have telephone conversa- 
tions, mostly with her women friends, and often insists upon 
personally informing her physician, hospital, etc., that her 
labor has begun. The negation of fear underlying this out- 
break of activity is often quite conscious. 

Many women fall into a joyful excitation with the beginning 
of the pains, especially when the pregnancy has been protracted 
— “I thought I would never have a child.” The child has 
gradually assumed an unreal character, the idea of its existence 
has become blurred. In others, on the contrary, the reality 
of the child is so strong at the end of pregnancy that the 
woman feels as though she were separated from it only by 
the “curtain” of the abdominal casing, and in her impatient 
excitement she wants to see it as soon as possible. 

During the first stage of childbirth (the dilatation stage), 
even the m.ost active woman should entirely subordinate her- 
, self to the inner forces — a passive, cooperative, patient endur- 
ance of the process is her only task. There are women who 
cannot tolerate this behavior. They want to take the birth 
into their own hands at once, they want to do something, and 
refuse to subordinate themselves either to inner forces or to 
external advice. Like any other manifestation of excessive 
activity, this behavior may express a primary tendency or a 
defense against fear. If the innervation processes of the first 
phase are marked by excessive tension, if the impulses are influ- 
enced by fear or an excessive propensity to active participation, 
the phenomena of labor lose their normal spontaneity, and the 
process is disturbed. On the other hand, an overpassively sub- 
missive attitude toward the innervation forces can prolong the 
dilatation phase, so that the progressive contractions take place 
slowly, lazily, or not at all: the birth is stalemated. 

In this phase external influence can be very potent. I recall 
one defiant woman who, upon discovering that she was serving 



as an object of study for some medical students, immediately 
interrupted her labor pains, and did it again each time a stu- 
dent approached her. Another woman, who shortly before 
had been under psychoanalytic treatment, could not continue 
her labor until she secured confirmation by telephone of the 
sympathetic interest and proximity of her psychoanalyst. I 
was unable to learn the motives for the stubbornness of the 
first woman; as for the second, I discovered that what was in 
question was not exhortation or encouragement, but deep- 
rooted transference motives that endow^ed the analyst with 
magic powers. 

The situation is different in the second or expulsion phase. 
Now the w^oman in labor must perform a great physical and 
psychic task. Abdominal pressure in childbirth is secured 
only with great effort, and the pain grows steadily worse. 
The pressure begins rhythmically with the pains; carried for- 
ward by the internal physical contractions, her own will power, 
and external encouragement, the woman in labor consummates 
her individual act in the service of the species. 

Direct observation of women in labor leaves no doubt that 
childbirth is experienced as a strenuous act of accomplishment 
and that it requires tremendous mastery over fear and suffer- 
ing. The shock of the pains and the excitation of the motor 
apparatus obviously reduce the capacity for receiving external 
impressions. All former joys and mortifications become pale 
and unimportant, communication betw^een the ego of the 
woman in labor and the environment is reduced solely to 
matters directly connected with the birth process. Her ac- 
tivity is fully taxed, her accomplishment is connected with a 
tense “listening'' to the innervation processes, and everything 
else, present, past, and future, seems to vanish. Nevertheless, 
sometimes the sense impressions directly connected with the 
delivery seem to be excessively sharp, almost paranoic, and 
the woman in travail has a tendency to misinterpret, mishear, 

Despite her anxious concentration on her own ego, the idea 
of service to the species and concern about the child assert 


themselves, Irving, in his book Safe Deliverance, calls atten- 
tion to a peculiar type of behavior®: 

Those who have suiFered a severe hemorrhage and still remain conscious 
have a strange sense of detachment from reality. They are aware of the 
activities about them and of their meaning, and they sense the anxiety of the 
doctors and nurses who are making every effort to overcome a dangerous 
situation, but they are the least worried of those in the room. Although 
they realize the possibility of death, they have no fear of its event, which 
they face with an almost oriental equanimity. As long as their mental facul- 
ties abide with them, for unconsciousness alone brings restlessness, there is 
no fear, no agony, no frenzy, no struggle to escape. 

From women who have gone through very difficult but for 
the most part spontaneous deliveries, I have heard that shortly 
before taking narcotics and submitting to the necessary inter- 
vention they experienced the state described by Irving, but 
with the difference that in their complete apathy they were 
still strongly preoccupied with the fate of their children and 
were tormented by worry about their survival. 

The psychoanalyst's contribution to knowledge of the birth 
process in this respect is the observation that unconscious 
psychic influences have free access to the above mentioned 
concentration on an active accomplishment. During this 
period of reduced consciousness their influence can be even 
stronger than in normal states. It is usually because of them 
that a w^ell initiated labor stops, that the contractions become 
too strong or too weak, that they do not function at the right 
moment, or that they function in a paradoxic way. Instead oj 
relaxation there is contraction, instead of a pushing forward 
there is a closing, barring movement, etc. In some cases one 
can observe a sudden cessation of the woman’s participation 
she protects herself from the rising fear and the pains by letting 
herself slip into passivity. Other women want to preserve 
their active control to such an extent that they free themselves 
from the normal rhythm of the process and cause a kind ot 
confusion of the contracting activity. The conflict between 

® Irving, F. C.: Safe deliverance. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1942, p. 299. 



the active and passive tendencies may also resort to physical 
phenomena in order to express itself. 

If, on the basis of previous analytic knowledge of the woman, 
later analysis can reconstruct the experiences she communi- 
cates as they have emerged from her complete or partial am- 
nesia, the disturbances during her delivery can be fully under- 
stood. First of all, it must be mentioned that the restful 
intervals, the semisleep between two pains, is often filled with 
dreams and hypnagogic hallucinations. During the interval, 
unresolved and unmastered psychic tendencies associated with 
delivery emerge as in a dream and it is usually difficult to 
discover whether one is dealing with a real dream, a hypnagogic 
hallucination, or a fantasy. The pain and organic sensations 
during delivery are obviously connected during the rest pauses 
with psychic contents. The delivery dream recounted in the 
following case description of an obsessonal-neurotic patient 
who had interrupted her analysis immediately before delivery, 
and resumed it immediately afterward, seems to offer a classic 

Mrs. Bird was a a5-year-old woman who had been married 
for three years when she began her analysis. She had a 
symptomatic obsessional neurosis concerning cleansing and 
dressing-up ceremonials. She also suffered from headaches 
that were diagnosed as migraine. She wanted to have chil- 
dren, but neither she nor her husband dared to consider this a 
possibility because of her neurosis. She clung to her husband, 
who was included in her ceremonials to the extent that he too 
was forced to subject himself to certain cleansing procedures. 
Both were musicians. Mrs. Bird was a talented and ambitious 
cellist, as well as a teacher of composition and theory. 

After a few months of analysis her condition improved to 
such an extent that she ventured to think of having a baby, 
and soon afterward became pregnant. Her pregnancy pro- 
ceeded without the slightest complication; her only complaint 
from time to time was that she did not have much feeling for 
the child. My impression was that Mrs. Bird, whose emo- 
tional life, in accordance with the emotional constellation of an 



obsessional neurotic, constantly wavered between love and 
hatred, did not trust her own feelings, and considered her 
normal attitude toward a still only fantasied child a sign of her 
emotional derangement She was overjoyed at the idea of 
having a child and made all the proper preparations for its 
birth. But as her pregnancy advanced, her conflicts became 
more acute. She admitted that the child would not disturb 
her professional activity, for she could easily give her lessons 
at home. But would not the child interfere with the develop- 
ment of her talent? Would she be able really to devote her- 
self to her child? Would she have time to devote herself both 
to her child and to her profession? 

Mrs. Bird knew that these problems had nothing in com- 
mon with the question of time and energy, but arose from the 
fundamental conflict’ between her masculinity and her femi- 
ninity. Up until then she had solved this conflict relatively 
well because she had sublimated whatever was masculine in her 
nature by her professional work. Now she justly felt this 
solution to be threatened. 

The beginning of her delivery was normal. She was one of 
those women who can find an excellent outlet for their active 
tendencies in delivery. She cooperated energetically without 
complaining of pains. At one point the midwife told her not 
to press too much. Just then a longer pause occurred and 
Mrs. Bird relaxed into a half-sleep, during which she had the 
following dream. She had a terrible headache, thought that 
her head was falling apart, and that from it a number of little 
elves were emerging, who danced around in a circle. Then 
she awoke under the impact of a new labor pain; from then on 
her pains grew weaker instead of stronger, her labor was stag- 
nant, and she had to have external help to complete it. She 
gave birth to a son, experienced all the maternal joys without 
the slightest emotional derangement, and her obsessional- 
neurotic symptoms recurred only after several weeks, during 
the lactation period. 

The interpretation of her dream was easy because I knew 
her psychic situation as a whole. The transfer of the pain 


from a lower to a higher zone was prefigured in the earlier 
migraine, w^hich we had even before suspected of concealing 
birth fantasies. Whether this conjecture was correct is ir- 
relevant; but it was available to be used in the dream, because 
a few days before her delivery the patient had stated that she 
had had no headaches for several months, whereupon I re- 
marked facetiously: “YouVe found another place for the 

The direct influence of the analysis on the dream was ap- 
parent from the fact that a little while earlier, during her 
pains, the patient had exhorted herself to be courageous, re- 
ferring to her analysis and her analyst, and saying that the 
latter W'Ould be proud of her behavior. 

The conflict between her masculinity and her femininity was 
beautifully illustrated by this dream: in it she gave birth 
through her head, as Zeus bore Athene, i.e., like a man. In her 
conflict she also tried to achieve the goal of her treatment: 
what she gave birth to in her dream was not a masculine 
woman, but tiny, white, tender, very feminine little beings 
w^ho did not wield a cello but danced around in a circle like 
women. The substitution of many girls for the one she wished 
for boy had multiple determinants. The visual impression of 
a jar of sterile cotton pads at which she looked before falling 
asleep in the delivery room was one provocatory influence. 

Mrs. Bird showed with particular clarity how woman’s 
whole emotional personality is set in motion during the act of 
birth and how her unconscious asserts its influence despite 
her intense concentration on the immediate situation. This 
justifies the assumption that such unconscious tendencies also 
assert themselves directly in the bodily functions and that they 
can influence the course of delivery. 

Other patients think that they can recall having had flying 
dreams during delivery; in these all the sexual symbolism 
familiar from analytic experience is manifested with particu- 
lar clarity. 

Still others tell of persecution dreams, the peculiar charac- 
teristic of which is that they are connected with bodily sensa- 



tions. In such dreams wild beasts chase the dreamer, or a 
sharp claw or tooth is plunged into some part of her body* 
She tries to flee, but her persecutors run after her from behind 
while she faces another danger in front. What is common and 
typical in all such dreams is the motor excitation in connection 
with the feeling of being crippled and unable to reach one’s 
goal. My impression is that such dreams actually reproduce 
the general picture of the birth process. The bodily pain 
manifests itself in the dream and the motor activity is ex- 
perienced as flight and inhibition because the woman in labor 
actually feels dominated by a motor power that she cannot 
-escape. Fear is manifested here even by women who main- 
tain emphatically that they have no fear of childbirth. The 
projective mechanisms with which we are familiar in the dreams 
of pregnant women, and in which the child is the mother herself, 
come to the fore in delivery dreams in another form also. The 
same mechanisms are familiar to us from the dreams of persons 
operated upon (before and after operation) : they dream that 
they are witnessing operations performed on other persons. 
The woman in labor sometimes resorts to the same projective 
mechanism in order directly to represent delivery, with another 
' person as the chief actor. 

Sometimes the dreams represent direct wish fulfillments: 
the child is seen as already born, and its sex and appearance 
completely fulfill the mother’s fondest expectations. 

It must be said that reports about such dreams as direct 
memories are rare. The whole birth process is for the most 
part subject to amnesia, and only details are preserved with 
particular vividness — usually in relation to peripheral facts, 
not to affective impressions. Sometimes all the external events 
are preserved in the memory with photographic accuracy, 
while the woman’s emotional experiences are completely buried. 
These reappear in analysis, like the dreams. Only the tem- 
poral sequence is usually entirely lost, and it is often difficult 
to find out with clarity whether the dream sensation was 
actually experienced during an interval between pains, at the 
beginning of the delivery, or later, before or shortly after anes- 


thesia if there was any. Nor can one always establish a de- 
marcation between fantasies during half-sleep and real dreams. 
But the fact of the psychologic experience and of its relation to 
delivery is indisputable. 

In Mrs. Bird the time of the dream could be accurately es- 
tablished. Up until it occurred she had been active in con- 
trolling the birth process; she was dominated by the feeling 
'‘I can do it myself’ and was fully conscious of her contribu- 
tion. Under the violent impact of rising pain and fear, which 
she was now forced to admit, she suddenly felt herself seized 
by a power stronger than herself. She had the impression that 
she had to yield to a fate, to a feminine fate. The significance 
of childbirth as her own accomplishment, in which she could 
eicperience herself as fully active and masculine, paled; she felt 
that she was becoming a weak, yielding creature, a woman. 
She wanted to call for the physician’s help, after the fashion of 
women — '‘I can’t stand it any longer” — and while struggling 
against this wish she had her dream. After delivery she was 
ashamed of her weakness and blamed her analytic treatment 
for it. She postponed resuming her treatment, was preoc- 
cupied with her now more complicated household, and decided 
to resume her analysis only when she began to manifest symp-' 
toms in her relationship with her child. Although she was glad 
to have a child, she accused her analyst of having forced her to 
become pregnant and thus to have the not only painful but 
also “degrading” experience of childbirth. 

The fact that she was reborn in her dream as little white 
elves was the presage of the later success of analysis in her 

Mrs. Bird was a typical representative of the masculine- 
active type of woman, who wants her delivery to be an active 
accomplishment on her part. The distortion of feminine ac- 
tivity into masculinity results in complications of childbirth. 
The nature of these was easy to distinguish in her case because 
they sprang from the same sources as her neurotic symptoms. 

At the opposite extreme we find those women who expe- 
rience childbirth in complete passivity. Even during preg- 



nancy such a woman does not consider herself the possessor of 
the child nor responsible for what may happen. She is merely 
the bearer of a fruit that will be born from her. Nature, God, 
providence will guide the birth, and the powers of the outside 
world — the mother and the husband — will see to the necessary 
details. These grownups are omniscient; after all, the prospec- 
tive mother herself cannot know how she should behave. 
Many women push this ignorance and passive submission to 
such a point that in their eyes it is a mistake to know anything 
at all, and they regard all knowledge as disturbing. They 
blindly follow other people’s instructions and, like children, 
are interested only in getting rid of their fear and being sub- 
jected to as little pain as possible. Their behavior during 
pregnancy is characteristic: they are always with their mothers 
(or substitute mothers) or they let their husbands take over 
their activity as much as possible. They are happy and 
amiable, and only when their passivity is accompanied by a 
large amount of infantile narcissism do they become problems: 
in the latter case they become very impatient during the last 
phase of pregnancy and insist upon hastening delivery, be- 
cause they cannot control their impatience. The limit of 
masochistic tolerance is very low in them, and narcissism 
wins the upper hand. 

It is interesting to note that all one can learn from such 
a woman about her delivery is that “it was something terrible,” 
or that “it was magnificent” — she “did not feel anything.” 
For such a passive and infantile woman the whole act somehow 
has a magic character; she simply projects into the outside 
world what has been injected into her in coitus. Her ego 
secures freedom from fear by subordinating itself from the 
beginning to the powers that represent life and death. 

The hostility that she, like all girls, once felt toward her 
mother no longer threatens her, because from the very begin- 
ning she gives the child back to her mother, so to speak — the 
same child that she once begrudged her mother or wanted to 
take away from her. If such a woman is under analytic treat- 
ment, her relation to her analyst shows that her whole personal- 


ity is the opposite of that of the aggressive woman. As soon 
as her labor pains begin, she communicates this fact to her 
analyst through her closest friend, often through her mother. 
It is easy to understand why: the analyst is for her another 
mother substitute who should participate in the birth and in 
the event of danger help her together with her real mother. 

After childbirth she is impatient for the analyst's visit; vShe 
wants as soon as possible to show' her the baby and express her 
gratitude. “1 owe you the child," she says, even if the psycho- 
analytic treatment has had little to do with her motherhood. 

By their gentle, submissive behavior, these women want to 
achieve the same tw'o goals in childbirth that the others seek 
to attain by their active-aggressive behavior: (i) self-preserva- 
tion, which to them is equivalent to passive avoidance of pain 
and dangers, and ( 2 ) the fulfillment of the wish for a child 
under conditions that eliminate the old threat ‘‘You will have 
no child." These conditions consist in subordination to the 
grownups' omnipotence, a subordination that frees them from 
their sense of guilt and all responsibility. 

Some of these women have always displayed an infantile, 
passive-dependent behavior, and even during pregnancy re- 
main true to this definite type. Despite her great pride in 
her approaching motherhood and her good physical condition, 
this W'Oman in pregnancy appears like a little girl playing with 
dolls. Often she does not disclose the full extent of her pas- 
sivity during pregnancy and behaves in an adult manner during 
this period; only the assault of fear at the approach of delivery 
makes her regress to a passive-infantile behavior. 

In the present stage of obstetrics, it is impossible in the case 
of many of these women to speak of an act of childbirth at all. 
They are delivered before they have any knowledge of the 
process, before they have had time to develop fear, let alone 
master it. Formerly, when it was possible to observe the be- 
havior of such infantile women in spontaneous delivery, one 
could see that their willingness to yield passively was often 
accompanied by very aggressive manifestations of protest. 
The victim of such aggression was usually the mother, as well 



as her substitute, the midwife. Since this type is apparently 
frequent, the midwives usually displayed great patience and 
tolerance toward such women, recognizing the childish charac- 
ter of their behavior. 

I directly observed the delivery of a young woman whom 
I shall call Dolly. A few months before, she had been treated 
during a brief period for agoraphobia. With every labor pain 
she had a fit of rage that she expressed by striking the mid- 
wife with the wet compress that the latter was holding to her 
head. This rage was particularly intensified when the mid- 
wife spoke encouragingly to her and urged her to bear down. 
When I entered the room, upon the patient’s urgent requests, 
her behavior changed completely. She suppressed her aggres- 
sion and behaved in a very grown-up manner. At the same 
time she began to manifest violent symptoms of fear — sweating, 
heart pounding, increased urge to move her bowels, etc. 

Later, in the course of analysis, I learned that Dolly had 
wanted to show me how brave and patient she was. She sup- 
pressed her aggression only to reveal that it served as a defense 
against her anxiety: when she gave up this defense her fear 
broke through. Analysis showed that she developed this 
vicious circle in other situations too: whenever she was pro- 
voked to rage she first suppressed it and felt anxiety instead; 
then, to get rid of her anxiety, she discharged her aggression 
in fits of rage. Her relationship with her analyst was so 
strongly influenced by her old mother relationship that the 
analyst’s visit completely changed the character of her de- 
livery. It so happened that several years before, the analyst 
had been delivered of a child in the same hospital — a fact 
that the patient learned from the midwife after the analyst’s 
visit. The midwife was delighted to answer the patient’s 
questions about this delivery in great detail and thus un- 
wittingly caused the patient in the subsequent course of her 
delivery to imitate the analyst. 

Her tendency to passive identification with her mother 
(or substitute mother) gave Dolly’s childbirth a character that 
had little in common with her own personality. The midwife 


and the obstetrician thought naively that what was involved 
was a kind of hypnotic suggestion. At that time the phe- 
nomena of identification and the strong dependence of all 
organic processes upon psychic processes were not as well known 
as they are today. 

Many women behave as Dolly did during delivery. They 
are unable to master the function by themselves, they demand 
external help, and react with rage or fear to their own helpless- 
ness. Their furious reproach against the grownups is twofold: 
because of the grownups' omnipotence these childish women 
expect that they will be spared pain and suffering, and because 
of an equally childish urge to independence they v/ant to carry 
out the act of childbirth themselves, although they sense from 
the outset that they cannot. If active help is given them, 
they fear loss of their independence and grow angry. They 
sense that childbirth is a task that an adult woman should be 
able to accomplish by herself and actively, but their child- 
ishness makes them incapable of this. 

It is interesting that Dolly explained her anger toward the 
midwife on the ground that the woman’s exhortations — ‘‘Bear 
down, make an effort, try” — reminded her of her governess, 
who had encouraged her in a similar fashion when she was 

Mrs. Bird and Dolly represent two opposite types of women 
in labor, and their behavior can be understood only with the 
aid of close analysis. The passive, childish Dolly went through 
with a normal, active delivery of an adult character after hav- 
ing displayed her real nature only at the beginning. She 
achieved this by means of identification. The masculine- 
active Mrs. Bird tried at the very beginning to fight her child- 
birth fear and pains with her own activity, in order to achieve 
possession of the child through her own efforts. Since this 
activity consisted in a masculine-aggressive striving, it con- 
flicted with her femininity and she was unable to complete her 
efforts successfully. 

Another approach to understanding of the psychic processes 
of delivery is supplied by certain elementary physiologic 



mechanisms whose significance in all the reproductive func- 
tions we mentioned in chapter iii. These are the mechan- 
isms of retention and expulsion. This organically determined 
double direction of the innervations mobilizes associations with 
functions that relate to other groups of organs — for instance, 
with excretory functions. 

Because of this functional analogy, childbirth awakens the 
psychic contents that have accompanied the excretory processes 
at various life periods. It is sujfficient to recall the birth fan- 
tasies of the little girl observed by Barrett, to understand how 
easily the process of birth, because of its actual similarity to 
bowel movements, can revive the earlier situation and its 
emotional accompaniments. Such secondary, anachronistic re- 
vivals of psychic contents connected with early functional 
activity can easily become the starting point of disturbances 
in the process of childbirth. 

As early as 1923, Eisler,® in his article ‘‘On Hysterical Phe- 
nomena in the Uterus,’' described a case in which, despite an 
absolutely normal organic condition and good psychic dispo- 
sition, the labor was extraordinarily sluggish. After the pro- 
cess had dragged on for three days, the gynecologist made up 
his mind to intervene. Preparations for use of the forceps were 
being made when suddenly the delivery began spontaneously. 
According to Eisler, “it was almost as though the dreaded 
instrument could be so powerful here because the previous 
psychic development of the patient had created a definite 
disposition for such a reaction.” 

In Eisler’s patient, the retention of the fetus could be ex- 
plained as due to the influence of repressed anal tendencies. 
At the age of 6, around the time that her younger sister was 
born, the patient began, quite like the little girl described by 
Barrett, to suffer from stubborn constipation. She had never 
entirely given up this symptom and apparently had trans- 
ferred her constipation to childbirth. However, personal ex- 
perience has shown repeatedly that such influences upon the 
innervation processes are never explainable as due to the mere 

® Eisler, J. M.: t)ber hysterische Erscheinungen im Uterus. Internat. Ztschr. f. 

Psychoanal., vol. 9, 1923. 



repetition of analogous physioicgic (in this case intestinal) 
mechanisms. Some difficulty in the actual life situation or in 
the emotional relationship to the child, fear of separation, in- 
tolerance of labor pains, etc., must be present as agents prow- 
cateurs to set a preformed mechanism in motion. An intense 
emotional relationship with the obstetrician, having the charac- 
ter of a transference of old infantile emotions to him, can be 
particularly suitable for such provocation. Physicians who 
have taken the time to observe psychologic phenomena know 
that the threat of intervention can very often — as in the case of 
Eisler’s patient — make the actuality unnecessary^ and that 
conversely many women fail to be active in childbirth because 
they expect external intervention and can, as it were, extort 
the lulfillment of such a frequently compulsive whsh by^ un- 
consciously creating difficulties. 

One case I observed shows clearly how profoundly repressed 
memories of former functions can by’^ analogy influence the 
process of birth. Mrs. White, aged 24, had suffered from 
hysterical symptoms as a young girl: she thought she had a 
lump in her throat (globus hystericus), had occasional fits 
of vomiting and fainting, temporary anxiety states, etc. All 
these symptoms were of a light and passing nature and gradu- " 
ally disappeared with the help of psychotherapy. She married 
under favorable conditions, soon became pregnant, and felt 
very well during her pregnancy. She awaited her delivery 
with calm and was intellectually well prepared for what was 
to come. It was a great surprise to her and the persons around 
her that she was seized with a violent fit of anxiety when her 
water broke prematurely. In a kind of panic she called her 
obstetrician, who told her through his assistant that there was 
nothing to fear, that she should continue to observe her symp- 
toms and communicate with him again. But Mrs. White 
could not compose herself; her fear increased, making it neces- 
sary to resort to sedatives, and her mother insisted upon 
psychiatric intervention. It was clear to the objective ob- 
server that after her water broke she was afraid that she might 
be delivered too quickly, before the obstetrician got there. 



Her belief that without him everything would go badly was 
determined by the childish character of her relationship to him ; 
yet she felt obliged, because she was a grownup, to repress 
her intense need of his immediate presence. The psychiatrist 
recognized the situation and felt that at the moment there was 
nothing to do but to give in to her wish. However, the rhythm 
of the delivery was already disturbed, and as a result of in- 
sufficient active labor, intervention proved necessary. 

A few years later Mrs. White, who since this occurrence had 
suffered from all sorts of nervous symptoms, decided to be 
analyzed. Only then was it possible to gain insight into her 
anxiety at the beginning of her delivery. All her psychic 
conflicts had begun in prepuberty, when she suffered from 
enuresis nocturna, which for a period of two years completely 
spoiled her life. This symptom proved refractory to medical 
treatment but later spontaneously disappeared, yielding to the 
other symptoms mentioned above. Pregnancy fantasies typi- 
cal of puberty contributed to the formation of the symptoms, 
including her enuresis. Although her real pregnancy was 
free of regressive elements, the similarity between her old bed 
wetting and her uncontrollable loss of the amniotic fluid shat- 
^ tered the relatively good superstructure that had been built 
over her old conflicts and set her old neurotic fears in motion. 

Nor was this all. During her pregnancy, the patient's 
intellectual knowledge about the amniotic fluid mobilized 
specific old ideas. In this fluid, she thought, the child swims 
like a fish in water; it feeds on the water and, like a fish, dies 
when it does not receive enough of its life element. She also 
referred facetiously to the fetus as ‘‘my little goldfish." When 
the water broke she was afraid that the child would die unless 
it was rescued without delay. 

This fear seems to have been the main reason tor the failure 
of her labor. The inhibition of the autonomic nervous system 
was comparable to the typical motor inhibition in anxiety states 
that produce, instead of fast running, absolute inability to 

Mrs. White was of course neurotically predisposed and her 


behavior was certainly abnormal. But if one recalls that the 
boundary between normal and abnormal is very uncertain 
precisely in hysterically predisposed persons, and that birth 
fantasies and infantile theories are always present in feminine 
psychic life, one can understand how easily the shock and nor- 
mal fear of delivery provokes the latent old, more or less mas- 
tered fears. 

Childbirth is even more closely analogous to coitus than to 
the other bodily functions. The idea that coitus and childbirth 
are really a single process that begins with intake and retention 
and terminates with giving and expelling, fits into the frame- 
work of the biologic facts. The biologic act begins at the 
moment of fecundation, continues throughout pregnancy, 
reaches its climax in labor, and gradually ends in birth. 

This dramatic unity predetermined by nature, the progress of 
events from the first to the last act, the conditioning of one by 
the other, the continuity of development, are not only bio- 
logic but also psychic. The experience of delivery is psycho- 
logically prefigured in coitus, the individual reactions during 
pregnancy foreshadow the nature of the delivery, and the 
birth itself is only the denouement of the drama. 

We have referred more than once to the double task of the 
female sexual apparatus. To some extent there is a division of 
labor. The vagina is destined to receive the male germ cells, 
while the uterus serves as a soil for the fecundated ovum. 
The vagina receptively opens the gate to life for the child, the 
uterus supplies the forces to expel it when ripe. The vagina 
takes over the pleasure of conception, the uterus the torment 
and pain of delivery. The female rhythm of retention and 
expulsion dominates both coitus and birth. In coitus this 
rhythm is set in motion by the active intervention of the male, 
in delivery by biologic processes of a chemical and mechanical 
character. Ferenezi^® calls attention to this fact: ‘'It is striking 
with what consistency coitus and delivery are represented by 

Ferenczi, S.: Op. cit. 



the same symbol of rescue from danger, especially from water, 
in dreams, neuroses, myths, folklore.” 

Rankii stresses the identification of bread and the phallus in 
the formation of myths and also notes: “What is produced in 
the oven, bread, is also likened to what is produced in the 
mother’s body, the child.” This identification relates not only 
to the functions but also to their instruments and products. 

Clinical observation supplies us with rich opportunities to 
find such analogies. The pain, the fear, the pleasure asso- 
ciated with the pain, the wound suffered and the compensatory 
prize, the passive yielding and the active mastering, the over- 
coming of psychic and physical difficulties — all these strengthen 
the identity of the two acts, an identity that has deep biologic 

We have discussed the case of a woman who could enjoy 
the pleasure of intercourse only if she could at the same time 
imagine the pains of delivery (Mrs. Andrews). We lack 
clinical material to illustrate the converse. According to 
Groddeck,"* “the harrowing labor pains conceal quantities of 
pleasure that are denied to man.” In my experience — con- 
trary to Groddeck’s idea — no evidence of this pleasure can be 
• found in the behavior of women during delivery nor in their 
conscious memories. But psychoanalysis constantly encount- 
ers the identity between the pleasure of coitus and the pain of 
delivery in associative connections, in dreams, and in neurotic 
symptoms. To cite a few examples among many: Epileptic 
and hysterical fits, agoraphobia and claustrophobia, contain 
both elements as constant determinants, partly in bodily mani- 
festations, partly in fantasies. 

The identity of the two experiences can be seen in every 
feminine woman’s later reactions to them : she forgets the pain, 
retains only the memory of gratification, and yearns for repeti- 
tion of it. 

^Ranic, O.: Psychoanalytische Beitrage zur Mythenforschung. Vienna: Internat. 

Psychoanal. Verlag, 1919, p. 27. 

^Groddeck, G.: The book of the id. New York, 1928. 



The value of delivery in the psychic economy can be great 
in all cases. In Mrs. Bird’s and Dolly’s, this was proved 
in the course of later analysis, Mrs. Bird’s urge to activity 
found expression in an accomplishment that formerly was 
intended to gratify her masculine tendencies. Soon after her 
delivery the child was no longer the object of her ambitious 
fantasy (‘‘my” product), but a beloved being whom she could 
love maternally. The experience of delivery contributed ma- 
terially to this change of attitude: through it Mrs. Bird realized 
that she could be active and produce values without being 

It is probable that in the case of Dolly delivery would not 
have had any psychologic effects without the analytic treat- 
ment that followed it. Her passivity depriv^ed her experience 
of all dynamic force. Only analysis helped her to transform 
her passive identification with her mother into an advanced, 
active one. As we have seen, the delivery itself had given 
Dolly an opportunity to endow her passive identification with 
a somewhat active character. Her former inability to ex- 
perience life otherwise than in passive identification was due to 
the weakness of her ego, to a developmental inhibition, which 
made her avoid all responsibility and leave it entirely to the" 
grownups because of her faith in their omnipotence. The 
combined action of two factors helped her to find her way to 
reality: her analytic treatment strengthened her ego, and her 
motherhood helped her to overcome her infantile identifica- 
tion with her mother. 

The favorable Influence of delivery as such can be clearly 
described." Above all, a cathartic effect inheres in the active 
mastering of a fear experience, provided that the woman’s 
active participation is sufficiently great. There is also the 
catharsis through suffering, which certainly can have a con- 
siderable effect. During all the preliminary phases of mother- 
hood, the threat “You will not have a child” was present. 
In delivery the ego, supported by the reality of the child, can 
ignore this threat, because the old guilt feeling, bribed by the 
suffering of labor, no longer opposes the enjoyment of the 



However, it is not the mere fact of suJfFering that has such 
great importance in woman’s psychic economy, but rather the 
activity accompanying the suffering, which pursues its aim 
in spite of the suffering. Although this activity is outside the 
domain of the will, it is subjectively experienced as an act of 
will. Sometimes one has the impression that pain itself — 
the suffering and the mastering of it — has the effect of a fer- 
ment on the emotional life. Yet the chief drawback of freedom 
from pain consists in the fact that it can be achieved only under 
conditions that exclude other psychic energies, independent of 
pain, from the experience. For instance, the transfer of 
emotions from the woman’s own ego to the child as object is 
prepared even during the act of birth. But in painless de- 
liveries this process is weakened. At bottom, despite her 
protests and her pleas to be relieved of all pain, the woman 
wants to fight the birth pains largely with her own resources, 
and is ready to accept a certain amount of pain for the sake of 
the fullness of her experience. In some women this desire 
assumes the form of an idealization of the biblical curse: ‘‘I 
will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow 
thou shalt bring forth children” (Gen. 3: 16). Similarly the 
'•modern German woman, whipped into a state of hysterical 
fanaticism, asks to be allowed to suffer great pain for her 
'Buhrer when giving birth to her race-dedicated child. 

Religious and nationalistic women utilize ideologies to ration- 
alize their masochistic yearning, because it has reached ab- 
normal, destructive proportions. But a moderate amount 
of masochism is normal and aids in toleration of the pain that 
woman must undergo in the course of reproduction. 

With regard to expressions of pain, women in labor behave in 
various ways. There are women who from beginning to end 
do not utter a sound, and there are women who behave like 
wild beasts. Some later deny that they suffered intensely; 
others incessantly recount how awful it was. Tolerance or 
intolerance of pain is certainly highly complex and determined 
by multiple factors. The well-being or misery of the expectant 
mother, and her joyful expectation or rejection of the child, 
undoubtedly influence her limit of tolerance of pain and her 



readiness to accept it. The highest expression of intolerance 
is flight into anesthesia through narcotics, with complete loss 
of consciousness. On the basis of rny own experience, I feel 
that this passive giving up of consciousness is not always an 
expression of real intolerance of pain but rather an escape from 
an unbearable fear. 

Some women, despite violent pains and the desire of their 
doctors to relieve them, protest against narcosis even more than 
against their suffering. Their fear of being physically re- 
stricted is intensified, because they feel that while under the 
influence of narcotics they will completely lose control of their 
senses and physical functions, that they will be completely at 
the mercy of arbitrary external powers and unable to defend 
themselves, that something terrible will be done to them, or 
that they themselves will be impelled to do something wild. 
Some carefull}^ watch the preparations for the delivery, others 
control themselves and w^orriccUy ask upon awakening what 
they did and said in narcosis. 

The threat of loss of consciousness heightens the fear of 
death. In this respect a woman in labor differs little from 
women about to be operated upon in a state of narcosis. 

Many women misuse the pain they must suffer. A hysteri- 
cal woman makes a great show of her suffering before the 
persons attending her and demands compensation for it; an 
obsessional-neurotic or depressive woman, tormented by guilt 
feelings, punishes herself by protracting and aggravating her 
suffering; an aggressive-malicious w^oman uses her pains to 
awaken a guilt feeling in her husband: '‘You have done this.” 
For the husband of such a woman, painless delivery doubtless 
assures a greater safeguard against this reproach. Feminine- 
loving women retain no vestige of this reaction after cessation 
of the pains. But all these are distortions and secondary uses 
of delivery that have nothing in common with its primary 
psychologic significance. Incidentally, they often assume 
considerable therapeutic importance, and cure or alleviation 
of neurotic ailments through delivery is more common than 
negative consequences. 



Medical science does not content itself with intervening in 
pathologic phenomena, but is rapidly extending its mastery 
to the normal physiologic processes. Science endeavors to 
conquer nature and its imperfections, and to correct whatever 
damage civilization has done to nature. Even in normal cases, 
the duration of delivery now depends upon the obstetric 
technic used, pain is mastered with the help of drugs, and fear is 
conquered by gradual lessening of the mother’s active par- 
ticipation in the process. Her role as birth giver is growing 
ever more passive. 

I question the desirability of this development. Woman’s 
active part in the delivery process, her lasting pride in her ac- 
complishment, the possibility of rapid reunion with her child, 
and some degree of gratification of that primary feminine 
quality that assigns pain a place among pleasure experiences in 
the psychic economy, are precious components of motherhood, 
and an effort should be made to preserve them. 

The psychiatrist and the obstetrician must combine to help 
nature to the best of their abilities. The obstetrician is 
usually unable to use his psychologic acuteness and possible 
interest in psychologic observation. He rarely has the time or 
the patience to listen to the woman’s fragmentary and often 
irrelevant utterances before, during, and after delivery. He 
pays little attention to them as a human being and even less as a 
scientist. He dashes from one delivery to another, often 
manages his cases so that they coincide in term, in order to be 
able to let as many women as possible profit from his expert 
help within a short time, and considers his task well done if 
everything goes smoothly. An important obstetrician, one 
of the few who admit the fact of psychologic influences in 
somatic processes, told me that in the course of his practice 
he had known only one woman who, upon awakening from 
her narcosis, refused to acknowledge her child as her own. 
Yet I knew that four of his patients had had that feeling but had 
never had the opportunity to communicate the fact to him. 

Nevertheless, the relation of the woman in labor to her ob- 
stetrician is of the greatest importance. It varies greatly 


according to the individual and reflects the total personality. 
But most important is the fact that the mastering of fear, and 
thereby the whole psychologic fate of the delivery, is often 
connected with this relationship. Sometimes the woman 
regards her doctor as an omniscient and omnipotent father 
figure and believes that nothing evil can happen to her while 
he is present. She submits blindly and passively to his wishes 
and orders. In other cases she trembles before his power and 
concentrates all her fear on his person; an aggressive per- 
son makes him the object of her aggression, a w^oman who 
needs love expects his sympathy, praise, ministrations, etc. 
Women show him only that aspect of their feelings which is 
connected with this relationship. Even if he has a sincere 
psychologic interest in his patients, their psychic reactions 
reach him detached from their context, in such a way that his 
direct observations remain somewhat vague. Therefore such 
observations cannot reveal the extent to which women's 
psychologic reactions have a constant significance rooted in 
biology, the extent to which they are dependent upon the actual, 
individual situation, etc. Only psychoanalysis can see the 
the experience of delivery from a distance, place it in the 
psychic whole, and disclose its real nature. Mrs. White's" 
reaction to her loss of water, for example, was absolutely 
incomprehensible until psychoanalytic observation gave it 
meaning. And there are innumerable similar examples. It 
is difficult to say whether they will eventually convince the 
gynecologists of the importance of psychologic factors. 

If the disturbing elements within and without are well 
mastered, if the delivery follows a normal, natural course, and 
if by direct emotional influence or other means the excess of 
fear and pain is successfully reduced, childbirth is the greatest 
and most gratifying experience of woman, perhaps of human 
beings. Two powerful factors make it so: first, the joy in ac- 
complishment that is connected with the mastering of fear 
and pain and with the woman's own activity; second, the 
happy relation with the child that begins immediately after 
delivery. The dynamism of this relationship is clear: the 



whole psychic energy tied to the labor and withdrawn from 
the outside world streams toward the child in the moment of 
delivery, and the newly achieved freedom from pain and fear 
creates a feeling of triumph and endows the first moment of 
motherhood with real ecstasy. It is not yet motherliness 
that characterizes the mother-child relationship— it is only 
the first foundation stone, perhaps even a reservoir from which 
springs the gradually developing love for the child. 

The last sediments of the deep-rooted anxiety as to whether 
the child is alive, whether it is normal, must still be rapidly 
disposed of. The woman’s individual wishes and hopes con- 
cerning the sex of the expected child often engender impatient 
curiosity. In almost all types of deliveries, the unmastered 
concern about the child manifests itself consistently until 
confrontation with him sets the mother’s mind at rest. 

A moment later disappointment may begin. Curiously 
enough, to paraphrase the saying, Om?7e animal post coitum 
triste est, one might say, Otnnis mulier post partum trisiis est — 
but as a rule not before she has experienced the ecstasy of 
motherhood. It is true that sometimes the order is reversed: 
instead of joy there is first sad disappointment, which only 
' gradually yields to joy; or exhaustion and irritation obscure 
the positive aspects of a given woman’s service to the species. 
It is not rare for a woman under these circumstances to admit 
openly that she does not feel anything for her child — that it is 
alien to her. The motives for this are numerous and not always 
clear. Apparently even the profound experience of delivery 
can be disavow’ed if painful ideas vitiate the realization of 
motherhood. Later we shall see that unmarried mothers who 
know that their motherhood will soon end frequently ad- 
mit absence of feeling rather than experience of grief at the 
imminent loss of the child. The same is true of unhappily 
married women who are ready to abandon their husbands and 
feel the emotional tie to the child as a disturbing element, or 
of hysterical women who have foreseen all these ecstasies in 
their luxuriant fantasies and to whom reality seems pale, or of 



obsessional-neurotic women who have found a refuge from 
their ambivalent emotions in indifference, or of emotionally- 
blunted, schizoid women who expect a revival of their 
emotional life from the birth of a child, but are unable to 
supply the inner capacity necessary for this. A large number 
of infantile, narcissistic women feel injured by their pains and 
efforts and hold this fact against the child. Man)r women are 
physically and psychically unequal to the great task of child- 
birth, and exhaustion is not a propitious soil for happiness. 

I have mentioned the fact that opportunities for study- 
ing the psychic processes in spontaneous delivery are becoming 
rarer. The observer in the room of a w'oman who has just 
awakened from anesthesia after being delivered of her child, 
does not hear any sound of happiness or joy. The last traces 
of terrific struggle are still visible: the blue marks on her body 
show that the woman in travail has exchanged the masochistic 
experience for a break-through of aggression. Under the effect 
of anesthetics and by the aggression aroused by the motor 
elements of the delivery process, her masochism is intensified 
to self-destructive fury, and she becomes likewise a fury against 
herself and a danger to others. Many women experience the 
first moment of motherhood after the birth of the child wTile 
still tied to their beds. In the room of such a patient one 
hears the voice of the nurse trying to soothe the mother’s ill 
humor by saying: ‘*You have a magnificent boy.” 

Whereupon a half-enraged, half-otherworldly voice answers: 
'Ts that so? That’s fine, very fine.” 

Another greets her child with a sad smile: 'Toor child, ex- 
posed to this cold world.” 

Between her and the child there is usually the barrier of 
separation, a reaction that has not been completely mastered. 

It is impossible to know whether and to what extent this 
inadequate first contact colors the later relation to the child. 
Perhaps not at all. Perhaps its only effect is that the woman is 
poorer for having missed a great experience. Perhaps both 
mother and child have been denied something profoundly 



important. Sometimes an introspective, sensitive mother is 
conscious of this loss. The following letter was put at my 
disposal by one mother. It should be entitled ‘'One for 
Many/’ and runs as follows: 

With two of my children I went through labor with no anesthetic until I 
was given gas for the last severe pains before delivery. In both cases I 
regained consciousness, while still in the delivery room, with a sense of elation 
and achievement. And in both cases I had the normal maternal conviction 
that I had produced the most superior baby in the hospital, if not in the 

With the third child I was given an injection of scopolamine and a seda- 
tive by mouth at the beginning of labor and remembered nothing from that 
time until I woke up in my room some hours later. My first reaction was 
that nothing had happened — it was all to do over again. When I realized 
that the baby had been born, I could summon up no great interest in seeing or 
hearing about it and wished only to be left alone so that I could go back to 
sleep. Even when I actually saw the child I had none of the proper emo- 
tions — no particular pride or conviction that this was my baby. I felt only 
that there was a pathetic little thing for whom I was responsible and before 
whom I must do my best to counterfeit an affection I did not honestly 

As I said before, this feeling — or rather lack of feeling — did not last, and 
if it had affected only me, I should not consider it of great importance. 
To be sure, I missed a satisfying emotional experience, but what is of far 
greater importance is that the child missed an early relationship the im- 
portance of which can hardly be overemphasized. 

It is hard to believe it was only coincidence that this particular child 
should have been reserved, shy, and suspicious where the other two were 
warm, happy, and confident. I cannot but feel that my early lack of in- 
terest and affection had a great deal to do with this. 

There is an increasing number of women who, without being 
actually neurotic, nevertheless behave in an unusual fashion 
after a technically perfect painless delivery. Something has 
happened during childbirth to disappoint such women and fill 
them with horror, and this now prevents them from developing 
love for the newborn. The child remains associated with the 
horror, a rejected alien object. The mother’s unconsciousness 
and nonpresence have left something unresolved in her. She 
has experienced the whole process uncreatively, not as giving 
life to a child, but as an operation that removed something 



harmful, something that she now confronts in the outside 
world. Delivery was for her like a trauma, the effects of 
which extend to the child and prevent her motherliness from 
flowering. It would be fruitful to subject such cases to a 
thorough study and to ascertain the relations between the 
traumatic experience and the existing disposition. 

Pathologic reactions after natural, painful deliveries are 
familiar to us. Confusion and states of excitement degenerat- 
ing into frenzy and impulse to suicide, destructive attacks on 
the child’s life, and so-called postpartum psychoses that auto- 
matically subside after the ebbing of the childbirth excite- 
ment, are all well known to psychiatry. Moreover, there are 
chronic ailments that begin with delivery. In so far as we 
are not dealing with sickness resulting from states of fever or 
exhaustion, we must assume that delivery constitutes such a 
severe and often specific ordeal for the emotional life that it 
can become a starting point of chronic neurotic and psy- 
chotic processes. It is noteworthy that a given experience 
sometimes has a therapeutic and sometimes a pathogenic 
effect. For instance, in some cases obsessional-neurotic states 
become much milder after delivery, in others they become 
acute; depressions are moderated, or arc intensified to the point " 
of becoming clinical conditions. 

Schizophrenias and depressions that break out with delivery 
have a specific content and character, even when only a provo- 
cation or hastening of a chronic process due to an existing 
disposition is involved. Zilboorg has studied the relation be- 
tween psychotic illnesses and the instinctual-dynamic and ego- 
psychologic processes in the reproductive function. All these 
observations were made independently of the type of delivery. 
However, one cannot help feeling that in some cases the 
abnormal reactions can be explained by the fact that the 
delivery took place in a state of unconsciousness. As I have 
said, I have observed women who after a prolonged delivery in 

Zilboorg, G,: Malignant psychoses related to childbirth. Am. J. Obst. & Gynec., 
vol. 15, 1928. Idem; The dynamics of schizophrenic reactions related to preg- 
nancy and childbirth. Am. J. Psychiat., vol. 8, 1929. 



narcotic sleep declared that the children presented to them were 
not theirs, that they had been interchanged with those of other 

In such cases the women are soon set right intellectually, but 
their emotional estrangement persists for a longer time. In 
two instances accessible to my analytic observation, severe 
obsessional neuroses were involved. In both there was a fully 
preserved sense of reality. In both cases anesthetics were 
administered immediately after the beginning of the labor 
pains. Both women were primiparas, happy at the prospect 
of having a child; their pregnancies had been favorable. Their 
weak emotional natures proved unable to bear the vacuum 
created between their expectation of the child and their first 
contact with it. Their estrangement from the child was too 
strong, and their disappointment at having missed the experi- 
ence expected by every woman produced in them the feeling 
“This cannot be my child, otherwise I would feel more for him.’’ 
Such feelings of estrangement are also familiar to us in schizoid 

In the a cases discussed here, the emotional derangement 
was, in my opinion, caused by the type of delivery. What 
seems to take place in this process is that as a result of the 
woman’s unconsciousness, the expected objectivization of the 
child’s existence, its projection into the outside world, is 
slowed up and, so to speak, detached from the context of the 
experience as a whole. The dynamism of the mother-child 
relationship is disturbed, because the child experienced in the 
outside world does not necessarily coincide with the child 
that was in the mother’s womb ; this is why the mother has the 
feeling “It is not my child.” Such a strong reaction to the 
violation of continuity naturally takes place only in women 
whose emotional disposition was deranged before, but, even 
so, such pathologic distortions are very instructive and de- 
serve careful study. 

The history of anesthesia is one of ever expanding progress. 
Interestingly enough, it was used for the first time in the same 



year that Semmelweis made his epochal stand for obstetric 
asepsis. In 1847 Sir James Simpson first used ether in ob- 
stetrics and soon replaced it with chloroform. In America, 
the new conquest of death by asepsis and of labor pains by 
anesthesia began in Boston. There Channing was the first 
to adopt Simpson’s innovation. 

In the last hundred years science has not rested in its efforts 
to spare women suffering. Nitrous oxide and oxygen, ether 
and quinine, morphine and magnesium sulfate, in various 
combinations, quantities, and manners of application, are all 
used. An ingenious combination of drugs can even achieve 
amnesia for the whole painful process. Scopolamine and 
morphine given hypodermically produce a kind of twilight 
sleep and complete amnesia, even though the pains are felt 
during the contractions. Amytal combined with scopolamine, 
codeine, or morphine seems to have a similar effect. Recently 
much use has been made of pernoston injected intramuscularly 
and intravenously, and satisfactory results seem to have been 
achieved with avertin. But the states of excitation produced 
by all these drugs justify the psychiatrist in questioning their 
absolute value from the point of view of psychic health. 

In the current attempts to find a method of delivery that ' 
eliminates all pain without affecting consciousness, some ob- 
stetricians employ lumbar or spinal anesthesia — so-called con- 
tinuous caudal anesthesia — and paravertebral block. I have 
investigated the experiences of several women with these meth- 
ods. All of them have the same feeling of an impersonal 
experience : 'Tt was as though it were happening in the movies.” 
They were happy over the births of their children, felt strong 
and well, but “something” was missing. One intelligent 
woman was able to give me a detailed description of her experi- 
ence. During the entire period of delivery she had a tense and 
oppressive feeling that, she said, was like a vague fear. She 
had great confidence in her physician’s ability and watched 
his efforts with some degree of objectivity. She compared 
her experience with a scene at a railroad station: somebody 
is waiting for the train, the railroad workers do their best to 



see to it that the train comes in on schedule, that it arrives 
without accident; perhaps it will be a little late. I asked her 
whether she had a happy feeling of expectation, as before the 
arrival of a beloved friend or relative. Curiously enough, 
this was not the case. The joyful realization that she was 
expecting a child had been lost somewhere in the course of her 
anesthesia and all her psychic energy was devoted to tense 
observation. Thus, although the process was analogous to a 
spontaneous birth, the attention was concentrated on other 
people’s activity. 

After the birth she was overjoyed at having the child. But 
the ecstasy of happiness w^as lacking, and she had a general 
feeling that she had missed something. Another woman who 
had been delivered under caudal anesthesia felt distinctly 
that her experience of delivery was disappointing and empty. 

From the psychologic point of view, this type of delivery 
has the advantage of rapid reunion with the child and freedom 
from the aftermath of narcosis. But the absence of the feel- 
ing of accomplishment is very marked. It is noteworthy that 
the woman usually does not realize this till later. 

I must add that I have heard of exactly identical reactions to 
very painful and exhausting deliveries. In these cases the pain 
and effort taxed the psychic energies to such a degree that the 
joyful reflux could not take place. It would be worth while 
systematically to examine a larger number of similar cases. 

Grantly Dick Read,^^ an English physician, is following an 
entirely different path. He is seeking a method of delivery 
that would assure a natural birth with as little pain as possible. 
He too holds fear responsible for all the troubles women suffer 
as a result of childbirth, and by means of systematic instruc- 
tion, preparation, and intelligent assistance he tries to keep 
the patient in labor free from fear and pain but lucidly and 
actively participating in the process. This method seems 
particularly favorable from a psychologic point of view, al- 
though the theoretic assumptions of Dr. Read’s impressive 
obstetric technic need correction. By attributing labor pains 

Read, G. D.: Childbirth without fear. New York: Harper, 1944. 


to fear alone — ''panic is caused by tension and tension by 
fear’' — he underestimates their organic causes. 

Nor does the fear of delivery arise from misinformation or 
inadequate preparation or training. Dr. Read takes a too 
realistic attitude toward this fear; he attributes it to bad en- 
vironmental influences and thus falls into the same error as 
those who believe that the young girl’s fear of menstruation 
can be eliminated by education (cf. voL i). Enlightenment 
plays the same important but not decisive part in childbirth as 
in menstruation. Occasionally intellectual insight dispels 
som.e of the fear, but not the deeply rooted inner anxiety. 
We have seen that this fear is determined by profound and 
multiple factors; the psychologic task of a woman in labor is to 
master it in a favorable manner, and Dr. Read’s great merit 
is that he has shown a way toward this end through the 
w^oman’s active participation in delivery, through increasing 
her optimism as to the future and her willingness joyfully to 
make the sacrifice of pain for her hope of the child. How- 
ever, Dr. Read underestimates the great importance of his 
personal influence, which is so powerful only because his pa- 
tients feel that the obstetrician deeply understands their psy- 
chic needs. Impressive as his method may be, I doubt that 
it can be developed into a standard technic. 

Medical technic continues to advance, and nothing can stop 
its forward march. But it is possible to try to perfect this 
technic in such a way that the dynamism of feminine psychic 
life is fully taken into account. Women often avidly accept 
the blessing of painless birth in complete ignorance of the fact 
that they are thereby renouncing the experience of birth and 
the ecstasy of the first contact with the child. The point of 
view of the woman’s conscious ego, which represents reality, is: 
'T want to have a child and I want to achieve this end wfith 
the least possible suffering and cost of energy.” The obste- 
trician is in alliance with this conscious ego, and the noblest 
aspect of his profession is his struggle to protect the woman and 
the child from danger and to reduce the mother’s pain as much 
as possible. His cold objectivity, which is concerned only with 



physical processes and disregards the psychologic condition, 
is perhaps better than an understanding that can help only 
very little and disturbs the objective, organic orientation. If 
psychogenic disturbances intervene in the physical process, 
psychologic help can come only from intuitive understanding 
or detailed objective knowledge of the given individual’s 
personality as a whole. Intuition is not everyone’s gift, and 
the obstetrician has no time for and usually no interest in 
detailed psychologic knowledge. The psychiatrist’s task is 
to communicate his knowledge to the obstetrician and to 
make useful suggestions to him. In the present stage of 
obstetrics, these suggestions are: (i) to find a technic of de- 
livery in which the psychic value of the mother’s active par- 
ticipation in the process is taken into account, and (2) to re- 
unite mother and child as soon as possible after birth. 

It seems that the method of caudal anesthesia elaborated by 
Lull and Hingson^® meets the second requirement. As for 
the first, the authors are trying to create a substitute for physi- 
cal activity by diverting the parturient 'woman’s interest 
(listening to radio, conversation, etc.). Though childbirth 
becomes less painful, we must not forget that the psychic 
dynamism is adversely affected by an omission of performance. 
The question requires further study. On the other hand, our 
psychologic suggestions should not conflict with the efforts 
to spare women suffering and to prevent the destructive effects 
of pain and fear. 

I am afraid that our youngest mothers, the very ones who 
are most eager to take advantage of modern technic and re- 
nounce the birth experience, are least able to cope with the 
negative aspects of this technic. Their development toward 
motherhood has met with difficulties from the beginning. 
And while our first concern here is with women, we must not 
forget that our science is not yet able to say whether the 
mother’s experience of childbirth is not the first foundation 
stone in the child’s future psychic life. 

«Lull, C. B,, and Hingson, R. A.: Control of pain in childbirth. Philadelphia: 

Lippincott, 1944* 



We have limited our observation to women giving birth to 
their first children. There is no doubt that for the woman 
who has already passed through the purgatory of experience 
and consolidated her motherliness with a previous child, the 
emotional dangers are less than for one who is being delivered 
for the first time. But even such women are painfully aware 
of the difference between the experience of spontaneous delivery 
and that of technically controlled delivery, as shown by the 
letter quoted above. 

It is possible that the demands of the psychiatrists in this 
regard are anachronistic and absurd. Undoubtedly obstet- 
rics will continue to make technical advances regardless of 
psychology, and woman’s psychic behavior will adjust itself 
to the cultural developments. Her active productive con- 
tribution will turn to other goals that have nothing to do with 
motherhood. Man’s traditional disadvantage, the fact that his 
fatherhood is uncertain {pater mcertus est), now has its much 
weaker counterpart in the voung mother’s surprised question: 
‘Is this my child?” 

Man’s repressed infantile wish to give birth to a child of his 
own gestation is symbolized in the tale of a homunculus be- 
gotten without a woman’s participation. Modern obstetrics, r 
a masterpiece of masculine efficiency, deprives woman of her 
active participation in delivery, and thus in a certain sense 
deprives her of her monopoly in this field. Perhaps man is 
thus unwittingly driving woman into those spheres of activity 
that he once claimed as his own, and is contributing to the 
progressive wiping out of sex differences. 


Confinement and Lactation: First 
Relations with the Child 

W ITH the separation from the child through birth, a 
new world opens for the mother. But the con- 
tinuity of the psychologic elements of the various 
stages of motherhood (conception, pregnancy, delivery, lac- 
tation) is preserved throughout. ' These elements may assert 
themselves with varying intensity: in one stage they may 
recede into the background or move within normal limits, 
in another they may increase to a pathologic degree. They 
may have analogous forms of expression in each stage or con- 
ceal themselves behind defense mechanisms that produce 
phenomena seemingly opposite to the previous ones. The 
psychologic relation to the fetus can even outlast the biologic 
phase of pregnancy and continue for a shorter or longer time 
,in the relation to the child; or the pregnant woman’s joy and 
interest in the content of her own body can swing to the oppo- 
site pole with the birth of the child, and this can lead to various 
difficulties in the mother-child relationship. The pregnancy 
fears may be overcome in the act of birth or they may continue 
in the form of excessive anxiety about the child. 

In my general remarks on the psychology of motherhood I 
have referred to the differences between the instinctual actions 
of animals and the relationship between the human mother and 
her child. Direct observation of this relationship reveals 
these differences very clearly; but from time to time we are 
struck by certain analogies to instinctual behavior. 

First of all we shall recall the fundamental difference: the 
primitive instinctual actions of animal mothers often lead them 
with great certainty to achieve goals that they do not pursue 
emotionally or intellectually. In human mothers — perhaps 
also in intelligent animals — the relationship to the child is 




accompanied by emotions and ideas. These may be combined 
with conscious and unconscious affective representations that 
largely divert this relationship from following a straight line. 
It can even be said that such affective representations are 
always present in some degree. 

An unmotherly attitude, opposed to the conscious wish 
tendencies of the woman, may sometimes become very strong 
and assert itself in the very biologic functions that we assume 
to be dominated by the maternal instinct. In discussing 
pregnancy we have already mentioned the curious fact that a 
woman may have all the maternal qualities as well as the sin- 
cere desire to conceive, bear, and nurse a child, and yet be 
compelled to terminate her course, as it were, at one of these 
way stations of motherhood. Thus it is clear that psychologic 
motherhood is a very complicated structure in which we can 
find our way only by applying several methods of investigation, 
and even then only to a very limited extent. I shrdl begin 
my discussion by describing the biologic events. 

Biologically, woman up to her delivery plays the role of a 
passive bearer of the future, and only her fantasy life permits 
her to perceive this future with maternal and creative joy. 
During pregnancy all the mother’s organic processes are ad- " 
justed to the physiologic needs of the fruit ripening in her 
womb. The organic relationship between the fetus and the 
maternal organism is very much like that between a parasite 
and its host. Only the fantasy directed toward the future, 
and the emotional charge of this fantasy, make the fruit of 
the body a beloved being. Many w^omen turn so strongly to 
this future that even during pregnancy they give up all their 
other interests, their whole intellectual life, and become ab- 
sorbed in the gratifying fantasies of future motherhood. 
Others from the beginning take a defensive position, and even 
try to strengthen their interests outside motherhood, or di- 
rectly use the child to heighten their self-assurance and feeling 
of individuality. 

The upheavals we have observed in woman’s psychic life 
during pregnancy are partly an expression of the tremendous 



changes taking place in all her organic functions, and partly 
the direct result of the expectation of a child and of the emer- 
gence of hitherto latent psychic contents. 

I have spoken of the physical and psychic shock of delivery. 
During the period immediately following it, woman is not yet 
by any means freed from the chain of physical burdens im- 
posed upon her as a result of sexual intercourse and the fe- 
cundation of her germ cells. We must clearly keep in mind 
the complicated physiologic work that takes place in the body 
of a woman who has borne a fetus to full term. The over- 
dilated uterus of pregnancy, which has displaced all the other 
internal organs, begins to return to its normal size, and the 
other organs resume their place. The processes of renewal 
tax all the forces of the organism. When a woman joyfully 
states after delivery that, as she puts it, she is herself again, 
she is mistaken: for while the organism is strenuously progress- 
ing toward return to its normal state, new constructive work 
in the service of the reproductive function begins, in the 
activity of the lacteal glands. Preparation for this new or- 
ganic task takes place during pregnancy: the lacteal apparatus 
begins to function in this period, owing to the chemical in- 
fluences of the endocrine organs on the lacteal glands, and at 
the time of delivery the production of milk reaches its highest 

Thus we see the continuity of the organic processes that serve 
the reproductive function. The physical separation from the 
fetus does not — for the time being — interrupt this continuity. 
The organism no sooner recovers from the great physiologic 
shock of delivery than it must assume a new physiologic 
function, suckling the child. From the first stages of the 
reproductive function, the whole physiologic apparatus of the 
maternal body works altruistically, giving in favor of the child, 
and woman’s whole body adapts itself to the great task of 
motherhood — first to the fetal existence of the baby, then to 
its extra-uterine existence. After delivery the largest share 
of the bodily energies goes into the stream that flows from 
the mother’s body to the child now outside her. 



What, then, is woman's psychic behavior during this new 
stage of the reproductive function? How does the parallelism 
between the physical and psychic processes manifest itself in 
this case? And, above all, what are the mother's emotional 
reactions to the shock and trauma of separation ? 

During delivery the woman experiences an '"end of the 
world" feeling as a result of having withdrawn for a time from 
all her relationships to the outside environment; this feeling is 
partly prepared during pregnancy by the centering of her life 
interest on her condition. Now, after delivery, she rebuilds 
the world around the child, and her abandoned relationships 
•with the environment are gradually restored through him. 

It is possible to speak of three acts of this reconstruction. 
The first coincides with the last moment of delivery, in which 
there is an influx of ecstatic feelings for the baby. The reaction 
of separation is compensated by a kind of rediscovery of the 
child. In women who have been delivered under narcosis, 
this reaction is postponed and can never be as intense and 
gratifying as when the child is immediately welcomed after 
the performance of the birth task. 

The second act is the confinement period: this is a very 
gratifying time, according to the individuality of the mother 
and her whole life situation, though sometimes disapppoint- 
ment reactions take place even then. Despite her joy over 
the child, the woman's orientation is still extremely narcissistic. 
For some time the world is still identical with her own ego, 
the mother feels herself at the center of all loving attention, 
and her child is above ail regarded as her product, her achieve- 
ment. Only gradually does he assert his own demands, rights, 
and needs, and only gradually does the mother's relationship 
to him assume the character of an object relationship. Betore 
it has become stabilized as such, there are relationships to the 
child that, properly speaking, are not yet identical with the 
later maternal love but are rather preliminary phases of it. 
Joy and pride on the one hand, disappointment on the other, 
are in conflict, and many motherly women admit later that 
they felt the child as alien and repulsive, and were conscious 


that their feelings were a mixture of joy, fear, and sometimes 
even a curious indifference. 

Observations of women who immediately after delivery 
have lost their joyfully expected children, or who have given 
birth to dead babies, show that the reactions to such a loss 
do not have the character of real grief such as one suffers 
after the death of a beloved object. They correspond to the 
effects of nonfulfillment of a wish fantasy, of mobilized guilt 
feelings or accusations against others, etc. In such cases 
readiness for a new pregnancy sets in strongly and very soon. 
The situation is different if the child is lost after an interval of 
time during which the mother cared for him, especially if she 
suckled him successfully. Then there is real mourning; readi- 
ness for a new conception develops slowly and only after the 
grief for the lost child has subsided. These differences are in- 
teresting because they illustrate the relations between ‘‘mater- 
nal instinct,’’ which is expected to hold sway immediately after 
delivery, and maternal love, which develops only gradually. 

The confinement period is characterized by a preliminary 
phase of motherliness. At its center is the problem of lacta- 
tion, to which we shall return later. The psychic processes of 
confinement as a whole naturally depend on the entourage, 
the real life situation, the customs in the given country, family, 
etc. A woman of restricted means, plagued by financial worries, 
concerned about the loss of her earnings or her absence from 
home, afraid of the difficulties that await her when she returns 
with the additional burden, will experience the period of con- 
finement in a manner different from that in which it is experi- 
enced by a well-to-do young woman who can joyfully indulge 
in the “glory” of her new estate. In addition there is the 
relation to the husband and the whole emotional situation. 

Cultural influences are responsible for the external details of 
confinement, although here too we repeatedly recognize the 
return of familiar themes in different forms. Among a large 
number of primitive peoples, men are absolutely forbidden 
access to the room of the confined woman. In more civilized, 
even patriarchal nations of past times, men, although they 



were allowed to enter the room, usually lost all authority there. 
This was woman’s domain; only her word, opinions, and ideas 
were respected. In our own culture, woman has won the right 
to have her say in the most important cultural and social 
institutions, but she has largely been forced out of the room of 
the confined woman as adviser or aid. The mother of the 
recently delivered woman has yielded to her son-in-law; the wise 
women, friends, etc., have given way to the physician. 

Many peoples regard the woman in childbed as unclean and 
taboo, others regard her as sacred. In certain primitive groups, 
she must be isolated, because, according to irrational beliefs, 
she is thought to be a danger to others. In our own society, 
strangers are kept at a distance as much as possible in order 
to protect the new mother from the rationally known dangers 
of infection. 

To make congratulatory visits to young mothers is an old 
and widespread custom. In the Middle Ages and well into 
modern times, the occasion called for a great display of pomp. 

Confinement was tlie period during which it was proper for women to 
show the valuables of their homes and their most beautiful adornments to 
their women friends, acquaintances, and neighbors. . . . Feminine vanity 
was taken into account. Since the confined woman received the visits of 
her women friends and neighbors, she herself tried to adorn herself, her 
newborn infant, and her room as richly and splendidly as possible, in order 
to arouse not only the admiration but if possible also the envy of her female 

Apparently the narcissistic element in the woman who is not 
yet absorbed in her love for the child, manifests itself not only 
in our own but also in other, less developed cultures. 

The ‘‘wicked” woman, the witch, dangerous to mother and 
child, often emerges in the confinement room; among the Jews 
her classic representative is Lilith. Jewish women hang up 
amulets and inscriptions with Hebrew phrases containing the 
following magic spell: 

In the name of the great and formidable God of Israeli The prophet 
Elijah once met a specter -named Lilith and her escort. . . . She said: “I 

^Ploss and Bartels: Op. cit., vol. 3, p, 155. 



am going to the house of the confined woman N. to make her sleep with the 
sleep of the dead, to take her newborn child, that I may satiate myself on 
his blood, suck out the marrow of his limbs, and leave only his corpse.” 

This is apparently another vehini>hai, tormenting our con- 
fined women in their fears. 

The third act in the reconstruction of the woman’s relation- 
ship with the environment corresponds to her urgent need to 
emerge from her narcissistic limits and once again emotionally 
to occupy a place in the outside world. There are two means 
of achieving this — through the child and through the outside 

I have previously tried to define the various emotional 
elements in the mother’s relationship with the child conceived 
as an outside object, elements that in their totality are called 
motherliness. We have reduced them to three main com- 
ponents — tenderness, altruism, and a specifically colored ac- 
tivity, Taken together, they form, in our view, the psychic 
atmosphere of motherliness. Maternal altruism is based on 
the fact that with regard to the child the mother is completely 
selfless and willing to sacrifice everything, including her life. 
The essence of maternal love is that it demands nothing, sets no 
limits, and makes no reservations. It is complementary to the 
child’s first attitude toward the mother, when she is for him a 
reservoir for the satisfaction of ail his needs, a being who, he 
feels, has no interests outside him. The only direct compensa^ 
tion the mother can expect from the child is something that is 
inherent in maternal love itself — joy in his existence and well- 
being. 'This relationship develops directly, paralleling the 
bodily processes, out of the mother-child unity during preg- 

It is true that the cutting of the umbilical cord results in a 
reorganization of the bodily functions and partly dissolves the 
mutual dependence of mother and child. This dissolution 
gives the child the possibility of replacing his mother with 
another object in case of need, and returns to the mother a rela- 
tively greater freedom of movement. But in so far as the 



psychic-emotional existence of mother and child is in question, 
this liberation has only a very relative, almost purely theoretic 
value, especially for the mother: maternal love — that is to say, 
the emotional tie to the child — creates a psychic umbilical 
cord that only the Parcae, the Fates, the goddesses of life and 
death, can cut. The symbolic meaning of the allegorical 
‘Thread of life,” as representing the umbilical cord, is clear to 
anyone who understands maternal love. 

With the cutting of the physical umbilical cord the intra- 
uterine mother-child unity is destroyed, and the mother re- 
ceives a real substitute for what until then has been only a 
fantasy, an illusion. But in order to realize the unique po- 
sition of maternal love among all other human emotional rela- 
tionships, one must understand the following fact. Side by 
side with the progressive tendencies of motherhood, which strive 
to adjust themselves to the child's development, a regressive 
tendency asserts itself in every mother, seeking the restoration 
of the prenatal unity. We have mentioned the instinctual 
tic of the animal mother to her young and the physiologically 
determined separation reactions. In the human mother the 
separation reactions are transferred from the physiologic to the 
psychic domain and, as we have said, survive the physical 
and even the social dependence of the child upon her. They 
are an expression of the psychic umbilical cord. 

The fact that maternal love is rooted in the condition in 
which the split between the ego and the nonego does not yet 
exist, creates the emotional situation that can be observed in 
some forms of being in love: “The object has, so to speak, con- 
sumed the ego. Traits of humility, of the limitation of nar- 
cissism, and of self-injury, occur in every case of being in love.”® 
Freud considers only men capable of this selfless love; in his 
view women do not need to love but only to be loved, and 
whenever they love in a selfless manner, they are loving 
“according to the masculine type.” 

I shall not reopen the discussion of this question here (cf. 
vol. I, p. 190). It seems to me that the form of relationship 

* Freud, S.: Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. London: Hogarth, 1940. 



that appears temporarily in being in love is a permanent char- 
acteristic of genuine maternal love. As this love develops at 
the expense of self-love, it may impoverish the mother’s ego, 
despite the far reaching identification between mother and 
child. Every woman has desires and aspirations that have 
nothing in common with the reproductive function. She 
has her own personal ego, which strives for expression, enlarge- 
ment, gratification, experience. If she does not succeed in 
gratifying her ego within the framework of the reproductive 
function and her relation to the child, a conflict must break 
out between the polarities reproduction-ego and ego-child. 

We have seen what forms this conflict takes in pregnancy and 
what possibilities of solution exist in that stage. After the unity 
has been split, two tendencies are present in the mother — one 
progressive, aiming at helping her ego to regain its rights, the 
other regressive, aiming at reunion with the child and the 
preservation of the psychic umbilical cord. The latter tend- 
ency, so close to the organic aspect, is perhaps the expression 
of the “maternal instinct.” 

Even if we assume that maternal love is set in operation by 
^the organic processes of the reproductive function, there is no 
doubt that in the life of each individual it receives accretions 
from various sources and that it is subject to changes in the 
course of time. In the newly arisen conflict between the ego 
interests and the reproductive functions, maternal love is a 
bridge. The pride in the child, his dependence upon his 
mother’s love, the still existing identification with him, and 
the fantasies about his future, are compensations at the dis- 
posal of the endangered ego. They can serve it only if ma- 
ternal love is present. 

The ego reacts in various directions. First of all, in every 
case, there is an automatic, reflex-like defense against the strong 
burden laid upon the ego interest, which sees in motherhood — 
and, as we have shown, justly so — a danger of impoverishment. 
Then come the more specific loss reactions — the woman’s 
feeling that her freedom of movement is restricted, which 
becomes a danger particularly in youthful mothers. There is 



also the woman’s fear of having her physical beauty impaired — 
often with strong emphasis on the breasts. There is the com- 
petition between motherliness and eroticism, between intellec- 
tual aspirations and maternal duties, and the danger felt by 
the woman’s ego in having to give up her own infantile ties in 
favor of the adult status that motherhood imposes upon her, 
or, conversely, the danger of falling back, through motherhood, 
into earlier more or less loosened ties. 

i\nother danger for the ego lies in the fact that the existence 
of many women consists in a successful structure of defense 
mechanisms and sublimations that may be shaken by the ex- 
perience of motherhood. All these dangers become more 
serious under conditions that may be generally described as 
ego weakness. In other wwds, the woman’s ego does not 
feel equal to the tasks of motherhood, and reacts to this danger 
with fear and attempts to escape. In addition, many women 
feel incapable of producing the amount of emotion they con- 
sider necessary for the well-being of the newborn child, or 
fear that they will be exposed to a new and unbearably am- 
bivalent conflict in their emotions. 

The mother’s tendency to preserve her unity with the child, 
an instinctual wish to keep him within or with herself, counter- 
acts these ego dangers. The fear accompanying this tendency 
has the character of the fear of loss; it is an inheritance, a 
continuation of the fear of separation that in its most intense 
form accompanies delivery. 

The fate of motherliness thus depends upon the result of 
the conflict of these opposite forces. An excess of fear of ego 
impoverishment produces flight from the child, failure of the 
bodily functions in the reproductive service, and inability to 
experience motherliness. On the other hand, excessive fear 
of losing the child will result in excessive devotion to him, too 
drastic turning away from other interests, and a disposition to 
neurotic fears about the child. 

Paradoxically enough, we can observe in many women a 
strengthening of narcissistic self-love, not only as the first 



reaction after the birth of the child, but also during the al- 
truistic phase that follows. Some of these women have par- 
ticularly strong masochistic tendencies. Reactive narcissism 
is here mobilized as a defense against excessive masochistic 
altruism. We are familiar with this process, so important in 
feminine psychology, in other contexts (cf. vol. i). 

Such a strengthening of secondary narcissism takes place 
especially in women whose emotional life is unable to produce 
enough motherly joy over the child to compensate for the 
sacrifices involved in motherhood. This is the case in every 
emotional derangement that is accompanied by sensations of 
emptiness and impoverishment. Such a reaction is very 
typical of schizoid affective disturbances. Women who are 
aware of such affects in themselves expect the child to release 
them from their inner rigidity and coldness, and are greatly 
disappointed when this does not happen. They complain 
openly of their lack of feeling for the child or rush to find other 
compensations. They also join the contingent of women 
subject to compulsive motherhood and try to achieve the full 
experience of motherhood by begetting a new child again and 

Women who rush into motherhood out of an inner feeling of 
solitude experience the same disappointment. They expect 
from the child the love they do not get otherwise or the ful- 
fillment of a longing for a repressed object to which they still 
unconsciously cling. It goes without saying that the child 
does not come up to this expectation, for he demands of his 
mother the very thing that she herself wants to receive — 
boundless love given in selfless devotion. 

If the birth of the child mobilizes the woman’s destructive 
tendencies against him and her own ego, as is the case in patho- 
logic conditions, the mother’s turning toward other interests 
means salvation not only for her own ego but also tor the child 
threatened by these destructive tendencies. 

Women who are under the constant pressure of lurking 
guilt feelings, and prone to obsessional-neurotic and depressive 
reactions, often allow their children to develop tyrannic claims 



from the beginning of their lives and actually to oppress them 
by their demands: we are familiar with the idea of '‘His 
Majesty the child/' Later the mother's ego desperately seeks 
some means of regaining its lost freedom. These means lie 
outside motherhood, often in a turn to masculinity. 

A woman who has unconsciously considered her entire preg- 
nancy a substitute for the lack of a penis, and for whom the 
child signifies a compensation for this lack, develops typical 
reactions that partly consist in demands upon the child and 
partly are supposed to give proof of her own accomplishment. 
In such cases, the anxiety over the child may very well be a 
repetition of the familiar genital loss reaction. 

When the birth of the child is experienced not as a compensa- 
tion, but as a new genital trauma, the masculinity complex is 
directly strengthened. The simplest expression of this process 
is a turn away from motherhood to accomplishments in other 
fields. In some women the birth of a child paradoxically re- 
sults in a generally heightened creativity. Accurate psycho- 
logic observation discovers that the motive force behind the 
heightened creative urge is disappointment in and flight from 
motherhood. J. Lampl~de Groot^ gives masculinity an im- 
portant place in motherhood: "Just as the little girl satisfies 
her activity in her play with dolls, so the woman utilizes a bit 
of her masculinity in nourishing and caring for her child and 
later in educating It." I think that this observation is correct, 
but valid only as regards a certain type of woman. 

The stronger the woman's masculine tendencies, the more 
resolutely can her ego turn away from the tasks of motherhood; 
on the other hand, the more passive and masochistic she feels, 
the greater can be her fear of dependence upon the child and 
the more determined her flight into masculine activity. This 
explains why a strengthening of masculine tendencies after 
childbirth can be observed particularly in women who were 
previously passive. A masculine ego will of course be more 
efficient in repelling the new dangers than a feminine-passive 

’“Lampl-de Gkoot, J.; Problems of femininity, Psychoanalyt. Quart., vol. 2, 1933. 



Zilboorg/ referring to his postpartum schizophrenic patients, 
says: '‘The child, it appears, has for these women more the 
value of a lost male organ than anything else. . . . Childbirth 
being a castration, the psychotic reaction to it is a recrudes- 
cence of the penis-envy.’' It is particularly interesting that 
his patients turned to masculinity because of their inadequate 
affective motherly relation to the child, and mobilized a pre- 
viously existing disposition in the psychosis not after giving 
birth to the first child, but only several years later, after 
having another child. I have found that the pathologic re- 
actions of emotionally deranged, schizoid (not psychotic) 
women are very often postponed and centered on later born 
children. It seems that in these vromen the psychic balance 
is harder to preserve when the maternal relationship must be 
spread to several children than when it is concentrated on one 
child. In many women all of motherhood — especially its 
prerequisite, the sexual act — is permanently connected with 
guilt feelings; therefore they can experience themselves as 
mothers only in suffering, and provoke suffering continually. 
In theiTL the mater dolorosa attitude is carried to the extreme. 

In others, the idea of their own rebirth emerges in connection 
’I with delivery. For them pain has functioned as an atone- 
ment for unconscious crimes, and now they are free of sin, 
newborn. The popular expression "If I should come into the 
world again” is realized in their emotions, and they seem to 
think: "Now I have arrived again, and I want to organize my 
life in such a way that I may make up for everything I have 
neglected heretofore.” 

The knowledge that the new world belongs to the child and 
not to her can cause great difficulties in the development of 
motherliness in such a woman. Only through identification with 
the child can the mother build the new wish-fulfilling fantasies 
about the future. 

Several phenomena that we have observed in pregnancy 
persist after childbirth. For instance, pleasure in pregnancy, 

^ZiLBOORG, G.: The dynamics of schizophrenic reactions related to pregnancy and 

childbirth. Am. J. Psychiat., vol. 8, 1929. 



which we have observed in infantile types, can now continue in a 
particularly infantile relation to the child. Such women do 
not achieve the expected development toward reality, they do 
not renounce the fantasy relationship with the child, and they 
play at motherhood like prepuberal girls. They are very 
proud of their children, want to show them to all their friends, 
have a certain triumphant feeling with regard to their own 
mothers, are overjoyed at the gifts they receive, are impatient 
for the first visit, etc. When the game becomes serious, and 
the infant begins to make demands upon his mother’s selfless- 
ness, the first difficulties arise. The reactions of these women 
are then something like this: '‘How can such a thing happen to 
me? After all, I am the one who has the right to make de- 
mands!” This woman is the "sweetest little mother” while 
confined, and an excellent nurse — for a few weeks. Then she 
is seized by the fear of having her freedom restricted, of being 
dependent upon the child, and of impoverishing her ego, which, 
being still in need of development, is really in danger. She 
has not yet reached the stage at which she can feel secure and 
grown up; she is actually not ready for motherhood. Because 
her infantilism is usually connected with her childish relation- 
ship to her own mother, her motherhood is only a new oppor- ^ 
tunity for her to intensify her dependence upon her mother 
and her conflict with the latter. 

Sometimes a woman grows gradually into the role of mother, 
or can fulfill her duties only by sharing them with her husband. 
We have previously mentioned a type that we called assistant 
mother (p. 73). But then we were speaking of girls and women 
whose puberty was interrupted by actual motherhood and who 
remained in the stage of motherhood typical of puberty. Now 
we are referring to women who, as far as their chronologic age 
is concerned, have long ago left puberty behind them, but who, 
because of a fixed infantile structure, cannot develop further 
and assume the role of independent mother. Unfortunately 
we encounter this type very often at present, as one of the con- 
sequences of the war. Women who previously functioned well 
must appeal for help to social agencies and child centers, 



because, now that their husbands have been drafted, they are 
collapsing under the burden of their maternal duties. They 
energetically demand the return of their mates and childishly 
consider the war situation as a personal affront to them. 
Sometimes the husband can be replaced by appropriate as- 
sistance, but often such women begin to suffer from previously 
latent neurosis. The psychiatrist who gains insight into the 
underlying psychic situation in such cases soon discovers that 
what is in question is not the woman’s erotic longing, or the 
absence of the father as family supporter, but the motherli- 
ness of the husband, without whose active help that of the wife 
cannot function. In the life stories of such mothers one always 
discovers a strong infantile dependence upon their own mothers 
that has been transferred to their husbands.' 

It is striking how much the woman’s need for a mother sub- 
stitute increases in the period immediately following child- 
birth, even if she has rejected her own mother. For instance, 
women with deranged emotional lives try to find mother figures 
in their entourage in order to cover their own lack of moth- 
erliness by identifying themselves with these. Even then 
'they do not have much feeling for the child, but they imitate 
the attitude of a loving mother so well that they themselves 
and the persons around them think that their motherliness is 
genuine. I have called such women the “as if’’ type.' 

Others do the same thing in order to keep themselves 
free of compulsive identification with their own “wicked” 
mothers, and to replace the latter by an ideal figure. Often 
such a woman manifests a longing to reconcile herself with her 
mother and thus free herself from her neurotic fear of losing 
her child. Sometimes there emerges the unconscious mem.ory 
of the time when the mother and not the little girl was the real 
“owner” of the child. This leads to a conflict with the mother 
over the child. Or else the young woman has the feeling that 

* A number of war neuroses of the character here described have been observed at the 

Psychiatry Clinic of the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute. 

® Deutsch, H.: Some forms of emotional disturbances and their relationship to schizo- 
phrenia. Psychoanalyt. Quart., vol. 9, 1942. 



another woman — usually the nurse — wants to win the child 
away from her. This conflict is hard to solve because on the 
one hand the young mother does not feel equal to full re- 
sponsibility, v/hile on the other she yearns for independent 
motherhood. One woman in childbed precipitated a paranoic 
psychosis with the delirious idea that her nurse wanted to 
take away her child. 

It remsiins for future observations to discover what influence 
modern marriage, built as it is on companionship, exerts on 
the development of women toward motherliness. In contrast 
to the situation in the previous generations, w^hen the young 
woman's mother was present at the delivery, she is here usually 
eliminated as unnecessary, and if she is admitted to the room 
where her daughter is confined, or to the nursery, it is more or 
less out of kindness; she is not needed, because ‘The child is 
our own afiFair." Yet the daughter's real liberation from her 
mother may be only simulated rather than real. 

Mature women likewise can often turn their motherliness 
only to a little helpless baby. Their feelings are closest to the 
maternal instinct of animals, which operates only as long as 
their young are directly dependent upon them. I have ob- 
served this relation to the child in the most varied, almost op- 
posite types of women; I have seen it in erotic, very feminine 
women, greatly in need of love, whose tender feelings move 
between eroticism and the baby. They do not long to be in 
love as long as the baby is small, but later they become im- 
patient and turn to eroticism with greater intensity of need. 
Apparently the child plays a great role for these women as an 
erotic toy (Freud), but they can permit themselves to indulge 
in this behavior only while it is very young. Such a relation- 
ship to the child is gratifying for them and often also protective; 
for that reason they always want a new baby and thus join the 
group of women subject to compulsive motherhood. 

A masculine-aggressive woman prefers a baby to an older 
child for entirely different reasons. Upon him she can impose 
unrestricted domination without meeting opposition. She 
thinks she is educating while in reality she is only ruling. 



Many women prefer the baby to the child because in the 
relation with the baby their fear of separation is eased and their 
sense of responsibility more secure. It is easier to keep a baby 
in close physical proximity, removed from the dangers of the 
environment, than a child who gets about independently. 

All such women usually feel particularly well during preg- 
nancy and would gladly continue the unity with the baby now 
outside them. 

In contrast to. such women there are others who, in a more 
masculine manner, do not know what to do with a baby. 
They have no feminine intuition, they cannot feel with another 
being, they cannot translate the baby’s reactions, his seemingly 
irrational needs, into intellectual language, and they remain 
alien to him. They make the greatest efforts, read all the books 
they can find on the care of infants, attend lectures on the sub- 
ject, and take part in discussions. Such a mother scrupulously 
does everything she is supposed to do, but becomes genuinely 
participant only when the child can communicate his experi- 
ences in a way that reaches her intellect. As a rule such women 
are intellectualizing rather than intellectual. In them the 
intellect plays the part of a defense mechanism in every condi- 
• tion of life: where an emotion is expected, an idea appears. 
Many intellectual women are actually only fugitives with im- 
poverished emotions. 

Many young mothers defy the discipline of modern infant 
care just as they defied every other discipline. Others follow 
the rules meticulously and pedantically because of uncertainty 
and fear. The matriarchal-active mother and the feminine- 
intuitive woman know how to find their way around all the 
rules. The former persuades the pediatrician, the latter 
charms him or cheats him a little. The baby fares well with 
either — with the former because she loves him and does not 
yet make any ideal demands upon him, with the latter be- 
cause she lovingly understands or, more accurately, senses him. 

Usually definite individual motives influence the first mother- 
child relation. Much of this relation is prepared during preg- 
nancy, much of it depends on the individual capacity for love 
and the personal method of mastering fear. Just as is the 



case in pregnancy, the mother relation is conditioned from the 
beginning by various psychologic influences of her own child- 
hood development, upbringing, and cultural environment. 
The position of the child is a factor connected with many other 
factors; it is a link in the varied play of interacting events, it is 
an object of neurotic reactions, etc. 

I observed a young war mother who immediately after de- 
livery became unfaithful to her soldier-husband and lived 
promiscuously; she tossed her child into her mother-in-law's 
lap without bothering about him further. This peculiar be- 
havior could be explained only as arising from a combination of 
motives. During her pregnancy the girl was very happy and 
prepared herself for the undivided possession of her child. 
She also wanted to prove to her husband that he was wrong in 
considering her childish and unreliable. When he wrote his 
mother from the front asking her to take care of the child, his 
wife became very angry, and no maternal love could protect the 
the husband from her strong revenge impulses. This seemed 
plausible, and we could assume that she deliberately over- 
satisfied her husband's wish by definitively giving her child 
to his mother and then acted out her revenge in unfaithfulness. 
But gradually we discovered that the young mother had' 
begun to fear her own aggression and that In giving her child 
to her mother-in-law she was protecting him from herself. 
‘‘Do you know that she has ten children, each stronger than the 
other?" she once said In passing, not in order to rationalize her 
own actions. Obviously, she could love her child only in a 
triangle, and when she became angry with her husband she 
warned herself: “Put the child in better hands, otherwise 
something may happen to him*" 

This rejecting mother was thus actually a protecting mother. 
I did not learn what motives in her past predetermined her 

Occasionally we see war mothers who married for so-called 
war reasons (cf. voL i). This hasty action achieves full reality 
only with the birth of a child, when all of a sudden the young 
woman realizes that at bottom she does not wish to have the 



given man either as a husband or as a father of her child. She 
would like best of all to erase the whole business, patriotism 
notwithstanding, but now a kind of living corpus delicti is 
present that prevents such a solution. The child is drawn into 
the process of disavowal and an otherwise warm and certainly 
motherly woman complains that she feels no maternal love 
for him. She behaves like many unmarried mothers who do 
not let their motherliness flow freely because they know that 
they must part from their children. Emotional uncertainty 
about the real future, in which the child is a link in a chain of 
events, can nip maternal love in the bud and absolutely negate 
any efiective relationship with him. It is extremely character- 
istic that such affective denials and repressions set in at the 
very beginning of the confinement period, before maternal love 
has a chance to develop. Apparently in such cases the sway 
of ‘‘instinct’' in the human female is too weak and her narcissis- 
tic self-defense too strong to leave the way open to maternal 

Many young mothers exaggerate their devotion to the in- 
fant, neglecting all other interests and their own persons for 
him; they are ready to renounce everything they valued before. 
This devotion may from the beginning be an overcompensa- 
tion, which then usually makes room for a negative attitude 
toward the child, or else creates hostile feelings toward him 
only secondarily and reactively. 

I have known cases in which the mother even during preg- 
nancy used the child to consolidate and steady her own ego or 
her marriage, which was built on weak foundations. The 
motherliness of such a woman often depends upon whether the 
child has served to achieve her purpose in having him or not. 

Quite a number of mothers lie in childbed, freed from their 
pain and the physical burden, but not from the pregnancy fear 
that “it will be a monster” or that “it will not live.” One 
mother told me that she spent her first night after delivery in a 
half-sitting position, to keep herself awake so that she might 
look at her baby again and again. (She would not have been 
allowed to do this in a modern hospital.) She felt compelled 



constantly to confirm to herself the reality of the child and 
her happiness in really having him. She also told me that 
these hours were the happiest of her life — and 1 believe her. I 
also believe that in the past there were many mothers who 
would have agreed with her on the basis of their own experi- 
ence, and I hope that there will be many to do so in the future. 

In modern hospitals the mother listens anxiously to outside 
noises, she tries to recognize the little voice of her baby among 
those of the other babies, and whispers to her visitors that she 
has succeeded in bribing the nurse by flattery or some sub- 
terfuge to let her child stay with her a few minutes longer than 
is prescribed. ‘'Isn’t that lovely?” she asks. This situation 
may very well arouse concern; one wonders whether hygiene 
and psychology are not in conflict here. But since we know 
that in all fields of life progress is connected with regressive 
tendencies, let us comfort ourselves with the hope that science 
will regain the old insight that the mother-child unity must 
be dissolved only gradually. What was once obvious must 
now be rediscovered by experimental science.’^ The phrase 
“rejecting mother,” which is so current today, will take on an 
entirely different meaning, for in the majority of cases the re- 
jecting mother is first a frustrated mother. 

While the continuity of motherhood, from conception on 
through all the stages of the reproductive function, up to the 
relationship with the real child, is assured, motherliness, that is, 
the emotional relationship to the child, assumes different forms 
according to the mother’s individuality and the phase of the 
child’s development. Thus we must clearly distinguish be- 
tween the mother’s relation to her completely helpless baby 
and her relation to her child. The relation to the suckling 
baby is different in childbed from what it is when the mother 
gets up; later, breast feeding produces reactions in the mother 
different from those produced when she is feeding with for- 
mulas, etc. 

^ A strong trend in this direction is already visible. Cf. Ribble, M. A.: The rights of 

infants. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1943. 



We must consider the confinement period as an area in- 
termediate between pregnancy and normal life, in which the 
separation trauma is mastered by the beginning maternal 
relation to the child. However, it seems that the longing for 
reunion is from the beginning in conflict with the urge for 
liberation. The fear that manifests itself now applies to the 
separation from the child and now to loss of the ego; now the 
child is endangered by life, now the mother by the child. The 
interplay of self-love and concern for the child is unmistakable 
and clear during the happy but anxious days of confinement. 

This interplay partly determines the fate of nursing. All the 
conflict of the first life period of the newborn infant focuses in 
the vital problem of nursing. Thus the psychology of the con- 
finement period is from the outset connected with the problem 
of lactation* 

, Psychoanalysis has long been trying to investigate the suck- 
ling period in normal and pathologic individuals, and the im- 
portance of the weaning trauma and its relation to neurosis 
and psychosis have been clearly demonstrated in rich clinical 
material. More than to anyone else we owe to Abraham^ 
important discoveries about the so-called oral phase of in- 
stinctual development. Modern psychologically minded pedi- 
atricians observe the processes directly at their source, and 
interest in the nursing mother is increasing with interest in 
the infant. 

Freud was familiar with the influence of emotional forces on 
the physiologic process of lactation as early as 1892.® At that 
time he still used hypnosis as a therapeutic method. In this 
period he was able to observe a young woman who after her 
first delivery suffered from various obviously hysterical symp- 
toms that forced here to give up nursing her child. At first she 
lacked appetite and felt pains in her breasts, then secretion of 
milk stopped completely. ''When these obstacles recently 

® Abraham, K.: Selected papers. London: Hogarth, 1929. 

® Freud, S.: Ein Fall von hypnotischer Heilung. Ztschf. f. Hypnot., Suggestions- 

therap., Suggestions!., vol. i, 1892. 


occurred again after a second childbirth, they were eliminated 
by two profound hypnoses wdth countersuggestions, so that 
the lying-in woman became an excellent nursing mother’': 
thus, for the first time, I believe, the dependence of the nursing 
capacity upon psychic influences was demonstrated as though 
in a controlled experiment. 

Many years ago I chanced to observe a curious disturbance 
of lactation. A young obsessional-neurotic mother, who had 
transferred her emotional ambivalence also to her newborn 
child, was compelled to give up nursing after a few weeks, al- 
though she wished to nurse her child and her breasts were 
full of milk. In the intervals between her child’s feedings, 
her milk flowed out in streams, so that her breasts were empty 
when they were to be given to the child. The methods to 
which the young woman resorted in order to circumvent this 
unfortunate state of affairs were reminiscent of the behavior 
of a man suffering from ejaculatio praecox who tries to hasten 
the sexual act but is always foiled by his precipitance. She 
tried to advance the time of the feedings, but the result was 
always the same: it was too late. 

A Polish wet nurse, whose psychic life was much less com- 
plicated than that of the patient just mentioned, showed the 
psychosomatic connection just as clearly. For this poor, 
illiterate girl, one of the greatest advantages of her vocation 
consisted in the fact that she w^as supposed to drink a quart of 
beer a day, in order to increase her secretion of milk. The 
favorable influence of beer on the glandular activity, which 
was considered an indubitable fact in former times, yielded 
her a pleasure prize that she turned into an obligation for her 
employers. One day, on the recommendation of a physician, 
her employers tried to give her less beer and her production of 
milk stopped at once. It began again when she was given 
the full quota of beer. So far as I can remember, at that time 
everyone about her was much more impressed by the miracu- 
lous virtue of the beer than by that of the nurse’s defiant 

An educated young woman reacted almost in the same way to 



the visits of her mother, who, being a motherly woman herself, 
expected her daughter to perform her maternal duties, that is 
to say, to nurse her child. The young woman, seized by 
fear like that of a schoolgirl on the eve of examinations, 
stopped producing milk every time her mother appeared. 

Today, the fact that the secretory activity of the lacteal 
glands oscillates under psychic influences is accepted even by 
skeptics, and every worker in the field of infant welfare and 
feeding is familiar with cases as obvious as those cited above. 
But further observations are still needed to prove that the flow 
of milk produced in the woman’s body has its normal second 
source in her emotional life. Personally I am convinced that 
by far the greatest part of nursing difficulties are psychogenic. 
Middlemore says correctlyi" that the process in the child 
and the processes in the mother combine into a unity in which 
“it is scarcely possible for one partner of the nursing couple 
to be in trouble without involving the other.” I believe that 
in the nursing period the psychic umbilical cord connects the 
mother’s breast and the child’s mouth, and that it runs through 
the arena of the conflict between the egoistic tendencies and 
the altruistic forces of motherhood. The result of this con- 
flict determines whether the nursing is a success or a failure. 

It would seem that among primitives the biologic tendency to 
suckle and the “maternal instinct” connected with it tri- 
umphantly assert themselves, so that no conflict arises at all. 
According to most anthropologists, nursing by the mother is a 
general and unquestioned custom among primitive and half- 
civilized peoples; wherever the mother avoids this duty, we 
are in the presence of quite civilized tribes. It must be noted, 
however, that more recent research shows that this theory is 
not universally valid (cf. Marquesas culture). 

Closer examination of the anthropologists’ findings leads us 
to suspect that even among primitives psychic influences 
cause nursing difficulties. The means of magic and religion 
are often successfully used to insure an abundant flow of milk. 

“ Middlemore, M. P.: The nursing couple. London: Hamish Hamilton Med. Bks., 

1941, pp. 6 ff. 



In many of the mysterious formulas and magic rites that are 
reported, we recognize defense weapons against the same fears 
of primitives that we have seen in connection with pregnancy: 
the mother’s milk may dry up because a “wicked” woman 
(or her child) has sucked the breasts empty, or an envious 
woman has procured magic spells from the medicine men to 
spoil the milk, etc. In many East African tribes a woman 
who is unable to nurse her child loses her man’s love; he turns 
to another woman whose breasts are full. An East African 
savage, fearing the loss of her man, may fall into a condition 
unfavorable for the production of milk. A civilized woman 
fears impairment of her slenderness and sexual attractiveness 
and unconsciously inhibits the maternal function that she is 
consciously willing to perform. The savage and the civilized 
woman achieve analogous end results, that is to say, lactation 
difficulties, despite the difference between their purposes and 

From time to time social fashion decrees that woman shall 
not nurse, so that her beauty, freedom, comfort, etc.,^^ shall 
not be impaired. This frees her from conflict but at the same 
time deprives her of a source of pleasure. 

Our own modern society tries to help woman to achieve a 
compromise solution. Although it recommends that she 
nurse her child, it tries to find a modus vivendi between 
mother and child that allows the mother to protect her ego 
interest to a large extent and simultaneously to preserve the 
biologic mother-child relationship. Today we are witnessing 
ah Interesting cultural conflict in this field. Woman is offered 
increasingly great opportunities for developing her ego ou.tside 
the reproductive function, while the ideology of active mother- 
liness is exalted. As a result, woman’s psychic energies can 
neither completely concentrate on the interests of her own indi- 
viduality nor flow unhampered toward the being dependent 
upon her. Thus society furthers the inner conflict: woman is 
asked to agree to a partial renunciation now in one direction, 
now in another. The discipline of regulated nursing of the 

^Malinowski, A.: Op. dt. 



infant, the placing of the child in hygienic isolation, the toler- 
ance toward complete or relative inability to nurse, are on 
the side of the individualistic ego. But objectively the mother 
is a vital emotional necessity for the child, and her knowledge 
of this fact places the child between the mother and the rest 
of the world as a kind of screen that acts to intercept her 
other emotional and intellectual interests. Moreover, outside 
all cultural influences, there are the mother’s deep longing for a 
more intimate relationship with her child, her justified con- 
cern about his emotional development, her feeling of guilt for 
neglecting him — in brief, motherliness. These forces are on 
the side of the reproductive function in its conflict with the ego. 

Ferenczi^2 justly avers that the suckling infant “can be 
prevented from sliding back into nonbeing only by an enor- 
mous expenditure of tenderness and love. . . . If love and solici- 
tude are lacking, the destructive drives are soon aroused.” 
Recent observations seem largely to confirm these views, formu- 
lated several years ago. There is an increasing suspicion that 
many of the child’s oral aggressions, his lack of desire to suck, 
about which there is so much discussion today, his constant 
tailing asleep at the breast, and his restlessness when he is 
supposed to sleep, express a dissatisfied “sliding back” induced 
by his failure to receive a sufficient “expenditure of love.” 

The conflict discussed here will perhaps be clarified if we 
divide it into its components and illustrate it by examples. 

In Seifulina’s novel Verinea, the primal forces of the nursing 
mother are briefly but brilliantly described. The action takes 
place during the Russian revolution. Verinea, a former 
prostitute, expects a child. But she has important social 
tasks to perform, she is a revolutionary commander and her 
comrades need her. She returns home in the midst of her 
labor pains, does not complain, but only clenches her teeth. 

‘T want my child to come into this world in joy. I have waited for it a 
long time. ... I will not cry out, I wish it to have an easy birth.’’ 

And she uttered only one single cry, a loud, strong one. It did not seem 

^Ferenczi, S.: Das unwillkommene Kind und sein Todestrieb. Internat. Ztschr. f. 

Psychoanal., vol. 15, 1929. 



to be a cry of pain, but one of joy. And then her body was pierced by an 
indescribably sweet, light sensation and she heard the marvelously lusty 
voice of the newborn child. 

‘‘Show it to me I A son?” 

The revolution knocks at her window, Verinea must leave 
her child to help his father and her other comrades. Cossacks 
break into the house but they find only the midwife and the 
child and search in vain for Verinea. Then the foxy old 
Antip says: ‘‘Leave the child and the midwife here. Then 
the mother will return by herself. The milk in her breasts 
will drive her to her baby.'’ 

And, true enough, 

A woman^s figure rose from the vegetable garden. . . . Verinea approached 
with the light, alert step of a wild animal. Like a she-wolf she slunk toward 
her young. It was as though she scented the track with stretched neck, 
as though she were attracted by her own smell, the smell of the blood taken 
from her veins, to nurse and rescue her young. 

Verinea, who was once a prostitute, loves. She loves the 
revolution because she loves suffering humanity and wants to 
help it. She loves her husband because he has given her an 
opportunity to express herself, she loves her child with in- 
stinctual, elemental force, “like a she-wolf." And she dies " 
like a mother, altruistically turned toward her child, free of 
the fear of death, because she has mastered it by virtue of her 
solicitude for her child. 

Here again we seem to fall into a contradiction. Previously 
I referred to a conflict between the mother's individualistic 
ego tendencies and her motherliness. If Verinea were only a 
primitive mother dominated by the instinctual forces, she 
would testify to the fact that such motherhood presupposes 
an unconditional concentration of all vital interest on the 
child. This is not the case. We know that Verinea loves 
other things too; she not only grasps the revolution emotionally 
but knows its goals and methods. Verinea is a woman of in- 
sight and understanding. But because she is capable of love 
and free of fear, she is free of conflict between her ego and her 
motherliness. This brings us to the decisive point of our 


The women with whom we have previously dealt do not 
have sufficient strength and freedom from fear to bear the de- 
centralization of their strivings without difficulty. Or, ex- 
pressing it differently, their social goals and individual strivings 
are too far removed from the sources that give motherliness 
its strength. If this were not the case, the cultural develop- 
ments and new adjustments would be accompanied also by a 
better kind of regulation, just as in the case of Verinea, who, 
with her breasts full of milk and her heart full of maternal love, 
nevertheless dies for the revolution, a victim of her enthusiasm 
for a social cause and of her love for her husband. The Cos- 
sacks have prevented her at a given moment from being only 
a mother. She herself was ready for it, free of conflict, like a 

Let us now return to our observations of lactation. 

The psychoanalyst, who is not in a position to watch the 
nursing pair directly on the spot, compensates this disadvan- 
tage by his concentrated and objective study of the psychic 
content mobilized in the course of the nursing process. He 
is also better equipped to relate his observations to broader 
events indirectly connected with the problem. Thus he sees 
again and again that the psychologic manifestations of lacta- 
tion are part of a more general behavior within the framework 
of motherhood as a whole. The aim of our observation is to 
integrate the special phenomena into the general process. 

Women who really devote themselves to nursing their chil- 
dren, and who do not experience this function as a secondary 
duty, maintain that they feel particularly contented during the 
nursing period. According to them, this contentment has a di- 
rect and primitive character. Interestingly enough, almost all of 
them use practically the same terms to express this condition : 
“I felt like a comfortable, well fed cow.” At bottom, these 
women during the lactation period are not preoccupied intro- 
spectively with themselves, and their contentment is entirely 
tied up with the well-being of their infants. They may at 
' the same time largely continue to pursue their old interests, 
but they frankly admit that they do not devote as much time 



and energy — libido is really the correct term here — to these as 
before. Usually they must even force themselves to persist 
automatically in their previous activities. We can under- 
stand these women: their psychic energy flows toward the 
child together with the stream of milk; that is why they feel 
like cows. They also maintain that during the lactation 
period they are psychically taxed by the reproductive func- 
tions to a greater degree than during pregnancy. This too is 
understandable. During pregnancy their preoccupation was 
with something more like a fantasy, now it is real love. Form- 
erly the pull was to introversion, now it is to a real act of un- 
selfish devotion. 

Physiologic and psychologic giving coincide in these women. 
Their general behavior corresponds to the character of their 
lactation. They are either feminine-passive in eroticism and 
giving in motherliness, or they are matriarchally active givers 
and demanders in all of their life conduct (vol. i). For these 
two types, pregnancy is usually a positive expectation, and 
lactation a source of joy. 

Paradoxically, the masculine-aggressive woman, whom we 
have elsewhere contrasted with the feminine woman, is very 
often an excellent nurse, and her conflicts with her children ^ 
begin only with their independence. Lactation is an accom- 
plishment of which she is proud, and the dependence of her 
children upon her gives her the kind of satisfaction she desires. 
During the period of active service for reproduction she is 
even inclined to renounce "Temporarily"' many other gratifica- 
tions. I have met several women who really enjoyed changing 
their activity from scientific work to producing children. 
Later, when their children grew older, they became most ex- 
acting and impatient mothers, and the fact that psychically 
their children nevertheless remained strikingly healthy proves 
perhaps that the first life period is the most important. 

For another type of woman, the feeling of being a cow is an 
attack on her inner security. Her ego is not strong enough to 
bear the change of interests and the cessation of the usual con- 
trol over the emotional processes without tension and fear. 


She feels the biologic function, the infant’s demands, and the 
need for a new adjustment as dangers, and resorts to defensive 
measures. The vector mechanisms that are set in motion in 
the function of giving also manifest themselves as a tendency to 
retain, and nursing difEculties arise. This leads to a conflict 
between maternal love and maternal duties on the one hand, 
and attempts at escape on the other. Maternal love refuses to 
renounce the unity with the child, the woman’s sense of guilt 
reminds her of the child’s needs, and she makes overcompen- 
sated, usually unsuccessful attempts to continue nursing him. 
A vicious circle results for the nursing couple: the child reacts 
with suckling difficulties to the mother’s attempts at escape, 
whereupon the mother reacts by an intensification of her own 
nursing inhibition. Furthermore, a mother unable to con- 
tinue nursing her child because of “lack of milk” is often in- 
clined to deprive him of other proofs of maternal love. Her 
inability to nurse is a trauma for her, and she runs away from 
her whole relationship with him. This sometimes happens also 
in the case of the woman who is unable to nurse for physiologic 
or allegedly physiologic reasons. Frustrated in her expecta- 
tion of the joy of nursing, she takes revenge on the child and 
herself, lets other persons feed him, and limits her care of him 
to merely the absolutely essential. 

The mother’s feeling that her ego is endangered can make her 
regard her child as an enemy and his oral needs as aggressions. 
The ego’s sensitiveness to the danger may manifest itself in a 
fear : the child’s sucking is felt as devouring, and thus the naive 
infantile idea that the child devours the mother is experienced 
emotionally. If this feeling reaches awareness, the mother 
complains that her child throws himself upon her like a beast, 
or she has a sensation of a physical loss that must somehow be 
compensated. One mother whom I observed had the peculiar 
habit of eating something salty before each breast feeding in 
order later to replace what her child had taken from her by 
drinking a great deal. Another felt compelled to eat during 
the nursing in order not to be eaten, so to speak. My hypothe- 
sis concerning the Marquesas women’s fear of being devoured 



by their sucklings is partly based on my observations of the 
type of woman just described. 

Verinea has been likened to a she-wolf. I am convinced 
that if she could have held her child securely in her arms, she 
would have been transformed into a blissful cow. 

If a woman's emotional life is full of fear of the little de- 
vouring beast and if this fear is accompanied by an aggressive 
reaction, or if the child is primarily the object of aggressive 
rejection rather than of tender love, his role as a dangerous 
beast is more profound. The mother's own aggression is pro- 
jected in the child and her anxious excitation perhaps sends him 
unconscious signals that provoke a kind of reflex in him. This 
expresses itself in simple refusal to take the breast, or, if the 
child's aggressive tendencies are stronger, in painful biting of 
the mother. 

Psychoanalysis of women who have suffered from nursing 
difficulties often reveals that because they inwardly perceived 
their own aggressions, they felt themselves to be like wild 
beasts during lactation. The failure of the suckling function 
represented an attempt to escape, not in order to protect their 
own persons, but chiefly in order to protect the child against the 
dangers of their aggressions. 

This observation led me to speculate about the origin of 
several myths. All existing interpretations of myths assume 
them to be products of masculine fantasy, and masculine- 
minded science overlooks the fact that women have always 
had a reputation as seeresses, clairvoyantes, fairy tale tellers, 
etc. Perhaps many myths owe their origin to definite feminine 
psychic impulses, and their content, if closely examined, might 
give us an insight into these impulses. 

A feminine-minded approach brings up the following prob- 
lem. If the attempt to establish a close connection between 
dreams and myths is methodologically correct, could we not 
use feminine dreams and fears expressing the lactation con- 
flict to explain certain myths strikingly analogous to these 

Abraham, K.: Traum und Mythus. Leipzig, 1909, 



dreams and fears? If so, may we not venture to assume that 
Romulus and Remus, in the myth, were exposed on the hill- 
side because their mother’s fear and exhaustion had transformed 
her into a wicked she-wolf?“ And perhaps it is later she her- 
self who reappears as a good she-wolf and rescuer, in order to 
give her children the breasts she had previously denied them. 
The she-wolf often appears in fairy tales and dreams as a 
mother animal. Perhaps we might also say that the mother 
of Moses exposed her infant to protect him not only from a 
dangerous father but also from possible other dangers that 
thi-eatened him directly from his mother in the stress of her 
lactation conflicts. For she too, like the she-wolf in the myth 
of the founding of Rome, reappears in order to give her milk 
to the son whom she had previously exposed. 

And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of 
bullrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; 
and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink. And his sister stood afar 
off to wit what would be done to him. And the daughter of Pharaoh came 
down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the 
river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to 
fetch it. And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold the babe 
wept. And she had compassion on him, and said. This is one of the Hebrews* 

• children. Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call to 
thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? 

. . . And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her. Take this child away, and nurse 
it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the child, 
and nursed it [Exod. 2 ]. 

The unconscious aggressions of the nursing mother move be- 
tween her fear of being devoured and her impulse to destroy 
the child by the oral way. The sources of the fear and the 
motives for intensification of her aggressive rejection of the 
child may vary individually; usually they are overdetermined. 
The dispositional background lies in the reality-determined 
and culturally strengthened split between the poles of ego and 

In analyzing all these tales of exposure, Rank and Freud deal with the safeguarding of 
the child from destruction by the father. The father is warned in some way that 
his newborn son will be a danger to him. The relation of such myths to the Oedi- 
pus complex is obvious. Cf. Rank, O.: Myth of the birth of the hero, Nerv. & 
Ment. Dis. Monog. 18, New York: Nerv. & Ment. Dis. Pub. Co., 1914; Freud, 
S.: Moses and monotheism, New York: Knopf, 1939. 



reproductive service. A weak ego cannot defend itself against 
the danger otherwise than by renouncing the reproductive 

If this split is accompanied by another, rooted in the mother’s 
ambivalent feelings for the child, the conflict becomes more 
intense, and the consciously experienced fear, the aggression, 
and the defense mechanisms assume the character of a neurosis 
or psychosis. 

One is sometimes surprised to hear a sweet young mother 
who wanted to have a child, and who thinks that she loves the 
infant, declare that she cannot help having a feeling of disgust 
when she nurses him: "‘he is so animal, so shameful and dirty, 
when he lies like that at the bare breast.” 

Probably this represents an overdetermination of the process; 
a specific component of disgust seems to be present in many 
cases — all the more so because nursing is connected with a 
constant nervous excitation rooted in the physiologic processes. 
We know that the sucking stimulus is transferred to the genital 
apparatus in a reflex-like manner, thus performing a great and 
important biologic function, for it causes the smooth muscles 
of the uterus to contract, as a result of which the uterus de- 
creases in size, the bleedings after delivery cease, and the whole 
process of recovery is furthered. This favorable secondary 
function of nursing brings certain dangers in its train. The 
contraction of the uterus is often painful, and the joy of nursing 
may be disturbed by these painful sensations. Moreover, 
the physical reflex connection between the breasts and the 
genitals is accompanied by an associative sexual stimulation. 
Even apart from the lactation, the nipples play a prominent 
role as an erogenous zone, and thus sexual sensations can be 
aroused during lactation. The excitation felt in the genitals 
can also disturb the joy of nursing. For the nursing mother 
can bear almost anything more easily than the confusion of 
conscious sexual emotions with the tender, loving action of 
nursing. As soon as such sensations begin, repression begins 
too, and with it disgust and loathing with regard to the child, 
as reactive formations. The repression of the sexual compo- 



nent can include the feeding function, and thus the latter is 
disavowed too. The result is then incapacity for nursing that 
often is refractory to all influences. Motherly-loving women 
do not shy away from these sensations; they incorporate them 
into the totality of the positive experience, consciously or 

Among some primitive peoples, if a nursing mother dies, her 
living infant is put on her breast and burned with her, so it 
may continue to suck her milk in the after-life. Among others, 
the child is slain if the mother dies in childbirth or during the 
lactation period. These usages derive partly from the belief 
that a child deprived of its mother’s milk and care must perish 
miserably. They also express the belief that such a child 
will grow up into a terrible and dangerous individual. Some- 
times this belief is based on the idea that the misfortune of the 
dead mother is transferred to the child and makes him fatal to 
others. These primitive beliefs have some similarity to our 
modern knowledge about the influence of maternal love on 
the child’s psychic development, about the identification of 
mother and child with each other, etc. Seen more realisti- 
cally, the difference between our culture and that of primitives 
'is that we can create a substitute for the maternal food and 
also for maternal love. Nevertheless, ‘‘ghosts” are still effec- 
tive in this sphere. 

Lactation is certainly one of those physiologic processes 
that, like menstruation and every other phenomenon con- 
nected with the female reproductive functions, is extraordi- 
narily exposed to psychic influences. I also think that there 
is a union between the nursing mother and her suckling, a 
union so deep and delicate that we cannot always grasp it. 

In order to thrive, the baby needs his mother and the mother 
needs her baby. But psychic processes cannot be induced by 
violence, and when they are unconscious, not. even by good 
will. For that reason I believe that the blessing of “mother- 
ing” (a term very popular in the modern nursery) cannot al- 
ways be achieved by the mere observance of the “mothering” 
regulations. We must always keep in mind that the modern 



to be there only for the child, cannot be achieved by this 
method. The task of the psychologic adviser is to give these 
women permission to compromise and eventually to renounce 
nursing. They themselves must accept as a necessary result 
of the compromise the fact that by reason of it they are missing 
something important. 

The confinement period usually supplies an important basis 
for motherliness. It gradually passes into the puerperium, 
that is to say, into the phase in which the woman is not yet in 
full possession of her bodily ego. The psychologic adjustment 
to the child can in normal cases be divided into three periods: 
(i) the hospital stay, (2) the first period after the return home, 
and (3) the stage of recovered freedom of movement with the 
end of the puerperium. 

For many women the stay in the hospital signifies a pleasant 
freedom from responsibility, for others it is a prison term 
during which they must hold in check their own desires and 
ideas, the whole active urge of motherhood. From this dif- 
ference of attitudes later differences result: mothers who blos- 
som and rejoice over the child in the hospital, are subject to 
^ more or less mild depressions or states of anxiety after the 
return home, while other mothers awaken from an inhibited 
state to joyful activity when they begin to feel themselves the 
mothers of their own children in their own houses. Many 
ask for help and instruction, others want to take all the diffi- 
culties upon themselves, in order to build solid, reliable founda- 
tions for their motherliness, and they find that their first 
relation to the child, untroubled by the interference of others, 
is the most reliable. In the light of this experience, we feel 
that mothers and their newborn children should be left to 
themselves more than they usually are. 


The Mother- Child Relation 

T he main problems of motherhood make their appear- 
ance at the beginning of the reproductive function, and, 
as we have seen, continue, with the birth of the child, 
in the mother’s relation to him. One of these problems is 
rooted in the inevitable conflict between the interests of the 
individual and those of the species. Woman’s two greatest 
tasks as a mother are to shape her unity with the child in a 
harmonious manner and later to dissolve it harmoniously. 

If motherhood as the psychologic expression of woman’s 
service to the species filled her psychic life solely and exclu- 
sively, she would lose her individual attributes, she would 
become immersed in motherliness, so to speak. At least in 
our civilization, with its regulated births, woman has wide 
opportunities for making compromises between motherhood 
and her other, more personal needs, drives, and interests. 
As a result, there are as many variations in the psychology of 
motherhood as there are mothers. The capacity for these 
compromises is based chiefly, apart from reference to the 
cultural opportunities, upon the fact that woman’s motherli- 
ness and femininity are not the only wellsprings of her psychic 

Those tasks of motherhood that serve the preservation of the 
species correspond to the developmental stages of the child. 
For instance, all of the mother’s interests during the child’s 
first life period are chiefly directed to the goal of his physical 
thriving. Her activity at this time is applied to his feeding 
and bodily care. At this stage the mother’s urge to preserve 
the unity with the child is strongest and the possibility of 
gratifying it greatest: the child’s helplessness during the suck- 
ling period furthers this unity. We have already spoken of 
the mother’s conflict between the fear of separation — we may 




now call it the tendency to persist — and her urge for liberation 
in this first phase of the child’s life. 

The mother’s next tasks are those of upbringing; besides her 
attention to bodily care, she is now concerned with the child’s 
psychic well-being and his adjustment to reality and its in- 
evitable frustrations. Above all, the mother must now teach 
her child to control his instincts, and the better her own in- 
stinctual life is controlled, the better does she succeed in this 
task. She must not be too mild in her methods of training, 
for excessive indulgence involves the danger of the child’s 
remaining undisciplined and dominated by his instincts. Nor 
must she forbid too much, for excessive inhibition exposes 
the child to the danger of neurotic illness. In brief, it is 
difficult to rear a child, and we must admit that today even 
psychoanalysis does not offer an absolutely reliable preparation 
for the mother’s tasks. The only thing on which we can rely 
in this respect is the woman’s own inner harmony and her 
intuition, which will give her greater insight into the child’s 
emotional processes than pedagogic or even psychologic train- 
ing alone. But she must exercise her intuitive understanding 
intelligently. Here instruction from outside is possible, and 
help from a psychoanalytically minded adviser can be par- 
ticularly fruitful. Thus the psychologist who aims at pur- 
poseful rearing of the child must gain insight into the mother’s 
processes, not only in order to be able to give her expert assist- 
ance, but also because his own pedagogic success in many cases 
can be achieved only if he simultaneously influences the par- 
ents, especially the mother. It is now generally recognized 
that the child’s difficulties are often those of the parents. The 
fact that knowledge of the mother’s psychologic processes has 
become an important part of modern pedagogy has led to con- 
sideration of the mother indirectly through the medium of her 
child. In contrast to this, the psychoanalyst is in a position to 
approach the mother’s psychic life directly and to consider the 
child only as a factor in the mother’s experience. 

Most important, the psychoanalyst is in a position to dis- 



cover the influence of the unconscious on the psychology of 
motherhood and to ascertain that it is determined not only by 
cultural and environmental factors but also by the unsolved 
conflicts of the mother’s past — conflicts that now seek their 
solution and gratification in motherhood. Whether a satis- 
factory way out is found or not, depends upon the nature and 
strength of these conflicts. 

Another significant discovery is the fact that many forces of 
the unconscious contribute to enrich psychologic motherhood. 
In a normal development toward motherliness, these forces 
are subject to sublimation. Instinctual tendencies of a sexual 
nature are transformed into motherly tenderness, in analogy 
with the process of development in the child; aggressive- 
ness is transformed into protective activity, the excessive 
narcissistic need to be loved is actively gratified in ma- 
ternal love, and the masochistic tendencies are gratified in 
the mother’s willingness to sacrifice. 

The correct course of this transformation is one of the pre- 
requisites of normal motherhood, and the mother’s relation 
to her child is often a touchstone of her normality. 

The methods followed by the mother in solving her tasks are 
rarious. Her best guide is the emotional complex of maternal " 
love. The active application of this love grows increasingly 
difficult in the course of time. The child, at first a part of her 
own ego, now confronts her as an increasingly independent 
individual with all sorts of individual demands, with a great 
number of typical and accidental difficulties, with his progress- 
ing psychic development, his fantasy life so difficult to fathom, 
and the changing manifestations of his emotional life. Every 
gesture of the child expresses an important development, and 
the mother’s task is to be constantly on the alert and to enter 
into her child’s feelings, for only thus can she achieve the inner 
certainty that enables her to grasp the volatile expressions of 
childish life and to intervene now in a reflex manner, now with 
critical deliberation, to inhibit or to further. 

Such intuitive empathy in the child’s psychic life is the con- 
tinuation and psychologic expression of the mother-child 



unity. This unity was previously physiologic, established 
through the umbilical cord; now it continues in the mother's 
capacity for deeply identifying with her child. The concept 
of the psychologic umbilical cord (cf. chap, viii) seems best 
suited to denote this transformation of the unity from a 
physical into a psychic one. 

Dorothy Burlingham^ communicates very interesting ob- 
servations on the effect of the mother's conscious and uncon- 
scious emotional reactions to the child's psychic problems. In 
these observations the child is the receptor and acting part in 
the interplay of affects and ideas between mother and child, 
while the mother is a sending station emanating affective im- 
pulses. Burlingham believes that we are here confronted with 
extremely sharp observation on the part of the child. 

My own observations are of the mother as receiving station 
for the child's affective impulses, and I think that mother 
and child gradually develop each a gift for observation that is 
based upon a deep community between mother and child. 
Even the suckling displays reactions to his mother’s conscious 
and unconscious impulses — reactions that certainly do not 
result from a particular gift for observation, but rather from 
very acute, instinct-like sensitivity. Recalling the refined in- 
stinctual relations between the animal mother and her young, 
we are justified in assuming that the intuitive achievements 
of the human mother are also closer to instinct than to the 
intellectual gift of observation. The great '‘wisdom" of moth- 
ers results from the blending of two functions, the affective- 
intuitive and the intellectual. 

The mother's identification with the child may also assume 
distorted forms. For instance, egoistic self-love does not 
allow some mothers any identification except that of the child 
with their own ego. Accordingly they strive through educa- 
tional measures to achieve an identification of the child with 
their own persons and love only themselves in their children, 
without suspecting that by this method they can create only 

1 Burlingham, D. T.: Die Einfuhlung dcs Klcinkindes in die Mutter. Imago, vol. 



external similarity. Inwardly, the child will not have the 
slightest kinship with his mother, for no successful identifica- 
tion can be achieved in this manner. Such children will later 
imitate other models with ease, but will be able neither to love 
nor to develop independent personalities. 

Another type of mother seeks in and expects from her child 
something that she misses in herself. Since she intuitively 
realizes that her child builds his personality on models, and 
since she herself does not want to renounce serving as his 
model, she makes a great effort to pretend before him to be 
what she is not. As is well known, children are extremely 
sensitive to those actions of adults that run counter to the 
actions expected of themselves. But they are even more sensi- 
tive to a mother’s inner untruthfulness, to her simulation before 
herself, her child, and the rest of the world of something that 
she is not but that she wants her child to be. If the mother 
fails in this undertaking, her love for the child is transformed 
into hostility and becomes a danger for him. A good case in 
point is that of a mother who turned from her 8 -year old son 
out of moral indignation because he was a liar, while she her- 
self was “a fanatic for the truth.” Now we know that fanati- 
cism for the truth usually conceals untruthfulness. 

Other mothers unable to achieve empathic maternal love 
replace it by a miserable scheme of intellectually contrived ideal 
education and try later also to maintain their relation to the 
child, their unity with him, through the medium of such ideals. 
The setting up of an ideal is supposed here to replace the lack 
of warm emotions in the mother or to help to resolve her per- 
manent ambivalence conflict; as a rule the children do not 
agree to such a proposal and do not live up to what is expected 
of them. 

A particularly instructive example of this is the life story of 
an Italian working woman who for a number of years required 
'he help of a social agency. Mrs. Mazzetti first came to seek 
financial assistance, a step that she obviously took only after 
long hesitation and with a feeling of injured pride. Her 
husband was an alcoholic, her marital situation was very un- 



satisfactory, she had a number of small children, and she be- 
came pregnant again and again. 

In the course of her contact with the agency she finally 
separated from her husband after many quarrels and recon- 
ciliations, but she continued to require the help of the agency. 
Now it was her children who caused her difficulties, all of them, 
one after the other. 

Personal contact with Mrs. Mazzetti soon revealed that 
although she sought help it was difficult to influence her. 
She bore herself like a well controlled, superior person who was 
above the situation and simply could not understand how she 
came to be closely associated with such people as her husband 
and several of her children. 

Her entire bearing was more like that of an emotionally con- 
trolled New England bourgeoise than of an Italian working 
woman. It turned out that this bearing was consistently used 
only in face of the outside world, but that within the limits of 
her emotional ties, that is to say, in relations with her family, 
she gave way to uncontrolled emotional outbursts. This in- 
consistency in her personality called forth detrimental reac- 
tions from the members of her family. 

' From her life story we learned that, coming from a poor, 
uncultured milieu, she had always had the urge to become 
something “better.” At an early age she had to contribute to 
the support of her family, but she always attended night schools 
and would perhaps have achieved something in harmony 
with her aspirations if she had not met her husband. He was 
the opposite of her ideal but obviously exerted an irresistible 
sexual attraction upon her. At the age of 1 6 she had sexual 
relations with him, soon became pregnant, and found herself 
compelled to marry him. 

It seems that when her lofty ambitions for herself were 
shaken by her sexual attraction to her future husband, she 
fell into confusion. She continually tried to raise herself 
again but chose methods that were obviously unsuitable. 
She went to night school, studied, took examinations, but at 
the same time created an impossible situation at home. From 



her husband’s reactions it was clear that she blamed him for 
her degradation and thus created a vicious circle. The man 
was a first class workman, employed the year round and very 
well liked at his place of employment. Mrs. Mazzetti evi- 
dently had emphasized her superiority to him in a very ag- 
gressive way, which drove this simple man to vengeful reactions 
and was one of the reasons for his alcoholism. He began to 
neglect his work and developed a common attitude that can be 
expressed thus: ‘Tf you think I am good for nothing, I shall 
prove that you are right.” He tried to devaluate his wife’s 
superiority hy admonishing her to look after the house and the 
children, by hindering her ambitions outside the family sphere, 
and apparently also by making her repeatedly pregnant. 

For her part the wife, after having mistreated her husband, 
appeared to develop a reaction that is also typical: she was 
very contrite for a time and adopted a passive, submissive 
attitude, humbly making her peace with him and accepting the 
pregnancy. At the time of her last contact with the agency 
she had seven children, three adolescent daughters and four 

After her separation from her husband she turned all her , 
emotions to the children, and began to treat them as she had 
treated her husband. She demanded a great deal of them in 
the spirit of her earlier ideals. As long as the children were 
small she appeared to be attaining her goal. They were very 
ambitious, successful in school, etc. 

When Louise, the oldest child, approached the age of sexual 
maturity, her mother seems to have fallen into a state of anxiety 
that was based upon her own past experiences. This anxiety 
was expressed in heightened watchfulness and strictness, to 
which Louise reacted with protests. The result was that the 
girl identified with her mother — though not with the maternal 
ideal but with the “fallen” mother. She repeated her mother’s 
experience and at the age of i6 had an illegitimate child. 
Mrs. Mazzetti reacted not like a loving mother sympathizing 
with her daughter’s unhappiness, but like an aggressive mother 
who felt injured in her ambition to have a respectable family. 



Then she demanded that Louise be motherly toward her baby; 
the young girl was naturally unable to fulfill this demand be- 
cause she did not feel motherly. It was impossible to make 
Mrs. Mazzetti tolerant of her 1 6 -year-old daughter; she was 
full of moral demands upon her and did not display any 
maternal warmth. She seemed to have the same dual attitude 
toward her children that she had toward her husband: thus, 
after having made Louise suffer sufficiently, she became too 
indulgent and was unable to enforce any discipline. 

The role of superior, authoritative mother that Mrs. Mazzetti 
so much wanted to play was made particularly difficult by 
one factor. She had attempted — and for a while with suc- 
cess — to convince her children of her own superiority and to 
devaluate their father. However, because she accepted 
their father sexually and repeatedly became pregnant by him, 
she seems to have contributed to her own devaluation in their 
eyes. As a result she could not succeed in bringing up her 
children according to the moral standards that she imposed 
upon them. Presumably too the children were more dependent 
emotionally upon their tender, warm father than upon their 
mother, tormented as she was by ambition and worries about 
prestige. They took their mother’s side verbally, but emotion- 
ally they clung to their father and were against their mother. 

Another psychologic difficulty in the children’s upbringing 
lay in Mrs. Mazzetti’s emotional ambivalence, particularly in 
the forms it took. She could never be kind to more than one 
of her older children at a time, and always indulged her nega- 
tive, aggressive emotions at the expense of the others. Since 
the children thus alternated as objects of her love, the child 
who had just been loved, only to be rejected in favor of another, 
was driven to rage, jealousy, and revenge. This took place 
repeatedly among the three older girls. The children realized 
that their mother’s love was unreliable and that its variations 
did not at all depend upon their behavior; thus they could not 
take the mother’s ideal demands seriously. As a result, one 
daughter after another became promiscuous, they brought 
syphilis and illegitimate children into the home, the little 



boys began to steal, and Mrs. Mazzetti could not understand 
why her younger children, who had only a short time before 
been obedient and exemplary, began one after the other to 
follow in the footsteps of their older, good-for-nothing siblings. 
She failed to realize that there are tw’o things above all others 
that children cannot stand in a mother — ideal demands instead 
of tender harmony, and ambivalence instead of evenness of 

Thus the proper utilization of the existing unity between,? 
mother and child, that is to say, of identification, is one of 
woman’s tasks as a mother. Another involves v/hat I call 
the tragedy of motherhood, for it consists in mastering the 
painful breaking of this unity, the cutting of the psychic um- 
bilical cord that ties the mother to the child. The problem 
concerns both members of the union, but their aims are oppo- 
site: the child strives for the breaking of the tie, the mother for 
its preservation. As soon as the child is born, the mother 
must learn that her relation to him is only a temporary stage 
in his existence. While this stage largely determines his future, 
nevertheless some day it will become a thing of the past, in 
connection with which (at the best) he retains reminiscences 
and tenderness. He can develop into a free adult personality " 
only if he transcends his intimate relation to his mother, his 
unity with her. 

For the mother, however, there is no past in her relation to 
the child, nothing has gone by, everything remains timelessly 
present, the wish to preserve the tie is inherent in motherliness. 
The intuitive understanding that she must and should re- 
nounce this tie in favor of her child is at bottom a self-violation, 
a blow to her maternal feelings. Because of this conflict, 
the mother can remain free from neurotic difficulties in rela- 
tion to her children only under especially favorable conditions. 
Or, to put it differently, the stronger the neurotic disposition, 
the greater the mother’s intolerance of her child’s struggle for 
emancipation, and the greater her tendency to react with 
unhappiness and anxiety to his progressive separation from 

From analytic observations of women of various ages, one 



inevitably gathers the impression that their inner readiness for 
anxiety has different contents than that of men, and, in con- 
trast to what takes place in men, goes through a definite 
process of transformation. While in man the fear of castra- 
tion is at the center of all anxieties, woman’s anxiety is gradu- 
ally transformed from the genital fear through the fear of 
defloration and rape into the fear of childbirth or death. 
This process follows biologically determined paths. It goes 
without saying that the inner readiness for anxiety becomes 
conscious experience of fear only through various reinforce- 
ments and provocations. 

If we follow the fate of this anxiety preparedness, we see that 
a greater or lesser part of it is transferred to the child as object. 
The fear of separation, which we have seen to be an accompani- 
ment of the reproductive functions, changes into concern about 
the child, and as the child grows up this concern is trans- 
formed into the tragic emotional conflict of motherhood. The 
old anxiety preparedness continues in this conflict, and the 
latter, if intensified, easily leads to neurotic complications. 
The idea of the ''anxious mother” is a comprehensive concept 
that can include everything from tender solicitude, the need to 
know that the child is always close, painful longing on every 
separation from him, hypochondriac worry about his physical 
and psychic well-being, to real anxiety states and phobias. 
We consider fear intensified beyond a certain limit to be morbid, 
and where it exists we assume that the anxiety preparedness 
has been quantitatively and qualitatively changed by the ad- 
dition of new or old elements. 

In a certain type of hysterical, infantile woman who was ex- 
cessively tied to her own mother, the fear is a direct reaction to 
separation. Such a mother is otherwise free of fear, does not 
worry hypochondriacally about the child, is uniformly tender 
and perhaps somewhat extravagant in her manifestations of 
love for him. But when the child goes out of her sight, she 
is seized with anxiety. In milder cases, the knowledge of 
where the child is, or that he is being well cared for, is sufficient 
to decrease the inner tension. 

Many women otherwise normal and mature are seized by a 



painful longing that readily develops into fear when the child 
is not physically near them. Mothers who are engaged in in- 
tellectual or artistic work often declare that they can concen- 
trate on their tasks only if they know that the child is safe at 
home, or within sight from a window. As the child grows 
up, these anxious mothers free themselves gradually from their 
inner anxiety or fall into the above mentioned tragic conflict, 
in which they suffer more than normally because of the child’s 
tendency to liberate himself. 

One sensitive mother very much attached to her son intensi- 
fied her awareness of him to such an extent that in later life 
she had an almost paranoic feeling that a tie continued to exist 
between herself and her son, although he lived in another city, 
and thanks to this tie she knew by telepathy whether all was 
well with him or whether he was in trouble. She felt the psy- 
chic umbilical cord in a very realistic manner, and her paranoic 
feeling reflected a gift for empathy intensified by longing; she 
had developed this sensitivity in relation to her son from his 
early childhood on, and it enabled her in later life as well to 
interpret correctly any sign from him, even the most insignifi- 
cant one. 

We have said that fear is intensified when it receives in-, 
crements from various sources. In women with hysterical 
dispositions one often finds a thread deriving from old 
guilt feelings: ‘‘You will lose your child.” This is a continua- 
tion of the old threat of pregnancy; “You will die in child- 

Obsessional-neurotic women display less of this kind of fear. 
The conflict of ambivalence in the relation to the child often 
leads to a cooling off of the emotional relation and to replace- 
ment of it by a very strict and careful education, with ac- 
companying demands of perfection on the mother as well as 
on the child. In other cases, the pressure of the existing ag- 
gressions leads to their overcompensation and the formation of 
reactive overtenderness or overprotection, as described by 
D. Levy. 2 

2 Levy, D. M.: Op. cit. 



Rado® has given a brilliant description of an overanxious 
mother, showing in an extraordinarily clear-cut fashion the 
inability of certain women to escape from the mother-child 

The scene was the beach of a small and quiet seaside resort. One day 
there appeared close to where I was lying a young woman with a little boy 
perhaps five years old. They were strangers and I never came to know them 
personally, but for several weeks I was an involuntary eye-witness and auditor 
of their behaviour. The little boy behaved just like the other children who 
thronged the beach. He played in the sand, ran about, fetched water in little 
buckets from the sea to his sand-castles, and so forth. The mother lay in a 
deck-chair; now and then she read a book or a newspaper and, for the rest, she 
passed the time with needlework. She was generally sunk in her phantasies, 
and only occasionally chatted a little with the other women. But whatever 
she was doing, she glanced up anxiously every few minutes, sought her boy 
with a look of concern, and if she could not immediately detect his where- 
abouts, began to call in a despairing manner, ‘^Ma-a-a-ssimo, Ma-a-a-ssimo.” 
If the child had strayed just a few paces from her, or if he was anywhere near 
the water^s edge (he never went further, for he was plainly timid about the 
sea), she flew after him, seized his arm and dragged him back again to her. 
If he quarrelled with the other boys, or tried to resist his mother, she generally 
scolded him or gave him a sound slap, only to overwhelm him with violent 
kisses if he began to cry. So it went on, all day long: with the punctuality of 
clock work, the perpetual cry of ^^Ma-a-a-ssimo, Ma-a-a-ssimo^’ made itself 

Rado assumes that we have here a reactive formation in 
which the mother 

Loved and hated the child at one and the same time, but she had repressed 
her hate out of her consciousness by an extreme overaccentuation of her 
devoted tenderness, and so put an end to the inner discord. 

Rado goes beyond this assumption and points out that 

The mother behaved as if her boy, playing on the beach, were threatened 
with some unknown dangers, and must be shielded from some harm. . . . The 
objective observer then judges the mother’s apprehension to be exaggerated 
beyond all measure, for in reality there could be no question of such dangers 

as she feared She was compelled to protect him from herself, to direct 

her precautions against her own person. 

®Rado, S.: An anxious mother: A contribution to the analysis of the ego. Internat. 

J. Psycho-Analysis, vol. 9, 1928. 



It is quite possible that in all anxious mothers repressed 
hostility toward the child plays a part. Perhaps there is no 
human relation, not even that of mother to child, that is free of 
such impulses. But the anxiety preparedness results from the 
mother’s deep need to preserve her unity with the child, and the 
mechanism of reactive formation operates through her great 
love for the child, w^hich does not permit the hatred to manifest 
itself otherwise than through overcompensation producing 
new love. 

In most of the cases of such excessive fear for the child 
that I have observed, the children involved were sons. Freud^ 

The only thing that brings a mother undiluted satisfaction is her relation 
to a son; it is quite the most complete relationship between human beings, 
and the one that is the most free of ambivalence. 

There are mothers whose pathologic emotional life blights 
even the love for a son, and mothers unfortunate enough to 
be compelled for some motive to repress and disavov^ this 
love. But because the separation from the son signifies a 
loss of the most valued part of the mother’s ego and her most 
loved object, the fear of loss is constantly lurking, and is con- ^ 
stantly ready to mobilize. Freud also says: 

The mother can transfer to the son the ambition that she was compelled 
to repress in herself, she expects him to gratify everything that has remained 
in her of her own masculinity complex. 

This favorable method of mastering the masculinity complex 
is not always utilized. There are mothers who transfer their 
aggressive, envious hatred of men to their own sons. They 
emasculate their sons by inhibiting their boyish urge to motor 
activity and drive them into a passive, feminine orientation. 
In glaring cases the mother is completely conscious of her dis- 
like of her son’s sexual organ: she refuses to clean it, teaches 
the boy to urinate as girls do it, etc. 

In my opinion the highest stage of maternal love, mother- 
liness, is achieved only when all masculine wishes have been 

^ Freud, S.: New introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. New York: Norton, 1933. 



given up or sublimated into other goals. If ‘‘the old factor 
of lack of a penis has not yet forfeited its power/'® com- 
plete motherliness remains still to be achieved. 

The mother's fear of separation from the little daughter who 
moves away from her expresses itself in the same way as her 
fear with regard to the son only while the children are little. 
Later, intuition warns the mother much more urgently of the 
dangers involved in her longing for her son, and this longing is 
opposed by the proscription “You may not." Probably her 
fear of incest, the dark foreboding of erotic dangers for herself 
and her son, also operates here. Avoidance of the “sissy" 
danger and of the son's identification with herself, which might 
make him feminine and passive, seems just as necessary to 
the intuitive mother as to the little boy himself. It is different 
as regards the daughter. In her case the homosexual com- 
ponent of the mother's libido sends out warning signals much 
more rarely, and only if it is excessively intense; further, her, 
attempts to seduce and tie the daughter are much more active, 
free, and direct. Moreover, identification with the mother is 
much less dangerous for the daughter; in fact, as we have seen, 
the mother is a necessary model for the daughter's later feminin- 

Only gradually does a protest arise in the girl against her 
infantile dependence upon her mother. This protest usually 
degenerates into hostility that during puberty is strengthened 
by the daughter's rivalry with the mother for the father's love. 
The mother feels abandoned, and as a result of her fear of losing 
her daughter, together with her fear of the consequences of her 
daughter’s independence, she intensifies her wooing or attempts 
to exert an authoritarian power over her. The mother's 
memory of her own temptations and puberal experiences con- 
stitutes a specific factor in her relation to her pubescent daugh- 
ter. Sometimes the bad experience of her own youth casts its 
shadow on the daughter's life, and the mother tries, success- 
fully or not, to protect her daughter from repeating her own 
fate. In her distrust she projects her own repressed striving 

® Freud, S.: Op. cit. 



to her daughter. “You must not become as I am/’ says her 
self-devaluating guilt feeling. Such attempts often drive the 
daughter into greater rebellion and provoke the feared eventu- 
ality. Mrs. Mazzetti offers a good example of this. A mascu- 
line woman often seeks in her daughter the perfect femininity 
that she herself lacks, or tries through her daughter to achieve 
the masculinity that she herself has been denied. In her inner 
confusion, she tries to make her daughter a man, and to devalu- 
ate masculinity in her son. 

We can often observe how the woman’s own unmastered 
tie to her mother drives her to compulsive repetition. In 
these cases the anxious mother accompanies her daughter in 
all her undertakings — with a display of tenderness of course. 
She wants the girl to communicate all her experiences and intro- 
duce all her friends to her, and sleeps in one bed with her, with- 
out regard for her husband. When on occasion I have pro- 
fessionally objected to such behavior, I have several times 
been assured: ‘‘I myself slept with my mother until my mar- 

In one case, the mother, who was otherwise normal, could be 
convinced only by her daughter’s attempt at suicide that the 
latter was desperate because she saw no way out of the fetters'^ 
of maternal love except through death. Another mother 
thought that her love for her daughter was all-sufScient and 
that the latter’s love marriage and happy motherhood were 
an unnatural crime. She made not the slightest attempt to 
adapt herself to the new reality. When she failed to dissolve 
her daughter’s marriage, she fell ill with a depression. 

I observed an even more morbid intensification of the mother 
tie to a daughter while treating a neurotic girl psychoanalyti- 
cally.® The patient was 20 years old, the only child of rich 
parents. Her father had little interest in family life and was 
more like a guest in his home than a parent. From the very 
beginning the mother had bestowed the full measure of her 
frustrated love on the child. The infantile mother-child re- 
lationship had been successfully maintained to such an extent 

®Deutsch, H.: Psychoanalysis of the neuroses. London: Hogarth, 1932. 


that at the time of her treatment the girl slept with her mother 
and sucked the mother’s breast or finger regularly before going 
to sleep. 

As a result of this training by her mother and the mainte- 
nance of their unity, the daughter began in puberty to suffer 
from anxiety states when her mother left the house, giving as 
her reason the fear that something might happen to the mother 
— ‘‘she might for instance be run over.” She would wait for 
her mother by the window, with an expression of intense 
anxiety on her face, which would light up with relief when she 
saw her return home alive. It seemed that here the process 
had ended by reversing itself. At first the mother had refused 
to be separated from her daughter, then the daughter took over 
the continuation of this behavior. The anxious mother now 
had an overanxious daughter. The normal puberal drive to 
liberation from such a tie had been intensified into a hostile 
rejection of the mother. But instead of freedom there came 
intensified fear of separation, with the character of an over- 
compensation of hate for the mother. 

Long before, the grandmother of this phobic patient had in- 
augurated the process by attaching her daughter (the pa- 
•tient’s mother) to herself, and this daughter’s unfortunate 
marriage had intensified the tie. It is noteworthy that the 
homosexuality aroused or sanctioned without repugnance 
by the grandmother — though its sexual component did not 
become conscious — continued in the mother. In this case (as 
in almost all cases) the daughter’s bed was not only the place 
of gratification of the mother-daughter love, but also served 
as an escape from the relation with the rejecting or rejected 

Although one cannot impute a typical character to such an 
open and immoderate mother-daughter relation, such situa- 
tions occur quite frequently. Especially in puberty, the 
mother’s fear of losing her daughter, added to the daughter’s 
overcompensated hatred, results in an excessively strong tie 
between them. 

It might be expected that hostile competition would develop 



between a still young mother and her adolescent daughter. 
My own observations suggest that the mother-daughter rela- 
tion is much more frequently characterized by altruistic re- 
nunciations on the part of the mother, and by a tendency to 
identity with her daughter’s joys and sorrows, than by com- 
petition. The oft-quoted phrase from one of Madame de 
Sevign^’s letters to her daughter — La bise de Grignan me fait 
mal dans votre f citrine (“The icy blasts of Grignan hurt me 
in your chest”) — is a beautiful illustration if this. 

As we have said, the relation to the son is almost never as 
direct and clear in its purpose. The unconscious seduction 
by the mother’s love and tenderness occurs much earlier, when 
the boy, in her opinion, cannot as yet have any sexual desires. 
Later the mother uses other means in her desperate attempt to 
keep him. These consist usually in continuations of the earlier 
infantile community between mother and son and in methods of 
upbringing aimed at preserving the psychic umbilical cord by 
means of permanent emotional dependence. Many of these 
methods are used upon children of either sex. In my opin- 
ion, maternal overprotection, in its numerous forms and 
variations, as carefully observed by D. Levy with the aid of 
rich material, ultimately serves the purpose of preserving the 
child’s dependence and of averting the separation trauma for 
the mother. The most direct means to this end is infantiliza- 
tion, that is, the tendency to keep the child childishly helpless 
as long as possible. The form of mother-daughter tie described 
above seems in most cases to fit this scheme. 

The overindulgent mother who subjects herself completely 
to her children’s tyranny, and who exerts her overprotection 
in this more passive way, is certainly a woman whose inner 
fear springs from masochistic guilt-laden sources. The oppo- 
site type is represented in the domineering mother who drives 
the child into passivity and dependence by her own active 
attitude, and who exerts her overprotection with the help of 
aggressions. All these means lead to the same end, that is, 
the dependence of the child, and naturally tally with the charac- 
terologic and affective total personality of the mother. 


However, I consider Levy's view’' that ‘'all maternal over- 
protection can be regarded as compensatory of unconscious 
hostility" an excessive generalization. There is a longing, 
together with a deep-rooted fear of loss, that springs from the 
positive sources of maternal love. Overprotection can there- 
fore also serve as a defense mechanism in avoiding separation. 

There are, however, more refined, less blatant methods that 
work quietly, indirectly, and all the more powerfully. They 
also prove more reliable for the preservation of the mother- 
child tie than the coarse methods that sooner or later arouse 
the child's protest. 

There is the common fantasy life, the accord between the 
conscious and unconscious impulses in the mother and child. 
Sometimes the fantasies conceal the unconscious personal 
element in a cloak of the humdrum and banal, sometimes 
they dress it in a mask of the supernatural and remote. 
Sometimes they directly reveal their nature in dreams and 
only slightly veiled actions. Abraham® has recorded an 
observation that suggests such an unconscious accord between 
mother and son; 

A young man whom I was psychoanalytically treating had observed since 
!iis early youth that his mother was betraying his father with a friend. He 
connected with this fact typical fantasies of a Hamlet character: he imagined 
that his mother and her friend would kill his father. One day his mother 
told him a dream she had had: in it a stranger made her an object of ridicule 
and deprecated her abilities and qualities. So she threw him out with the 
help of Mr. X [her friend]. My patient pricked up his ears when he heard 
his mother tell this dream and understood at once that the stranger could 
be none other than his father, whom his mother together with her friend 
‘‘threw out” — that is, did away with. He justly concluded that his mother’s 
fantasy was preoccupied with the same outrageous idea as his own. The 
agreement even extended to details. He too had often reproached his father 
in his fantasies for not sufficiently respecting his wife’s valuable qualities. 
She herself justified her abandonment of her husband on the same pretext. 

In Abraham's case the father is a man who does not know 
how to value the mother. Such a discovery on the part of 

7 Levy, D. M.: Op. cit. 

* Abraham, K.: Koinzidierende Phantasien bei Mutter und Sohn. Internat. Ztschr. 

f. Psychoanal., vol. ii, 1925. 



both mother and son can be the prelude to common feelings, 
and the early infantile unity between mother and child de- 
velops into a life attachment. 

In the son's fantasy the father is never as good as the mother. 
But a father who mistreats his wife unwittingly strengthens 
a now indissoluble unity between mother and son. 

Poets and novelists know this. In Sons and Lovers by 
D. H. Lawrence, Mrs. Morel’s sons experience the hell in which 
their mother lives. Her own love disappointment becomes 
her sons’ fate. They must fulfill the ideal demands of their 
mother that their father failed to meet: '‘she was afraid of 
her sons’ going the same way as their father.” They become 
teetotalers because their father was a drunkard. William, 
the first-born, begins this process. 

All the things that men do — the decent things — ^William did. He could 
run like the wind. When he was twelve, he won the first prize in a race. 
It stood proudly on the dresser and gave Mrs. Morel a keen pleasure. The 
boy only ran for her. He flew home with his anvil, breathless, with a ^Look, 
MotherP^ That was the first tribute to herself. She took it like a queen. 

All mothers want to be queens to whom sons pay tribute. 

And when the sons leave home to seek success in life, they^ 
do not know, just as William did not know, that they are in- 
flicting pain on the mother by pulling at the psychic umbilical 

It never occurred to him that she might be more hurt at his going away 
than glad of his success. Indeed, as the days drew nearer for departure, her 
heart began to close and grow dreary with despair. She loved him so much. 
More than that, she hoped in him so much. Almost she lived by him. She 
liked to do things for him; she liked to put a cup for his tea and to iron his 
collar, of which he was so proud. Now she would not do it for him. Now 
he was going away. She felt almost as if he were going as well out of her 
heart. He did not seem to leave her inhabited with himself. That was the 
grief and the pain to her. He took nearly all himself away. 

The poet thus helps us to describe what we have called the 
tragic destiny of motherhood. 

The even more tragic thing is that William, like every son 
who through the mother’s deep, painful longing remains tied 
to her, perishes because of this tie. Mrs. Morel mourns Wil- 



Ham's death just as all mothers mourn: ''If only it could have 
been me." She is sincere: all mothers would prefer to die 

I have known mothers who lost their sons in the first world 
war. The deaths of their grandsons in the second world war 
reopened wounds in them that had never been healed. "Com- 
fort yourself with your other children/' say their friends, thus 
revealing their ignorance of the curious fact that the loss of 
one child estranges the mother for a long time from her other 
children. Pain and suffering are the most powerful com- 
ponents of the psychic umbilical cord, especially when the 
first-born is involved. 

Mrs. Morel mourns William while completely neglecting 
Paul, her second-born. Only when he falls ill with pneumonia, 
as though to emulate the dead William, and when the danger 
arouses her fear and guilt feelings, does she turn toward him. 

‘T will die, Mother,” he cried. 

She lifted him up, crying in a small voice: ‘^Oh, my son, my son!” 

This was the same cry she once had for William 

^ That brought him to. He realized her. His whole will rose up and 
arrested him. . . . The two knitted together in perfect intimacy. Mrs. MorePs 
life now rooted itself in Paul. 

The sons are different and their mother’s unconscious 
methods of tying them to her are likewise different in regard to 

She was a woman who waited for her children to grow up. And William 
occupied her chiefly. But when William was not so much at home, the 
mother made a companion of Paul. He hunted far and wide for blackberries 
and brought her the best he could find. 

And when she, the earth-bound mother who struggles 
through reality, gives free rein to her fantasy and reaches out 
for beauty, it is Paul who understands her: 

‘T am a wicked, extravagant woman, I know, I shall come to want.” 
She unfolded another lump of newspaper and disclosed some roots of pansies 
and of crimson daisies. . . . 

‘‘But lovely,” he cried. 



^'Aren’t they!” she exclaimed, giving way to pure joy. “Paul, look at 
this yellow one, isn’t it — and a face just like an old man!” 

“Just,” cried Paul, “and smells that nice! But he’s a bit splashed.” 

Then he told her the budget of the day. His life story, like an Arabian 
Nights, was told night after night to his mother. It was almost as if it were 
her own life. 

It is noteworthy that in the mother-son alliance, Paul 
Morel’s everyday life stories became a kind of Arabian Nights 
tale, a life-long common fantasy world. 

In Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, Peer and his mother Aase, who live 
in the distant north under completely different cultural con- 
ditions, are like doubles of Mrs. Morel, the English miner’s 
wife, and her son Paul. Aase tells her little son fairy tales 
while the father drinks: 

Then both of us sat home 

And sought to forget our misery 

One wants sometimes to get rid of one’s cares 

And discard the evil thoughts; 

Some need brandy, others need lies. 

Aase, that terribly overindulgent mother, calls Peer a liar, 
but in silent community with him is ready to experience lies 
as truth — for this is the only thing that gives meaning to their 
common life, which is full of privations. The tie knit by her- 
self out of common fantasies keeps them together until death, 
and Aase dies in her son’s arms believing his lies — the happy 
mother in fairy tale land. 

Many mothers in their attempts to tie their children to them- 
selves appeal cleverly and consistently to their guilt feelings: 
“You will abandon me, who have suffered so much?” Others 
manage to occupy the place of the ego ideal so deeply and 
permanently that any weakening of the child’s relation to the 
mother is felt by him to be dangerous for his inner morality. 
A domineering, matriarchal woman often achieves rule over 
her children by setting up a common ideology, thus gratifying 
her tendency to dominate. In many families the pressure of 
tradition proves irresistible because it is exerted by a beloved 



and admired mother. New England offers many examples of 
such situations. 

Gorky, who has a profound knowledge of the Russian people, 
shows us another woman’s tragic love for her son in his novel 
T.he Mother. Like Mrs. Morel and Aase, she has been insulted, 
mistreated, and dishonored by her alcoholic husband. She is 
all alone in this miserable world with her son Pavel. It is a 
sad and difficult life: the mother is completely devoted to her 
son, while he, like most sons, in his heart is far removed from 
his mother’s lot, insensitive to her suffering, absorbed in his 
own inner unhappiness. Then he is seized by the fire of the 
Russian revolution, and Pelagia Vlassova, the half-dead, tor- 
mented woman, with her body debilitated and her spirit 
numbed by long years of toil and her husband’s blows, be- 
comes a great heroine of the movement of liberation, because 
of her deep and passionate love for her son — through him, for 
him, with him. 

Aase can hold her son in her arms in her hour of death because 
she believes his stories and thus strengthens his self-confidence. 
Pelagia lends ear to the new things her son tells her: at first 
they are perhaps only a fairy tale for her. 'Tavel came closer 
to her and made his first speech about the truth he had grasped 
straight into her face dampened by tears.” Proud of his 
knowledge and filled with ardent faith in its truth, he spoke 
of what he had just learned to understand. 

He spoke less for his mother than to test himself. . . . He pitied his 
mother, he began to speak again, but now about herself, her life. ... It was 
the first time she heard such words about herself and her life. . . . But now 
her son sat before her, and what his eyes, his face, and his words said, moved 
her heart, filled it with pride in her son who understood his mother’s life, 
spoke to her about her sufferings, and sympathized with her. . . . 

Pavel saw the smile on his mother’s lips, her attentive face, the love in 
her eyes. It was as though he had succeeded in making her understand 
the truth of what he said, and youthful pride in the force of his words strength- 
ened him in his faith in himself. 

Thus far, these three mothers and their sons, although they 
live in different places, are like translations of the same 
text into three completely different languages — Paul’s Arabian 



Nights tales, Peer GynPs tall stories, and PaveFs revelation 
of nev/ truths. The sons draw self-confidence from the eternal 
faith of the mother and gratify the mother’s deepest life pur- 
pose — to preserve her son, or to have the illusion of preserving 
him. Pelagia Vlassova is the only one among them who goes 
farther, by making her son’s ideals her own and really helping 
him in his hard and dangerous struggle: ‘‘The words of my 
son are the pure words of a worker, of an incorruptible heart! 
Learn to recognize the incorruptible by his fearlessness!” 

She dies with faith in her son, united with him in faith in the 
revolution, just as Aase dies in Peer Gynt’s arms. 

Reviewing the various methods of preserving the mother- 
child relationship, we see that they follow a certain law. They 
are adapted to the successive phases of the child’s development. 
First, the mother gratifies the child’s instinctual needs, par- 
ticipating in his pleasure. Then the child achieves a sub- 
limated, tender relation to his mother, who enjoys his need to 
lean on her and his tenderness, and responds to them. In the 
end, the mother, as a result of educational and emotional in- 
fluences, becomes a part of his ego ideal and thus is reunited 
with him. 

Every phase of the child’s development ends with intensified 
tendencies to liberate himself. The mother — every mother — 
tries to keep him attached to herself and opposes the actions 
that tend to dissolve the tie. She continues these attempts 
anachronistically later as well. The question is : To what phase 
of development do the methods correspond — do they serve 
intensified gratification of instincts (pampering), tolerant and 
emphatic tenderness, or stronger and continued influence of 
the superego? 

In order to achieve her goal, the mother must fulfill certain 
conditions. She must keep away from what is forbidden and 
guilt-laden, or this must be well concealed and masked. It is 
possible that a tender relation like that between Mrs. Morel 
and Paul conceals the guilt feeling caused by a common death 
wish with regard to the devaluated father. The fantastic 
relationship between Aase and Peer Gynt conceals their com- 



mon disavowal of Peer Gynt’s inferiority. Such an alliance 
can be seen frequently in a less fantastic garb. Also, one often 
has the impression that such an admixture of concealed motives 
greatly contributes to strengthening the mother-child relation. 

Pelagia Vlassova perhaps found the most reliable method: 
she entered into her son’s life interests and through her love 
for him learned to love something impersonal, the idea of social 

The struggle for ideals is not taken up by every son and 
daughter. The gray prose of everyday life also offers the 
mother opportunities to achieve understanding identification 
with her child, instead of making demands upon him, par- 
ticularly if she succeeds in assimilating the life interests of 
her child that are outside her own and in exchanging her own 
horizons for his. A feminine-intuitive mother finds possi- 
bilities for such an identification, for in a kind of tragic aware- 
ness she knows that this is the only method of keeping her 
child. If she lacks the inner capacity for this, she must rely 
upon compensations outside motherhood and remains a sad 
(or embittered) orphan mother. 

About women as mothers, Freud’ says: ‘Tn the child they 
gave birth to, they are confronted with a part of their own 
body, as an alien object to which they can now give full object 
love from their narcissism.” 

The whole complexity of psychologic motherhood is ex- 
pressed in these words. When we see the mother’s rela- 
tionship to her growing children under the magnifying glass 
of psychoanalysis, we realize that we are dealing with some- 
thing unique. Some components of the maternal affective 
complex are familiar to us from other relationships and con- 
ditions: in being in love there is similar overvaluation of the 
object; in mourning there is similar restriction of all other 
life interests; in people tormented by guilt feelings there is a 
like masochistic readiness for sacrifice; in melancholy we find 
such a far reaching identification with another person that 

* Freud, S.: On narcissism: An introduction. Collected Papers, vol. 4. 



everything imputed to him in the patient’s unconscious turns 
against the patient’s own ego. 

A mother who lives in the constant and anxious awareness 
that she will have to give up her children piece by piece, as it 
were, in favor of their further development, behaves — con- 
trolling herself more or less — like someone who must give up 
an important, valuable, indispensable part of his own personal- 
ity together with his beloved object. Her apprehensions 
about the child who is becoming independent often sound like 
the complaints of a hypochondriac who is overworried about 
himself, and her willingness to sacrifice exceeds that of the 
normal masochistic lover. Above all, we find in many m.others 
a mode of reaction that seems to be explainable only on the 
basis of a particular strengthening of motherliness as such. 
Such a mother is often willing — sincerely willing — joyfully to 
sacrifice everything for her children, especially for her only 
child. At the same time she imposes an implacable condition 
on life: her child must be well and happy. On this point she 
has no tolerance, no social sense. Her child is the center of the 
world, and the seamy side of life, which all humans must know, 
must be kept far from him. 

Such a mother also feels the psychic umbilical cord witK 
particular intensity: she bears separation from her child 
very badly, she must be informed of his condition at every 
moment of his life, and her happiness and wretchedness 
depend completely upon him. Her psychic life is an emotional 
echo of his experiences. She show^s social and other interests 
only when her mind is free of worry about her child, and 
then these interests can be warm and rich. 

When analyzing such women, we learn that while they were 
very narcissistic before their motherhood, this narcissism 
usually had a definite character: it expressed itself in formation 
of a high ideal, in an emotional reserve that bespoke not so 
much an emotional poverty as great demands upon the object. 
They have learned the really sacrificing, selfless, tolerant love 
that is entirely absorbed in the object, in their relation to their 
own children only. If such a woman has a disposition to 



pessisimism and self-torture, her apprehensions and worries 
as to the future apply to the child, and her fear of the dangers 
of life concerns her own person less than his. 

I realize that I am describing here a neurotic mother. But 
her neurosis is only a distortion — perhaps a very slight one — 
of the general maternal fate. Maternal love is a peculiar mix- 
ture of narcissism and object love, and at bottom the child 
never confronts his mother as “an alien object.” The love 
she gives him is paradoxically the most selfless self-love. 
That is why the task of separation from him is psychically so 

The child, as his mother's love object, is supposed to achieve 
an independent existence in another sense too. The relation- 
ship to him is a new acquisition that in large part utilizes and 
transfers old relationships. For this reason he is threatened 
with the danger of being identified with other objects, so that 
all the affects that are or were applied to the others flow to 
him. In the triangular situation, the child should not become 
part of one or the other parent but an independent member. 
We have already pointed out the dangers involved in the 
‘mother's striving to have her child identify with herself. 
This identification may relate to a definite past period in the 
mother's life that in her fantasy strives for repetition in the 
child. Usually experiences of the mother's own childhood are 
involved here. Next to the wish ^^You shall be happier than I 
was,'' the repetition asserts itself in some form, and the child 
is assigned a definite role that has nothing to do with his own 
wishes and aspirations. 

An example of this is a mother about whom analysis re- 
vealed the following. She had an only little son whom she 
loved very much. She was intelligent and intuitive and 
believed that she was not making any educational mistakes. 
She devoted much of her free time to her child and would tell 
him true and imagined tales about her life in Russia, where she 
was born. The untrue stories were always recognized as 
such by common agreement. One of these, usually told to 



the child while he was being fed, ran as follows: “I have three 
grown-up sons over there [in Russia], They are three giants. 
They eat a whole ox and a pot of spinach as big as this room 
for every meal. They are enoi-mously strong and perform all 
kinds of exploits.'' 

The accomplishments of these characters were described in 
detail, and the mother and son were greatly amused by them. 
The attitude of these three pov/erful but stupid fellows toward 
the little boy was naturally not very good, for they knew per- 
fectly well that the mother loved him alone. Then the mother 
would tell him Vv^hy she loved him so much, in such a special 
way, in contrast to her feeling for the others : he was intelligent 
and refined and tender, and things of the spirit were as close 
and precious to him as they were to her. 

Sometimes the three brothers appeared as competitors, but 
naturally they were always rejected by the mother and forced 
to return to Russia without having gained anything. There 
was nothing they could do. For the mother loved only him, 
the little one, and her stories always returned to this refrain. 
She herself experienced enormous joy and a feeling of triumph 
over the ‘Tig fellows" because of her warm and gratifying 
emotions toward her beloved little son. She was somewhat 
concerned over the fact that he did not eat well and obviously 
had fears at night. But she saw no danger in her stories. 

Analysis showed that she herself w^as a child born a long time 
after her two sisters and her brother. She was her father's 
favorite, and the typical relationship to the third daughter 
developed : she was the only one among the children who shared 
the father’s intellectual interests and took up his profession. 
The others were three giants, but she achieved the triumph of 
being the best loved and the chosen one. Now, as a mother, 
she wanted to re-experience this triumph and let her beloved 
little son share in it: “He shall be as happy with me as I was 
with my father." 

But she overlooked one psychologic fact. If her grown-up 
sisters and brother had been a solved problem for her, she 
would not have needed to experience her triumph again and 
again. Actually they were still there, those giant fellows; 



they involved a danger for her and had to be conquered again 
and again. She recalled that despite her father’s love for 
her she had felt very insignificant in her littleness and had been 
very jealous of the strength, accomplishments, and potentiali- 
ties of her older sisters and brother. They also often tor- 
mented her and she was physically afraid of them. Since 
she had repressed that part of her memories in the stories 
she told her little son, she did not know that he refused to eat 
because he could not, after all, compete with boys who ate a 
whole ox, and that at night he was afraid because if they should 
come they would prove stronger than he. Thus the little boy 
sensed more of the mother’s unconscious than she did herself, 
and against her will identified himself with the anxious com- 
ponent of it. 

Another mother presented a similar case. She told her 
pampered, talented little daughter, to whom she knew that she 
would give the best possible upbringing and education, that she 
would eventually be apprenticed to a poor little shoemaker and 
would suffer many privations in his house. These plans had a 
happy ending because here too both mother and child were 
aware of the parent’s love and solicitude. But the mother 
unconsciously had to gratify her own masochism in her stories 
before she could allow her little daughter, whom she identified 
with herself, to be happy. 

Even greater danger menaces a child who is diminished in 
his own existence by identification with other objects. If the 
child becomes the likeness of his father, previously devaluated 
by his mother, he is subjected to all his mother’s disappoint- 
ment reactions. If he is identified with a still loved husband, 
he is later all the more pressed in his competition with him. 
If marriage and the child have served to overcome the mother’s 
unhappy love for another man, and if the unloved husband’s 
features reappear in the child, he is in danger of losing his 
mother’s love. 

As I have said, the directness of the mother’s relation to 
the child can also be disturbed outside the triangle, by the 



unconscious affective transference of her old ties still striving 
to be realized. Personally I have never seen a mother re- 
peat an unsolved childhood conflict in her relationship to her 
own child unless an emotional and neurotic motive or a par- 
ticular life situation provoked her to do so. I shall illustrate 
this point by an example. 

A mother asked for help from a social agency because she 
was no longer in a position to maintain her home and support 
her children. Her difficulties were intensified by the fact that 
her husband was in the Army, but they had a character dif- 
ferent from those of the other war mothers we have discussed. 

Mrs. K. was the mother of two girls aged 7 and 4, and of a 
I -year-old boy. At the age of 20 she had married a 22-year-old 
man whom she had met in college. Because of the couple's 
decision to found a family the girl was compelled to interrupt 
her studies, which she did without the slightest regret. Her 
husband graduated from college with honors, and with some 
help from his parents and the girl's w’'as soon able to support 
his family and in accordance wfith his wishes. Up to 
the birth of her youngest child, Mrs. K. had been an energetic, 
healthy, and independent housewife and mother. She easily 
mastered all the difficulties, bad habits, etc., of her two girls- 
and always had enough time left to gratify her own intellectual 

Soon after the birth of her boy she became ill with a gall- 
bladder inflammation caused by gallstones, from which she had 
begun to suffer during her last pregnancy. Since that time she 
had been unable to manage her household and her life; she 
could not finish anything, she neglected her home, her children 
grew increasingly wild, and the little boy caused her the great- 
est difficulties of all. She had been an excellent nurse to her 
two girls, but she could suckle her boy only for a short time, 
because of her illness. Nevertheless, he was very well physi- 
cally, but in contrast to the little girls brought great disquiet 
and tension into the home. From his sixth month on he 
cried all night long, lost his appetite from time to time, and 
constantly presented his mother with new problems: now it 


was an inflammation of the throat, now teething troubles, a 
cold, digestive difficulties, etc. The pediatrician said that 
Franky was ‘‘a splendid boy,’’ that the mother was ‘‘nervous.” 

In the course of the interviews it gradually became clear that 
Mrs. K. unconsciously hated her boy, that from the very be- 
ginning she had tried to suppress her hatred by means of ex- 
cessive care of him, and that this suppression cost her a great 
deal of energy. As a result she was tired, neglected the house- 
hold, and was unable to continue the previously good upbring- 
ing of her little girls. She exaggerated all the boy’s minor 
indispositions, and in her concern about him there was always 
an element of hypochondriac fear for her own person. “After 
all. I’m sick. Just look at me, I’m going to collapse,” she 
said again and again. She said that at night she went to bed 
with an anxious expectation: “Will he disturb me again?” 
By her anxious listening, her leaving the doors open, etc., 
she obviously helped to create a restless atmosphere around 
the child. During the day she often found herself compelled 
to punish the boy as well as her daughters, who reacted to 
their mother’s anxiety with anxiety on their own part. Mrs. K. 
maintained that her little girls had been “angels” before the 
•birth of Franky. 

Mr. K., who was exempt from the draft, had enlisted be- 
cause he could no longer bear the atmosphere at home. At- 
tempts were made to obtain the help of women members of the 
family, above all Mrs. K.’s mother, but they failed because 
Mrs. K. refused to give up her own position of authority with 
regard to her children. 

In the end she ceased suppressing her hatred against the 
boy; she admitted it and asked in despair whence it came. 
She now had to make up her mind to place him in a children’s 

Up to her eighth year Mrs. K. had been an only child, 
pampered and idolized. Then her mother gave birth to a 
little son to whom, naturally enough, all the attention of the 
family now turned. Mrs. K. had never accepted the usual 
appeasement offered by mothers: “Now you are going to have 



a little brother whom you can take care of and play with/’ 
She tried to draw attention to herself and from that time on 
became a sickly child. Her hypochondriac mother surrounded 
her with doctors and nurses and trembled at every little symp- 
tom she showed. As a result of her mother’s behavior, the 
girl herself became hypochondriac, and one summer when she 
was sent to camp she annoyed everyone around her with her 
complaints. However, just at that time, when she was 12, 
she had an impulse, under the influence of a camp counselor 
with whom she became infatuated, to liberate herself from her 
conflicts. She gave up her competition with her brother, 
freed herself from her dependence upon her parents and her 
hypochondriac symptoms, and developed various interests and 
good, positive relations with other people. At 20, she fell in 
love with her future husband and, as we have said, remained 
healthy until the birth of her boy. 

Through Mrs. K.’s whole life story ran the thread of more 
than normal self-love. She had always loved to be loved, 
she had worked for success, she had renounced her career 
because she justly believed in her husband’s great future. Her 
pregnancies were good and her two “blonde angels” gratified 
her maternal pride. She had also wished for and expected a " 
son. Her gallbladder inflammation, an unpleasant, protracted, 
and chronic illness, constituted a strong attack on her nar- 
cissistic inner world, which until then had had all gratifica- 
tion. She bore a grudge against the boy because he disturbed 
her contentment just as her little brother had once done. 
At that earlier time she had felt frustrated in her need of love 
and had reacted with physical illnesses. Now her physical 
illness became for her a signal to expect additional love in a 
life period in which actually more devotion was expected from 
her as the mother of a new child. In other words, she had an 
intensified need to take at a time when her task consisted in 
giving. To the narcissistic mortification of her physical ill- 
ness she reacted just as in childhood with an increase of self- 
love, hypochondriac self-observation, and aggression against 
the environment, especially that part of it which made demands 
upon her. 


This exacting and hostile environment was her little boy. 
He was the origin of her illness and he demanded nourishment, 
care, and tenderness from her. The conflict between the 
heightened demands of her ego and the reproductive service, 
or its product, resulted in increased disharmony. Her pur- 
poses became contradictory. Her maternal willingness to 
sacrifice failed completely in favor of the hypochondriac turn 
toward the ego, and she removed her maternal love not only 
from her boy but partly also from her other children. Little 
Franky would perhaps have been a normal child, easy to bring 
up, like his sisters, if he had not become the object of his 
mother’s hostility. This hostility asserted itself probably in a 
number of small actions of which Mrs. K. was unaware, but 
to which Franky reacted with the usual sensitivity of little 
children. Her behavior probably resulted from the summation 
of negative stimuli — her own illness, the reactivation of her 
former emotions toward her brother because ofhis sex, prob- 
ably also the fact that her husband had diverted his interest to 
the impersonal tasks of the war. These factors seemed quite 
sufficient to induce her gradual collapse. 

Many mothers can bear the personal sacrifice they must 
* make for the child only if it does not involve an injury to their 
narcissism; in such women the transfer of the various ego 
interests to the reproductive function upsets the psychic 
economy, except under certain favorable conditions. The 
narcissistic forces of self-preservation and the masochistic 
functions of motherhood must come to a harmonious agree- 
ment. The merging of self-love and object love for the child, 
is the prerequisite of the maternal experience. If one of these 
basic elements of the feminine psyche is overburdened, emo- 
tional disorders and their pathologic manifestations appear. 

In Mrs. K. the organic illness and the excessive demands of 
the newborn infant overburdened the masochistic element; as 
a result, the narcissistic counterforces were intensified and at 
once resorted to the means they had employed in the past — 
hypochondria, self-love, and, in connection with this, hateful 
aggression against the agent provocateur of her difficulties. 
The old guardian of her narcissism previously developed by 


her environment, especially by her mother, prevented her 
from masochistically intensifying her love for her little son as 
a ‘‘child of sorrow” (Freud). 

It is clear that a whole chain of inner experiences was re- 
quired to make her transfer her old brother relation to her 
little son and to mobilize her hostility in connection with this 

A mother must not strive to achieve any other goals through 
her child but those of his existence, otherwise she runs the risk 
of tailing in her purpose and of being cheated of the experience 
of motherhood. One woman who had voluntarily remained 
childless for five years after her marriage made up her mind to 
become pregnant in order “finally” to liberate herself from her 
dependence upon her mother, who had dissuaded her from 
having a child because of the financial difficulties involved, the 
uncertain political situation, etc. She felt her mother’s ad- 
vice to be a prohibition and decided to violate it with the 
conscious idea “A child will give me my freedom.” Her 
pregnancy was normal, but soon after childbirth difficulties 
set in. She was unable to suckle her child, complained of 
having no feeling for him, and developed a depression. The " 
child played a role that was the opposite of that which he was 
supposed to play: instead of liberating his mother from her 
fetters he imposed a new burden upon her — a feelingof guilt 
for having transgressed her mother’s prohibition — and in- 
creased her dependence upon her mother. Even after the end 
of her depression, this woman long remained hostile toward 
her child, and only psychoanalytic treatment could reconcile 
her with him. 

We recall that in many women pregnancy itself is supposed 
to serve definite purposes alien to motherhood. These pur- 
poses are now transferred to the child. They are often banal 
and superficial: for instance, the husband wants an heir, a 
proof of his masculinity, or feels obliged to abide by the family 
tradition, or is tired of leading a restless life and desires to 
found a stable home; his wife yields to his wishes without 


being ready for motherhood. Or she notices signs of un- 
faithfulness in her husband and wants to bind him to herself by 
having a child. Or her life lacks content, she is aware of its 
emptiness and decides to become a mother out of boredom, so 
to speak. There are innumerable such motives of a coarsely 
realistic character; there are unconscious motives, some even 
of a compulsive nature. 

We have previously introduced the term compulsive mother- 
hood. It applies to all those women who repeatedly become 
pregnant and have many children without being mothers in 
the full sense of the word. Many of them, like Mrs. Andrews, 
cannot enjoy sexuality unless it implies impregnation. Others 
want to atone by pregnancy for an unconscious guilt, and only 
burden themselves thereby with additional guilt. In such 
compulsively repeated pregnancy there is often a fatal chain 
of guilt and atonement, the one provoking the other. Some 
women want to enjoy the pride of motherhood, others its suf- 
ferings, masochistically. Some want to appease a neurotic 
feeling that they have injured their bodies through masturba- 
tion, by proving that they can give birth to a child. Some 
want only to be pregnant, and accept the child as a necessary 
'' consequence; others want only a baby, always a new baby. 
Some do not feel themselves to be mothers and try to make up 
for this lack through another child. Others suffer when 
they discover their own infantilism and hope to grow up 
through having a child — and if one child does not produce 
the desired result, by having many children. Thus the child 
becomes only a means, not an end in itself, and in such cases 
biologic motherhood does not lead to motherliness. 

Sometimes a motive that is at first of secondary importance 
comes to stand between mother and child; then gradually the 
balance is shifted and the secondary motive becomes primary. 
For instance, a mother who loved her child suddenly dis- 
covered that she had sacrificed her beauty to her motherhood. 
She tried to recoup her loss by using her child to enhance her 
beauty. Like the French painter, Madame Vig^e-Lebrun, 
she played the part of the Madonna in the numerous Madonna 


and Child photographs that she had taken. In society, in 
the streets, etc., she was always seen with her little daughter: 
glorification of maternal beauty became the objective of her 
relation to her child. When the young girl grew up she 
naturally rebelled against this unity and attributed to her 
mother the role the latter had predetermined — that of the 
wicked woman in the fairy tale who questions the mirror. 
The situation was hopeless, for the mother could not behave 
like a normally aging mother, especially since beauty had once 
been very important to her. In normal cases, the jealous 
competition of the mother subsides because of her loving 
identification with her daughter, whose successes she makes 
her own and thus enjoys indirectly. In this case, the daughter 
justly disbelieved her mother and, jealous of the latter’s well 
preserved beauty, projected her jealousy into the mother 
and hated her with a hatred that became fatal to herself. 

This process of identification of the ambitious mother with 
the ambitious successes of her children, of the vain mother 
with the beauty of her daughter, is one of the anchors of salva- 
tion every mother has at her disposal. As a rule, a mother 
who competes with her own child is rare; her alleged jealousy 
is usually a projection of the child’s typical conflict to the 

Another displacement of roles resulting from secondary 
causes arises from the tendency of mothers to follow a definite 
model in their relation to their children. Next to such models 
fixed in childhood (representing members of the family) there 
are new acquisitions in later life that also press unconsciously 
for repetition. In women with hysterical multiple personality 
or of the “as if” type, this process is very clear. Their mother- 
liness goes through the same vicissitudes as their personalities 
as a whole: as mothers they are now one, now another person. 

A model that a given woman considers inaccessible in other 
fields may seem accessible to her as a mother and thus lead 
her to peculiar behavior. A German socialist woman of the 
1890’s found a political ego ideal in the famous agitator Lily 
Braun, in whose shadow she with her own modest talent was 



compelled to remain. In her relation to her son she imitated 
Lily Braun’s relation (as described in her memoirs) to her son, 
a man of genius who died young. The robust nonintellectual 
son of this woman, who later became my patient, was driven 
to gangsterism by his mother’s attitude toward him. 

Neurotic mothers easily include their children in the patho- 
logic process. The neurotic emotional conflict attacks the 
sanctum sanctorum of motherliness. The child loses his 
original meaning and is subjected to emotional impulses that 
were not meant to concern him. As the grandson of a hated 
grandfather, as the son or daughter of a rejected father, as the 
memory of an undesired, perhaps ‘"sinful” action, and often 
as a part of his own mother, who directs toward her child her 
masochistic fury against herself, he is hated or rejected, neg- 
lected or maltreated. 

When the pressure of reality becomes unbearable in the 
conflict between the self-preservation tendencies and mother- 
hood, the mother, in order to spare herself, often renounces a 
love relationship with her child and prefers to reject him. 
Much oftener, the emotional relation to the child remains 
suspended in the subjectively felt void, because an inner pro- 
hibition has succeeded in thwarting and isolating the em Jtional 
experience before it had a chance to develop fully. Very 
young or unmarried mothers often accuse themselves of “not 
feeling anything for the child.” The same is true of women 
whose entire motherhood from pregnancy through childbirth 
to the later relationship with the child is marked by prohibitions 
and threats of punishment. One young woman maintained 
stubbornly that her child was completely alien to her, and 
persisted in this assertion until she discovered that her mother- 
hood had been under her dead father’s* “curse”: he had been 
against her marriage with the child’s father. Similarly, an 
atheist mother became estranged from her. child because, ac- 
cording to her obedient unconscious, just as according to her 
religious parents, he was a “bastard,” because the marriage of 
his parents had not been solemnized by a religious ceremony. 

Childishness carried into motherhood — and I have often 



had occasion to deal with this — creates a bad soil for the diffi- 
cult and serious emotional tasks of this estate. The per- 
formance is successful only intermittently: now and then the 
little girl grows into her maternal garb, but usually she is 
helpless, becomes confused in her emotions, and escapes into 
negation of them through hatred. One very young mother 
came close to strangling her baby: “It cried so much and I 
did not know why.'’ 

Mothers always fear for their children and sometimes fear 
them. The fear of the lactation period — “He is devouring 
me" — the mother's justified fear of having to give up her ego 
for the child, often expressed in concern over her personal 
ambitions, beauty, etc., can lead to hostility and reactive 
formations. Mothers with this attitude cannot endure the 
normal aggressions directed by children of both sexes against 
their mothers. Above all, they provoke these very aggres- 
sions. This leads to those long chains of difficulties between 
mother and child in which the primary and secondary factors 
are almost indistinguishable. It is not possible to say, in many 
cases, why mothers behave as though their motherhood lacked 
a kind of immunization against the dangers common to their" 
condition. Sometimes one has the impression that they present 
a kind of inhibited development in which passivity prevails 
and the active elements of motherhood are absent. 

. The children's intuitive sense and their aggressive drives 
combine to exploit the mother's inhibiting anxiety and she 
becomes their tormented victim, constantly wavering be- 
tween self-defense and masochistic surrender. 

Casting a retrospective glance at the psychologic processes 
of motherhood, we see that this seemingly obvious and natural 
biologic process involves difficult tasks for woman. We find 
in it a world of polarities — ego interests and service to the 
species, the mother’s tendency to preserve her unity with 
the child and the child’s drive to freedom, love and hostility, 
and a large number of personal, frequently neurotic conflicts. 



The methods used to solve all these problems vary with the 
individuals. Probably the path traced by nature is the most 
successful: having many children is the best protection against 
the tragic loss. They make the psychologic umbilical cord 
more real and facilitate its management. This path is largely 
barred as a result of cultural influences. The strengthening of 
the ego interests in the forms of social, intellectual, and pro- 
fessional tasks, while creating new conflicts for woman, also 
creates new opportunities of solution. Woman’s ego might 
contend that in fact there is no such thing as pure motherli- 
ness, just as there is no absolute femininity or absolute mascu- 
linity. We have earlier opposed the distinction so frequently 
made between mother and prostitute, by our reference to the 
motherly prostitute (p. 38). Erotic women, perhaps even 
those who have certain qualities of the prostitute, often bring 
more warmth into their maternal feelings than ascetic women; 
masculine components may supply a useful addition to ma- 
ternal activity, etc. Every single maternal quality can have 
disturbing effects if exaggerated, the mask of motherliness 
may conceal thoroughly unmotherly qualities, motherliness 
can be used for indirect goals, etc. 

The definition of the specific qualities of motherhood con- 
sists in demonstrating a motherly core, around which the 
secondary admixtures are grouped in varying measure. The 
presence of the latter is just as much a prerequisite of motherli- 
ness as the presence of the core. Methodologically, the pro- 
cedure is the same here as that which I followed in defining the 
feminine core (vol. i), with consistent care to take important 
secondary components into account. 


Unmarried Mothers 

O UR social morality casts a dark shadow on the mother- 
liness of a considerable number of women. Ille- 
gitimate motherhood is above all a social problem 
and is judged differently in different societies. Without 
entering into all the complexities; we shall point out that even 
in our own civilization the moral judgments passed upon it 
vary with the milieu. In some classes economic pressure 
hinders the founding of families and thus furthers illegitimate 
motherhood. Among European peasants the inheritance 
customs have always prevented early marriages. i\mong 
the lower classes, both in the country and in the city, pre- 
marital intercourse is fairly widespread, but monogamy is 
often maintained even without marriage and the illegitimate 
child enjoys the same rights in the family as the later born 
legitimate children, especially where the love relationship 
results in marriage. In these cases illegitimacy is not morally 
condemned; it is part of a sexual order sanctioned by custom. 

It is true that social developments in the last decades have 
brought about a change in the attitude toward illegitimate 
children in all civilized countries. The idea that mothers who 
have given birth to children without the sanction of marriage 
are sinners is obsolete, and generalized condemnation has 
given place to the tendency to consider unmarried mothers a 
social symptom, resulting from specific economic and sexual 
conditions. The existing social order is considered inadequate 
in its treatment of illegitimate motherhood. It is hardly 
possible to estimate objectively the influence of this trend upon 
the deeply rooted social prejudices against illegitimacy. In- 
direct evidence casts a glaring light on the prevalent ideas on 
this subject. In June 1944 the following note was published 
in Medical Economics: 



A proposal for withholding from the press the list of births now available 
at ail registrars’ offices has been abandoned by the New York State De- 
partment of Health. Immediately after a meeting to consider the proposal, 
the department said the state’s Attorney-General had ruled that it had no 
authority to adopt such a regulation. 

The plan had been suggested primarily to protect unmarried mothers 
and illegitimate children from publicity, but the New York State Publishers’ 
Association had argued that if it were approved, other departments of the 
state might also attempt to regulate publication of official information. 
Most newspapers throughout the state have been voluntarily withholding 
publication of illegitimate births, and their counsel said they would continue 
to do so. 

It is tactful of the newspapers voluntarily to refrain from 
announcing illegitimate births, and those who made the 
proposal to withold the lists of births from the press were 
certainly motivated by charitable considerations. That the 
attorney-general could not sanction this proposal, and that 
the publishers’ association refused officially to renounce its 
rights, does not concern us here. But the fact that such pro- 
tection of unmarried mothers and illegitimate children resting 
on the tactful discretion of the newspapers is necessary, shows 
that our society still regards such motherhood as a disgrace 
ithat must be shielded from all publicity. 

Medical science today enables women to bring their children 
into the world almost painlessly. It believes that it is thus 
increasing women’s willingness to give birth to children and 
thereby fulfilling an important social task. But is not this 
technologic progress devaluated by the fact that it has taken 
place in a social order that holds that motherhood must be 
concealed as a disgrace unless it fits into a definite social 
pattern ? 

Psychologic considerations are very important in any attempt 
to clarify the problem of illegitimacy, because there is a far 
reaching interaction between the social and psychologic de- 
terminants of this phenomenon. Where social condemnation 
is less strong and illegitimate children are not considered a 
grave mistake, the emotional reactions of unmarried mothers 
are not the same as they are where illegitimate motherhood 
is mercilessly stigmatized by law and public opinion. 



However, the psychologic factors lie deep in the soul of the 
mother and illegitimate motherhood has its own specific emo- 
tional points of departure. The social factors constitute the 
background and are assimilated by the psychologic ones: 
certain emotional reactions are set fully in motion only by the 
social obstacles. We know that under normal circumstances 
unmarried women have great difficulty in overcoming their 
sexual inhibitions because of their fear of pregnancy. Next 
to the fear of defloration, the threat of conception is the most 
powerful guardian of the young girl’s virtue. Fear of mother- 
hood accompanies woman’s psychic life in marriage too, and 
the difference between the normal and morbid manifestations 
of this fear is quantitative, and noticeable only when it leads 
to difficulties affecting the reproductive function. The social 
prohibition against illegitimate motherhood plays the part 
of an ally of this deep-rooted fear; it rationalizes this fear and 
thus furthers adjustment to reality. On the other hand, we 
have the sexuality of the unmarried woman, who is not always 
able to escape the physiologic consequences of the sexual act. 
The conscious or unconscious wish for a child can prove stronger 
than the rational arguments opposing it. 

Thus we have a definite distribution of strength as between ^ 
the wish tendencies and the defense tendencies. The psychic 
processes do not always mechanically follow the pattern of 
this distribution of strength. The inner prohibition may 
give rise to a defense; but the same prohibition can set In 
motion a compulsion to violate It. Similarly, there may 
arise a strong psychologically determined protest against 
the external prohibitions. In sexual intercourse, the wish 
for pregnancy, which is not always equivalent to the wish for 
a child, may assert itself. I have pointed out before that 
the urge to motherhood is not necessarily the expression of 
an instinctual force and does not necessarily serve real mother- 
liness. I have dealt with this psychologic phenomenon 
in legitimate motherhood, and it will confront us even more 
clearly in illegitimate motherhood. Thus the psychology of 
illegitimate motherhood will prove to be only partially a 
reaction to social difficulties. 



Two questions must be considered in this connection: 
(i) the psychologic prerequisites of illegitimate pregnancy, 
especially where it could have been prevented or where it is 
repeated several times despite its destructive effects on the 
mother’s life and despite the fact that consciously she does 
not want it, and (a) the woman’s subsequent reactions to her 
illegitimate motherhood. 

I have pointed out that pregnancy has a psychologic 
meaning of its own apart from the fact that it is a prelude to 
motherhood. We have seen that some women compulsively 
become pregnant several times in order to gratify psychologic 
tendencies that are not directly connected with the wish for 
a child. But since motherhood is a consequence of pregnancy, 
it is difficult psychologically to separate the condition and the 
result. This makes it impossible to avoid some repetition in 
our discussion. 

The type of unmarried mother most frequently encountered, 
because she is most frequently in need of public assistance, is 
the young girl still in the throes of adolescence. We have 
seen how immature sexual play can become a serious matter, 
and how the tragedy of unmarried motherhood m.ay result from 
1 secondary psychologic motives. Any excessive charge of 
puberal conflicts can operate as such a motive. The motive may 
be that of flight from incest fantasies into unrestrained self-aban- 
donment to the first man encountered (many men to replace the 
one and only), with or without fulfillment of the immature 
fantasy 'T want a child”; it may arise from an unfavorable 
identification (e.g., with a pregnant mother, sister, friend, 
etc.), from vengefulness toward the family, from a tendency 
to self-punishment, etc. Sometimes a complicated combina- 
tion of psychic motives is present, and sometimes simple 
sexual curiosity suffices to confront a young and immature 
girl with the very adult task of motherhood. 

The adolescent feeling of solitude that I have previously ^ 
mentioned (vol. i) is sometimes intensified into a depression 
and a feeling of vacuum, and the girl seeks refuge from this 
in life, excitement, and forbidden pleasures. Especially those 
young girls whose feeling of solitude is increased by lack of 



tenderness in their environment, are prone to such uncontrolled 
sexual indulgence leading to motherhood. They misinterpret 
man’s sexual lust for tenderness, and their own need for tender- 
ness creates the readiness for motherhood, with its wonderful 
opportunities for gratification of the most tender of all feelings. 
Motherly unmarried mothers are often women who respond 
with complete abandon to the first sexual assault, as a result 
of their need for tenderness. 

One such woman was Louise, a handsome 17-year old girl 
whose relatives came to a social agency asking for help and 
advice in the difficulties the girl had created for them. Her 
mother had died a few years before and her father lived in 
Texas with another woman, but partly supported Louise. 
Mrs. L., who took care of the girl, was her mother’s first cousin. 
She was a kindly woman of about 50 and showed obvious loving 
solicitude for her young relative. She lived with her husband 
and her married daughter’s family on a farm in New England. 
Louise was learning millinery in a near-by town. Four months 
before her case came to the social agency she had been delivered 
of a boy and had returned to the farm with him. Her cousin 
had not known about her pregnancy, although she had heard 
that Louise was going out a great deal with young men. Louise ' 
denied this and her cousin, greatly taxed with her own family, 
could not devote much attention to the girl; “Louise knows 
that we will always help her when she needs us.” The diffi- 
culty was now that Louise refused to separate from her child 
and generally behaved in a very defiant and disagreeable 
manner. As a child she had always been good, but seclusive 
and absorbed in her dreams. 

Louise was very tender toward her child, but refused to suckle 
it for more than six weeks, alleging that the nurse in the 
hospital had said that the child did not need his mother’s 
milk for more than six weeks. The aunt found the girl com- 
pletely changed. She had been timid and reserved; now she 
went out with boys and returned home late at night. She 
did almost no work but constantly carried her child in her 
arms and pampered it. She took it into her own bed at night, 



and since she often returned home late, the child wailed and 
demanded to be carried. The relatives thought that Louise 
should also think of her future; they were willing to keep the 
child and give Louise an opportunity to continue her apprentice- 
ship. Otherwise, they thought, she should work in a factory; 
idleness did not seem to be doing her any good. 

Louise agreed to all their proposals. She realized that she 
should learn a trade and work, but under no circumstances 
would she leave her child. When told that it would be better 
for him to be brought up in the country, and that if she kept 
him she would be unable to watch him during working hours, 
she answered with great emphasis: “But I will be with him 
in the evening and at night.” During the daytime, she said, 
her neighbors would help her if the child cried. 

“What neighbors?” 

Oh, she would find a room in a nice neighborhood, and 
everyone, she said, “will love Billy — he is such a wonderful 

The statements of the relatives and Louise’s peculiar disre- 
gard for reality aroused the suspicion that her intelligence 
was of a low order. But prolonged contact with her showed 
’ that she had a good mind and that her pseudostupidity was 
connected with her introverted daydreaming. She had a 
powerful imagination and the ability to transport herself 
into a world which belonged to her and in which everything 
went as she wished. She had always wanted a child and was 
very happy to have the baby. She had never imagined that 
it would be an illegitimate child. She had also hoped and 
yearned for a home of her own and had not even conceived 
that it could be otherwise. Now she no longer expected her 
hopes to be fulfilled. What life could give her she already 
had — her child. She no longer believed in the other things: 
what had been her self-evident future, from which she was now 
cut off, could be fulfilled only in her fantasy. 

She refused to give additional information about the child’s 
father. She had gone out with him to amuse herself; he was 
tender and sweet and she did not think that he wanted to have 

33 ^ 


sexual intercourse with her. When he made such proposals 
to her, they appeared absurd — such things were done only 
when one was married. Once he took her out and was so 
passionate and desirous that she could not defend herself. 
She became a passive object and could not say ‘‘No.’' This 
was repeated several times, and each time the whole thing 
seemed somehow absurd, unexpected, and yet inevitable. 
She did not think that she could become pregnant, and by the 
time she realized that she was, her boy friend had joined the 
Army and she thought it proper not to burden him with the 
news, and also to conceal it from other people, and to make 
up her own mind about the whole thing. She had no worries 
about the future, she knew that things would be settled some- 
how, and when she was advised in the hospital to appeal to 
her relatives, she did so without hesitation. Everyone was 
good and kind to her. She knew that she now had a great 
responsibility in life and sometimes she was very much afraid 
of it. This fear seized her, for instance, when she suckled her 
child. Then she had the feeling that she was tied, helplessly 
entangled in a crushing situation. It was because of this 
anxiety that she had stopped nursing her child, although it 
had been “lovely to hold him so close and tenderly.” She ^ 
also went out at night, she said, because she wanted to liberate 
herself from this oppressive anxiety. She had no interest in 
the boys with whom she went out now, but whenever one of 
them was very tender with her, she grew weak and allowed him 
to do things that still seemed to her absurd. 

Louise was the youngest child in her own family, the only 
child of her father’s second wife. Her older brothers and sisters 
married and left the parental home when she was still small. 
Her mother, who could not have any more children, pampered 
her boundlessly, and her father too was very loving toward 
her. She lost her mother at the age of lo, and her father moved 
to the home of his eldest daughter in Texas. Louise went to 
her cousin’s farm and expected that in time her father would 
send for her. Now he was writing to her and sending her 
money, but she no longer thought of joining him. She was 



happy at her aunt’s, although somewhat lonely and left to 
her fantasy life. Her cousins were older and not interested 
in her. When she came to the city she could not bear her 
solitude and, like the other young girls in her shop, went out 
with young men. She had had intimate sexual relations only 
with Eric; she declared in the hospital that she did not know 
whether she loved him, but she would gladly have married him 
on account of the child. He did not seem to care too much 
about her; he had left her with a tender promise, just like 
her father. 

It is clear that Louise’s motherhood resulted from two 
motives — passivity, inabilicy to say “No,” and the need 
for tenderness, which she had once enjoyed abundantly and 
which had ceased for her after her mother’s death. In her 
uncontrolled sexual surrender, these two motives could be 
served. It is very likely that her longing for the absent father 
who had disappointed her made her love frustration unbearable 
and that she escaped from her fantasy life into reality. Louise, 
as a type, would have made an excellent wife and mother in 
an orderly family life, and her warm motherliness would have 
flowered in a triangle consolidated by marriage. She lacked 
the active component of motherhood in which the child as 
an object of her tenderness could satisfy her emotional needs. 
She loved the child tenderly, but her passive need to be loved 
remained unsatisfied. For this reason she compulsively ran 
away from her child to new experiences, while at the same time 
she clung to him with all her genuine but immature mother 
love. She obscurely sensed the dangers of the future and the 
threat of repetition tendencies. She wanted her child to be 
with her to protect her from these new dangers ; rootless mothers 
often and usually unsuccessfully impose such a role on their 
children. Louise’s inadequate sense of reality, and a definite 
optimistic component of her fantasy life that made her believe, 
despite her disappointments, that “someone will be found 
among the neighbors,” constituted great dangers for her 
future, from which her child and her previous experience would 
not suffice to protect her. 

34 ° 


Louise was so fearful of the dangers provoked by her psychic 
life that she was completely unaware of the social difficulties 
that would gradually arise for her and her child. This situation 
endangered her social adjustment and she might easily have 
become asocial, a burden to society, an object of public 
assistance, and a candidate for repeated illegitimate mother- 
hood. Louise is typical of many unmarried mothers who 
become pregnant compulsively again and again. But she is 
only one of many types, and in my opinion not the most diffi- 
cult. In other types, other unconscious motives that were at 
play during the first pregnancy, press for repetitions. In 
such cases the first bad experience paradoxically fails to 
create a protection but operates instead as a provocation and 
intensifies the tendency to repetition. The fear of pregnancy 
becomes a motive for it, just as the fear of death, the un- 
bearable tension of expectation, can become a motive for 

In the case of all such immature young mothers, we say 
that the ego is too weak to escape the dangers and temptations 
of the outside world or to achieve more favorable conditions 
under which to satisfy the urge for motherhood. The numerous 
cases I have encountered have always involved a weakness of 
the ego that made it unable to resist the strong psychic dangers 
otherwise than by transference of them to the outside world. 
Such an immature woman’s motherly demand for a child is 
often only the child’s demand for a mother. Every experienced 
psychiatrist or social worker knows that in such a case of com- 
pulsory motherhood she can often save the girl by being a sub- 
stitute mother to her. 

Not unlike Louise was Mrs. Olson, a 27-year-old married 
woman of Norwegian origin, the mother of two children. 
She came to a social agency to ask for help in placing her 

Her older child, a 4-year-old girl, was the illegitimate child 
of a man named Robert, with whom she had had a short-lived 
affair. He was the first man who had ever paid any attention 
to her. After a homeless and loveless childhood, she found 



herself in the position of an unattractive and inhibited girl 
tormented by feelings of inferiority, without prospects of love 
or happiness. Robert had met her at the same time as Sidney, 
her present husband, and it was obvious that she had become 
Robert’s and not Sidney’s lover by mere accident.' Robert 
was rather brutal and aggressive; she gave herself sexually 
with an automatic passivity, out of gratitude and enthusiasm 
over the fact that someone cared for her, and became pregnant 
at once Her mother took care of the newborn child, but 
Mrs. Olson, one year later, wanted to place the child for adop- 
tion, because she did not like to be dependent upon her mother. 

Several months after the birth of this first child she began 
a relationship with Sidney and this time too became pregnant 
at once. After she had given birth to a boy, for whom Sidney 
conceived a tremendous liking, he asked her to marry him, and 
she gladly consented. He adopted both children and was a 
tender father to them. Then he was drafted and sent to 
Virginia. For some time Mrs. Olson remained where she was; 
then she broke up her home and followed her husband, taking 
her children with her. The climate and food in the new 
locale were dreadful and both parents felt that it was im- 
•possible for the children to remain there. Mrs. Olson returned 
to Boston to place the children. She was very restless and 
wanted to have her children placed at once, in order to return 
to her husband alone. If she were free, she explained, she 
could immediately find a job in Virginia and work close by to 
her husband, but she must go, and as soon as possible, for 
her husband was calling her and needed her urgently. She 
could not and would not, she said, take her children with her, 
because she needed freedom of movement; should Sidney be 
transferred, she wanted to be in position to follow him. If 
conditions were favorable, she explained, she might send for 
her children; she had no ties in Boston and it did not matter 
where she resettled. If Sidney should be sent abroad, she 
could return to Boston, but now she was anxious to get to 
Virginia. She felt that she had an obligation toward her hus- 
band because he had always been so good to her and helped her 



when she needed someone; that was why she wanted to join 
him when he needed her. She felt that he was angry with her, 
as he had written to her wondering why she had not come 
back to Virginia to join him. She displayed panicky im- 
patience in her interviews and repeated, in a defiant, childish 
manner: “I want to place the children and go to Virginia.” 

She declared that she herself had had a very sad childhood. 
Soon after she was born, her parents were divorced and she 
was placed in a foster home. Although she expressed bitterness 
at having been placed as a child, she did not seem to have the 
same feeling about placing her own children. Her relation 
to her own mother seemed to play a part in her haste to 
place them. It was obvious that Mrs. Olson violently pro- 
tested against being dependent upon her mother and jealously 
guarded against letting her take the love and dependence of 
her own children away from her. Whenever the mother or a 
social worker proposed that the children be left with the mother, 
Mrs. Olson reacted violently, saying to her mother, “No, that 
would be too much for you,” or to the social worker, “Oh no, 
mother is just like a stranger to me; besides, she spoils the 
children” — and would immediately add, expressing her old 
hateful reproach against her mother, “She placed her own 
children; I know what she is like.” She felt compelled to act 
toward her children as her mother had acted toward her. But 
at the same time she negated this identification, and as though 
to defend her attitude said: “I want to place the children only 
for a year or so; it does not matter when they are so young.” 

This identification manifested itself in still other ways. 
She deprived her children of their home and father, as her 
mother had done; the two women further had in common a 
tendency to dominate and an attitude of reserved coldness to- 
ward their children. 

Mrs. Olson’s hostility toward her mother and simultaneous 
dependence upon her played an important part in her psychic 
life. For instance, she hated to receive financial help from 
her mother, yet she could not make herself free of it. Each 
time her mother gave her money she made her feel “as though 



she were the boss/' At the same time she praised her mother: 
'‘She protects me^ manages my affairs, and is so helpful with 
the children." 

Mrs. Olson's childhood had been almost completely devoid of 
tenderness and love. She was fatherless and held her mother 
responsible for this. And yet her mother remained the only 
being to whom she was emotionally attached, though this was 
against her conscious will. Just like Louise, she yielded to the 
first man she encountered because of her emotional hunger. In 
Louise, it was the sudden loss of the rich love she had received 
from her parents, and sudden fatherlessness, that made her 
a passive object, giving everything for tenderness; Mrs. Olson 
was driven to undesired motherhood by the emotional priva- 
tions of her entire childhood, by her premature fatherlessness, 
and above all by her flight from her mother. 

Mrs. Olson described her life with her children after her 
return from Virginia. She could bear the day, but at night 
she was seized by restlessness and despair that drove her out of 
her home. She read all night long, could not sleep, drank 
coffee, and waited for the morning. She thought and thought, 
she said, and could not help remembering the time when she 
Vas an unmarried mother. Even though she was married 
now, she still felt terrible about it. “I guess neither of my 
children can feel that one is better than the other, for they 
are both illegitimate,” she said. 

She referred to her organic constitution as being "of iron,” 
meaning that she easily became pregnant — and immediately 
resumed her demand that her children be placed, so that she 
could be under her husband's protection as soon as possible. 
She also cited reasons why she never wanted to return to 
Boston except to take the children. People there knew about 
Mary's illegitimacy, she said, and she met Robert there some- 
times, and meeting Robert only created an unpleasant situation, 
although she did not intend to be unfaithful to her husband — 
"He has been so good to me.” If her husband should be sent 
abroad she would go with her children to another state, for 
example South Carolina, and work there — "any place is better 



than Boston.” And again and again, as though in a panic, 
she insisted on placement of her children and on her liberation. 

To protect herself against her nocturnal restlessness she 
took a night job and left the children alone. When she was 
told that it was not good for them to be left alone, she grew 
very angry, as though she were being unjustly scolded: '‘Why, 
I would go crazy if I had to sit inside these four walls all the 

Evidently Mrs. Olson felt that her children could not protect 
her from her feeling of loneliness, her longing, and the dangers 
threatening her. When left alone with them she was probably 
seized at night by the same anxious restlessness and longing 
as Louise, who went out with boys to avoid the fear of the 
very dangers that she conjured up unconsciously by her associa- 
tion with boys. But Louise thought that her child would 
protect her from these dangers — this was the reason why she 
insisted on having him with her. Mrs. Olson had learned from 
experience that this does not hold. Louise was only an anxiety- 
filled dreamer, while Mrs. Olson seemed to sufier from de*ep 
depressions, from which she took flight in excessive activity. 

Her feeling that her husband needed her gave her gratification, 
and her motherly tenderness toward him obviously gave her 
greater protection than her relationship with her children. He 
was rather dependent on her, she explained. "When he was 
at home,” she said, "he seenied happy just to be with me; he 
never cared to go out. He appeared to be enjoying himself 
just being at home.” 

Observing the relation of the couple during Mr. Olson’s 
visit to Boston, one could see clearly that the man was com- 
pletely under the domination of his wife, who was in full 
control of the situation. From Mrs. Olson’s anxious remarks 
about her former lover, it seemed that she was not yet quite 
free from him. The passive-masochistic component of her per- 
sonality, under the mask of need for love, had made her give 
herself to an aggressive man in her masochistic readiness for 
illegitimate motherhood. This mask was simultaneously the 
true face of that component of her psychic life which made her 



yearn for love. She had escaped from these dangerous tend- 
encies to her passive, lovable husband, and now insisted 
violently upon reunion with him because she felt herself 
again threatened. 

This passive-masochistic tendency probably characterizes 
a large proportion of unmarried mothers; it is a feminine 
tendency, intensified by guilt feelings, that, once cruelly 
gratified through illegitimate motherhood, seeks repetitions 
of the same situation. 

Interestingly enough, Mrs. Olson^s story ended differently 
from the manner in which she had forevisioned it in her South 
Carolina fantasy. These plans w^ere abandoned when she 
found that she was again pregnant. Protected now by le- 
gitimate pregnancy, she was no longer threatened with il- 
legitimate pregnancy, and she could devote herself entirely 
to her children. 

Mrs. Olson hated her mother and was at the same time 
dependent upon her. Louise’s mother had died. What these 
two women had in common was fatherlessness, a yearning to 
be loved, passive-masochistic tendencies, guilt feelings about 
their illegitimate motherhood, fear of its repetition, and a 
compulsive tendency to this repetition. 

Mrs. Olson was completely conscious of her guilt feeling as 
a reaction to her illegitimate motherhood, while in Louise we 
have the right to take it for granted. Mrs. Olson handled 
this guilt feeling in a paradoxic way: it is as though she feared 
the repetition of illegitimate motherhood as a punishment tor 
the previous one, and as such, something that might be pro- 
voked by herself. 

The same was probably true of Louise, who seemed to be 
exposed to just such a danger, and is true of many other women, 
who again and again bring illegitimate children into the world 
not in order to experience maternal happiness but in order to 
punish themselves by being disgraced. 

Ida was a 17-year-old girl whom I met through her employer, 
Mrs. Driver. She was a friend of Mrs. Driver’s niece^ who 


had recommended her for the post of governess to Mrs, Driver’s 
three children. Ida took the job because her resources were 
insufficient to enable her to realize her most ardent desire, 
namely, to become a kindergarten teacher. Mrs. Driver was 
enthusiastic about Ida’s gentleness and her excellent manner 
with the children, and was ready to do everything to help the 
young girl. Two months after Ida took her position with 
Mrs. Driver, she began to have fits of dizziness and vomiting. 
Mrs. Driver thought that these symptoms were neurotic, 
and the fact that Ida refused to see her parents or accept any 
support from them strengthened this conviction. Mrs. Driver 
knew that her governess was the only child of a well-to-do 
minister and assumed that her conflict with her parents would 
eventually be solved. 

When Ida was brought to me she did not impress me as a 
neurotic. She looked somewhat childish, being dressed like 
a la-year-old girl, and her unconcern with the events of her 
own life was striking At first she was secretive, but gradually 
she became confiding and told me that a year and a half before 
she had met a young man four years older than herself in a 
summer camp. They fell in love and planned to continue 
their relationship after the summer vacation. Ida wanted " 
to attend a school for kindergarten teachers; George intended 
to learn a trade as soon as possible; later they would become 
engaged and then married. 

Before these plans could materialize, however, George was 
drafted for military service. The young couple decided to 
marry before he joined the Army, Ida’s parents absolutely 
opposed this plan, because they were conservative Protestants 
and George was a Jew. Ida began an energetic struggle 
against her parents and in the end persuaded her somewhat 
passive friend to elope with her. They met in the village where 
they had spent the previous summer and, thinking that they 
would soon be married, began to have sexual intercourse. 
Soon Ida, who had been ardendy in love, cooled in regard to 
George; her feelings were now a mixture of passion and sudden 
fits of indifference, and one day, without giving him any ex- 



planation, she ran away and joined a girl friend in Boston. 
She told this friend that she no longer wanted to have anything 
to do with George and that her only wish now was to carry 
out her previous plan of attending a kindergarten training 
school, but without financial support from her parents. 

The character of Ida’s neurotic symptoms made me suspect 
that she was pregnant. She admitted that since her flight 
from home her periods had ceased. Although this had never 
happened to her before, and although she was completely 
enlightened about sex, she began to think that she was pregnant 
only after I had pointed out this possibility. 

My conjecture proved correct. After the first shock, 
however, Ida remained extraordinarily self-controlled. She 
made very realistic plans for her future, figured out carefully 
to what extent her condition interfered with her other projects, 
began to save money to cover the expenses connected with it, 
and referred to her child as a foreign body that must first be 
removed and later established somewhere else. She took it 
for granted that her child would be placed for adoption and 
no longer worried about it. She sympathized with her parents 
but felt no need to make up her quarrel with them; her interest 
in George had completely vanished; she said that she was 
glad that he had been drafted and would never learn anything 
about the whole affair. She was worried only about the fact 
that the people among whom she would later live and work 
might some day learn that she had given birth to an Illegitimate 
child. She confided to Mrs. Driver and me that she had made 
up her mind to confess the truth to her parents when this be- 
came unavoidable, and prepared herself in a matter-of-fact 
way to solve her problem. 

Mrs. Driver kept Ida in her home as long as her condition 
could be concealed; then she helped her to arrange for the 
delivery of her child and for its placement In a foster home. 

When I saw Ida several weeks after her delivery, she grad- 
ually admitted that her matter-of-factness had not been 
genuine. She had had terrible fears before her delivery; she 
had been sure that she would die, and had even begun to pray. 


although for the last few years she had been an atheist and 
never went to her father’s church. 

Almost until the end she thought of her child as something 
foreign, of which she would rid herself as soon as possible. 
Only after having moved out of Mrs. Driver’s home, when she 
was alone, as it were, with her unborn baby, did she begin to 
fantasy about how nice it would be to have a baby. The 
content of her fantasies was tender, but she considered realiza- 
tion of them impossible. She obviously condemned herself 
to renunciation. Occasionally she had the idea of keeping 
the child and returning to her parental home with him. She 
said that both her father and mother loved children and that 
they would surely find a solution for her problem. Then 
she rejected this idea as absurd and again sought refuge in her 
indifference and matter-of-fact adjustment to reality. In 
the maternity hospital she declared that she would not nurse 
her child and would place it for adoption at once. 

After his birth, she found her little boy extraordinarily 
‘‘cute” and began to nurse him, but following each manifesta- 
tion of maternal joy, she demanded that her child be taken 
away from her as soon as possible, since she could not keep 
him in any case; she said that she did not want to have any- ^ 
thing to do with him, that he did not mean anything to her, and 
that she feared that he could mean something. But at the 
same time she considered postponing the placement of her child. 
As the date of her discharge from the hospital approached, she 
felt weaker and had fits of fever; it was clear that she was 
loth to return to the world, where she would be confronted with 
reality and compelled to renounce her boy in favor of it. She 
wanted to stay with her baby as long as possible. In the 
hospital she felt secure; life was centered around herself and 
her baby. It was obvious that she now wanted to keep him 
but realized the difficulties that this involved. She showed 
keen interest in the fate of her child and in the kind of home 
he would have; she wanted to make sure that it would be a 
good one and that he would be properly cared for. 

With Mrs. Driver’s help she made up her mind to give up 



the idea of adoption for the time being, and the child was placed 
in a foster home. Ida visited him there and became very much 
upset; she declared with tears in her eyes that she missed him 
terribly, that she wanted to keep him, but that she did not 
see how she could. 

At this point Mrs. Driver, a truly motherly woman, pro- 
posed taking the child into her home and thus satisfying Ida's 
motherliness by proximity to her child. Mrs. Driver thought 
that later Ida might decide to create a home for her boy herself. 
Ida's reaction was very peculiar. She emphatically rejected 
her employer's proposal and refused even to discuss it, de- 
claring that this would be like giving her child to her own 
mother. Thus she would not only lose him but herself fall 
into a new dependence. 

This reaction is understandable if we take Ida's total situa- 
tion into account. Her case is one among hundreds, a fun- 
damentally banal story of illegitimacy. But its very banality 
casts much light on the psychology of what is perhaps the 
most frequent type of juvenile unmarried mother. Like 
all of them, Ida was young and inexperienced, at an age when 
sexual curiosity and the feeling ‘‘Something like that cannot 
happen to me" constitute the greatest dangers for the young 

In Ida, as in other unmarried mothers, the rebellious struggle 
against her mother and her mother's moral commands and 
prohibitions acted as a powerful motive in the choice of her 
love object, her elopement, and her intercourse with her 
lover. A hateful protest against the mother often contains 
revenge tendencies, and when a young girl becomes promiscuous, 
a prostitute, or an unmarried mother, she often both fulfills a 
fantasy and punishes herself. Ida's father was a clergyman; 
her mother, the daughter of a reactionary minister, was a 
fanatically devout bigot; even earlier she had suffered from 
Ida's atheism and justly interpreted it as a malicious aggression 
against herself and her husband, masked as freethinking. The 
parents opposed Ida's marriage with George not because of 
racial prejudice but for religious reasons, Ida made no 



attempt to win her parents over, as for instance by promising 
that George would be converted ; she eloped, less to consummate 
her passion for George than to gratify her aggressive feeling 
toward her parents. To emphasize her emancipation, she 
entered into a sexual relationship before marrying, on the 
pretext that she would soon be married anyhow. Actually 
she remained obedient to her mother, for her sexuality was 
inhibited; anxiety and repentance accompanied her sexual 
gesture, so that she remained completely frigid. After she 
had carried out her unsuccessful attempt to emancipate herself, 
George’s role changed ; the man formerly loved now became an 
accomplice in her struggle against her parents, especially her 
mother. The pressure of her guilt feeling made her love a 
crime, and Ida had to repudiate George just as a criminal on 
the stand repudiates his accomplice in crime. 

Ida continually showed maternal feelings but disavowed 
them just as violently as she disavowed her love for George. 
Confronted with Mrs. Driver’s proposal to take her child, 
Ida found herself entangled in a deep and genuine conflict. 
If she kept the child and accepted Mrs. Driver as a foster 
mother, she would have to share him with the woman who was 
a complete mother substitute to her. Ida quite rightly felt 
that the resulting emotional situation would only sharpen her 
puberal conflicts with her own mother, that her sense of guilt 
with regard to her mother would be intensified, and above all 
that she had no more right to gratify her love for her child than 
her love for George. She was also worried about her work in 
the profession for which she and her parents had such high 
regard, about her future as a kindergarten teacher, and about 
the reactions of her new milieu, the milieu of her ambitions and 
aspirations, to her illegimate motherhood. George wrote to 
her from his Army post proposing to come and marry her, 
without even knowing of his fatherhood. Ida refused this 
proposal with curious haste. If she married him now she 
would be doing it only as a sacrifice for her child. Tormented 
by social fears, neurotically disavowing her relationship with 
George, and striving to fulfill her mother’s old wish that she 



become a kindergarten teacher, Ida renounced her child with a 
heavy heart and comforted herself with the thought that she 
could marry later and bring legitimate children into the world. 

Even after her child had been placed in a foster home, she 
insisted repeatedly that she did not have any feeling for him 
and renewed her demands to have him adopted. She now 
considered her child, just as she had considered him during her 
pregnancy, a burden that she must get rid of; she had not the 
slightest sympathy for George and often left his letters un- 
opened for days. 

Such a reaction to illegitimate motherhood often takes place 
in young girls like Ida, and for similar reasons. The furious 
reproach against the man — ‘‘You have got me into this state’' — 
usually arises when he avoids responsibility or when the re- 
lation has cooled off previously and is continued against the 
will of the girl and contrary to her emotional needs as a result 
of pregnancy. It was completely different in the case of 
Ida. From the beginning she resorted to a very frequent 
defense mechanism, that of denial; she denied any emotional 
relation to George, repressed all her affective life, and appeared 
seemingly cold and unconcerned — a little schoolgirl with bare 
knees who could not be a mother because she was still a child. 

The concealment of motherhood from the father of the child 
usually has two motives — denial of a positive emotional re- 
lation to him, often for reasons similar to Ida’s, and narcissistic 
fear of being rejected and condemned by him. Moreover, how 
could Ida, at a moment when she was so full of repentance 
with regard to her parents, admit a love whose most important 
motivation had been her defiant violation of parental pro- 
hibitions? To some extent Ida was also a war mother. The 
typical motive for wartime motherhood that we have mentioned 
before perhaps operated in her too: it is difficult to resist the 
demands of a hero exposed to the danger of death. Just like 
the other war mothers, she declared that she had yielded to 
his pleas that she elope with him because he was about to be 
drafted; however, we have seen that Ida’s willingness to risk 
illegitimate motherhood had also been fed by other sources. 



The case of Ida shows us with particular clarity how much 
the relation of the mother to her child depends upon her 
psychologic situation as a whole. A young mother who 
expects her child in an atmosphere of love is completely and 
joyfully filled by his organic presence. Ida, who, so to speak, 
trained herself for separation from her child immediately 
after his birth, and for having him adopted, forestalled the 
trauma of separation by assuming toward him the attitude 
one has toward a burdensome parasite, a kind of growth from 
which she would free herself at a given moment. This be- 
havior is characteristic of expectant mothers who from the 
beginning resort to the radical defense mechanism “I have no 
child and I do not want a child,” in order to prepare them- 
selves for the necessary renunciation. Nor can the child’s 
movements within the body arouse motherly feelings in the 
customary manner if they are opposed and inhibited by the 
idea of future discomfort. 

External influences can intensify the ideas of discomfort on 
the one hand and mobilize the girl’s still childish yearning for 
motherhood on the other. Seeing babies in the hospital, 
Ida reacted as any normal young girl would react and said: 
“They are so cute!” 

Perhaps she also sensed a current of motherly happiness in 
the other mothers in the hospital; perhaps her wish to keep 
the child in spite of everything was later accompanied by 
other, less conscious psychologic motives. Her substitute 
mother declared herself ready to take the child, and the typical 
childhood fear “My mother will have the child” reawakened, as 
well as the deeply rooted wish “It should belong to me.” 
It is noteworthy how Ida’s motherliness was chilled by the 
argument that if she kept her child she would still have to 
share it with another woman. Her fear that her dependence 
upon Mrs. Driver would be strengthened certainly played a 
large part in her considerations. Ida felt extremely guilty 
toward her parents, particularly her mother. She tried to 
bribe her sense of guilt by various means, first by deserting 
her forbidden lover. In her post factum obedience to her 



parents she emotionally denied any interest in him. In the 
end she decided upon a solution that had been predetermined 
in her mother’s plans for her: she gave up her lover and the 
‘‘child of sin” in order to devote herself to a profession that to 
her parents was the symbol of ideal aspirations as opposed to 
the “taint” of sexuality. 

When she had finally made up her mind to desert George 
and the child, Ida plunged into her work. But her behavior 
revealed that despite her renunciation, she had not achieved 
her goal of liberating herself from her sense of guilt. She 
lived in perpetual fear that someone might discover that she 
was an unmarried mother. She was tense and worried for 
fear that she would not be accepted in the better schools. She 
often displayed a tendency to betray her secret in the very 
quarters where she most wanted to conceal it. She made 
excellent progress in her work, won the respect of her school- 
mates and teachers, and received a scholarship; yet every step 
forward in her career was accompanied by the constantly lurk- 
ing fear of what would happen if her secret should become 
known. She behaved like a hunted criminal. 

An inexperienced observer might have been taken in by 
Ida’s own rationalization of her psychologic conflict. Il- 
legitimate motherhood is a social complication and the sense 
of social guilt is strongly mobilized, especially in a milieu like 
that of Ida’s parents. Yet not even the most reactionary 
milieu would have condemned her to such an extent as she 
constantly feared. Her immediate milieu was extremely 
tolerant and Ida was well aware that her “disgrace” was not 
a disgrace at all in the eyes of the people with whom she worked. 
Nor were her elaborate precautions necessary, for no one ever 
suspected her. Indeed, even her reactionary parents turned 
out to be much more tolerant and forgiving than she herself. 
Ida felt like a condemned criminal not because she had had 
an illegitimate child, but because the reckoning of her guilt 
was triply weighted. First, she had acted out her hostility by 
an aggressive act against her parents, by eloping with a man 
whom they rejected as a possible husband for her. Then she 



had tried to make up for her first offense by disavowing her 
love for George and deserting him. Thus she had defeated 
her purpose, because she had burdened her conscience with a 
new and perhaps even greater guilt by sinning against her 
own love and against George. Her third guilt related to her 
motherliness, which she denied to herself and her child. 

Ida successfully repressed all these themes of guilt and char- 
acteristically transferred her guilt feeling to society. She 
constantly tried to convince Mrs. Driver that she needed her 
help only to conceal her illegitimate motherhood and thus 
master her social difficulties. But Ida was fortunate in the 
choice of her confidant. Mrs. Driver, a sensitive and intuitive 
woman, grasped the situation and was not misled by Ida’s 
brilliant professional success. She knew that it was much more 
important for the young woman’s future to bring order into 
her confused and repressed emotional life than to insure her 
material success. Instead of supporting her in her efforts at 
concealment, she showed Ida that her guilt feelings had another 
source and that her fear of society was only the result of trans- 
ference. She insisted that Ida summon courage enough not 
to break with George until after she had seen him once more, 
and that she postpone adoption for her child. Thanks to ' 
Mrs. Driver’s enlightened help, Ida eventually became a 
happy wife and mother. Such happy endings do not always 
come to pass; often the best solution is escape into socially 
valuable activity. But cases like Ida’s should always be sub- 
jected to thorough psychologic examination before the social 
factor is taken as the key to the situation. 

Virginia was a good-looking 19-year old girl, petite, shy, 
soft, and attractive. Her physical appearance was rather 
infantile and there was nothing motherly about her. When 
she got in touch with the social agency her child was 'i}/i months 
old. Up until then Virginia had been in a maternity home, 
caring for her little boy herself and clinging to him with the 
greatest tenderness. 

Before the baby was born she displayed the typical attitude 



of the unmarried mother: she would have liked best to have 
an abortion, and when this could not be done, she enthusias- 
tically accepted the proposal to have her child adopted. 

Her childhood situation was similar to that of Louise: she 
had lost her mother at the age of 6, her father had married 
another woman who did not get along with Virginia, and her 
relationship to him was one of estrangement. Her contact 
with the father of her child was most casual, according to her. 
She had met Anton at a restaurant, and claimed that she had 
had intercourse with him only once. She was terribly excited 
after this experience and from the beginning was afraid of 

For seven years, from her early puberty on, Virginia had been 
employed as maid in the house of the W. family. Mrs. W. 
was the mother of four children, two of whom were born 
while Virginia was in her service. The girl's position in the 
household was between that of a member of the family and a 
servant. Mrs. W. showed her much motherly solicitude, 
knew all about her life, and enjoyed the girl's confidence. 
Yet Virginia's love life had its locale in restaurants and dance 
halls. Probably, like any girl even in a more normal mother- 
daughter relationship, Virginia had her sexual secrets, into 
which she initiated Mrs. W. only when she justly considered 
herself in danger. Mrs. W. at once advised adoption for the 
illegitimate child. She kept Virginia in her home until the 
final state of her pregnancy and in a motherly way helped her 
to conceal her condition from the neighbors. Virginia had 
adjusted her moral standards to the demands of the neighbor- 
hood and did not want anyone to learn of her mistake. She 
thought that despite the events that had taken place, it would 
be possible, after her confinement and the placement of her 
child, to return to her job under the previous emotional con- 
ditions. She considered the W. home her own and Mrs. W. 
a beloved and loving mother. 

Her plans changed when, like a motherly little girl, she took 
care of her child and performed her motherly functions, even 
though at first just obligatorily. Soon she declared: 'Tf you 



have to take this baby away from me, you’d better do it very 
soon, because I am getting very fond of it.” 

She found her little Tommy “cute,” smiled warmly when 
she spoke about him, and proudly showed him to her visitors. 
She said quite frankly that she did not know what she was 
going to do when she left the maternity home. Mrs. W, was 
willing to have her back, but not with the baby, and Virginia 
would not give up Tommy now “for anything.” She thought 
of going to her grandmother, but she did not know what the 
latter’s reaction to the baby would be. If she went there she 
could take a job and her grandmother could look after the baby; 
but she was afraid that this plan would not work out. 

We saw Virginia torn between contradictory desires. Her 
entire plan derived from the fact that she still thought of herself 
as a little girl clinging to her mother, depending upon her, and 
wanting to stay with her. She had lost her own mother at 
an early age, had had bad experiences with her stepmother, 
and was happy to have found a substitute mother. It is very 
significant that the attachment to a substitute, following a 
childhood full of emotional privations, is often more tenacious 
and lasting than the original mother tie, which weakens under 
normal circumstances. The professional persons in authority 
who were now in charge of the girl justly assumed that her 
unfortunate and premature motherhood could help to mature 
her quickly, and that therefore her final decision about her 
own and her child’s future should be postponed. They felt 
that she could never resume her former place, because she was 
different now — she was a mother and no longer a little girl. 
But Virginia herself continued in her dilemma: should she 
return to her mother as a little girl or stay with her beloved 
baby as a dutiful mother? 

Motherly women around Virginia, perceiving these signs 
of motherliness, encouraged the new feelings awakening in her. 
Under suitable external and internal conditions, genuine 
motherliness develops from such immature stimulations, which 
we have referred to as outposts of motherhood. Thus, under 
very active external influence, Virginia, the little girl, who 



yearned terribly for her substitute home and substitute mother, 
made up her mind to renounce her girlish role and assume the 
duties of an adult mother. This decision was put into effect 
with the help of the social agency, which tried to find a job tor 
her under conditions that would permit her to keep her baby. 
The wisdom of her returning to Mrs. W.’s home seemed ques- 
tionable under any circumstances, since it was learned that 
Mrs. W. was even more emotional than Virginia; it was reported 
that she wept without any self-control at little Tommy’s 

A job was found for the girl in a pleasant home with three 
little children. Virginia and her baby were to be together. 
But from the beginning the girl displayed resistance. Al- 
though she accepted all the arrangements made for her without 
any criticism, she was evidently worried about her status, and 
planned to tell her employers that she was married and that 
her husband was in the service. 

Within a short time Virginia was extremely unhappy. She 
called on Mrs. W. and complained that her room was dark and 
cold, without sunlight for the baby. She was ready to adjust 
herself, but it became increasingly evident that no matter 
what her surroundings might be, she would probably react 
with fear, remorse, and unhappiness to any new place. Soon 
she decided that she could not continue in her position, that 
she would give up the baby and return to Mrs. W.’s. ‘‘After 
all,” Virginia said, “hers is the only home I know.” 

She wanted to place the baby for adoption because she did 
not think that she herself could give him all the material 
benefits and care that he needed. 

During her stay in her new surroundings, pleasant yet alien 
to her, Virginia, according to her own description, was “all tied 
up in knots,” unable to do the right thing for Tommy and not 
interested in him as she had been before. But when she 
realized that she could return to Mrs. W.’s, she melted and 
spoke warmly about her baby. She “wouldn’t think of having 
him adopted now,” she wanted only to find a temporary home 
for him. Perhaps some day she would marry and then she 



would be able to have Tommy live with her. Her attachment 
to the baby increased as the time for parting from him drew 
near. She became more active in doing things for him, at the 
same time energetically looking for a foster home, and was more 
independent than ever in her behavior. Apparently she had 
decided to return to Mrs. W. under any circumstances, and 
this decision freed her from anxiety, gave her inner security, 
and allowed her to feel and act for the child. She could be an 
active, solicitous mother when she felt that she herself was loved 
and protected by a mother. When she returned to Mrs. W.’s 
house she shouted at the top of her voice: ‘T’m home.’’ 

Her new difficulties soon began. Virginia herself did not know 
whether she would rather have her child with her in Mrs. W.’s 
home or not. At last she decided she would rather not — for 
she wanted to be one of Mrs. W.’s children, just as before, and 
how could she claim that status if she were the mother of a 
child in the house? 

Mrs. W., who was apparently a kind and motherly woman, 
finally took the child also into her home. After all, Virginia 
was not really her daughter ; she was a kindly treated youthful 
servant. As an unmarried mother, Virginia probably sank 
in the social scale, and the solution of the problem arising from ^ 
this fact was uncertain. However, under the circumstances, 
it seemed best for Virginia to return to her former dependence. 
It would have been an error to follow a routine formula and to 
try to break her infantile ties by violent means, especially at 
a moment in her life when her psychic tasks and her problems 
in face of socio-economic reality were very difficult ones. 

The case of Virginia is much less complicated than those of 
Louise and Ida. Psychologically she was perhaps more like 
the girls whom I have termed assistant mothers (Lydia, 
Mrs. Baron). A girl of this type can be tender and solicitous 
but is unable to assume the active responsibilities of a mature 
mother, especially when her own premature motherhood is 
opposed by the condemning attitude of her social milieu. We 
need not look too far for the motives of Virginia’s “mistake.” 
The normal inhibitions of young girlhood were perhaps too 



easy to overcome in her case not because she was particularly 
excitable sexually or because there were particular weaknesses 
in her ego, but because she was in a sense neglected, in that she 
lived in a milieu that accepted her only partially and from the 
beginning considered her as inferior and not really belonging. 
The statistics of illegitimate motherhood in various European 
countries show that servant girls supply the highest percentage 
of unmarried mothers. Apparently the same psychologic 
motive is operative: close contact with a higher social stratum 
that enjoys a larger share of the pleasures of life prepares a 
fertile soil for the seduction of the excluded ones. Other 
contributing factors are certainly the economic insecurity and 
habitual ill treatment of servant girls and the monotony of 
their work. In Virginia’s case the center of the problem lay 
perhaps in the fact that, as a motherless and homeless child, 
she longed all the more for identification with her new milieu 
and unconsciously suffered from being rejected by it. We 
felt that this provocative motive would probably continue to 
operate throughout Virginia’s life with the family in which 
she stayed a servant girl. Ida’s danger had an internal source, 
Virginia’s an external one. They represent completely different 
types of illegitimate motherhood. 

Elsie was 23 years old; she came to the agency directly from 
the hospital where her illegitimate baby was born. She was 
accompanied by her parents. Her mother was a domineering 
person who had solved the problem in advance: the main 
thing was “not to advertise the story.” In this respect she was 
strongly reminiscent of Ida’s mother and of many others whose 
middle class morality suffers a heavy blow from their daughters’ 
illegitimate motherhood, and whose main concern is to preserve 
the family’s social prestige. The baby was for the time being 
placed in a foster home and was naturally destined for adoption : 
that had been decided from the beginning, 

Elsie was an amiable and intelligent person, but according 
to the foster mother and everyone who had been in contact with 
her, she was unable to express her feelings easily. She had not 



seen her baby and was in quite a conflict about it. She was 
afraid to see it lest she should be unable to part from it. 

She came from a little western town, where she was a school- 
teacher. She had been completing her education in an in- 
stitution in New York and there she became pregnant. Then 
she went back home and managed to conceal her condition. 
It became apparent only during the last month of her pregnancy 
and at that time she was on a farm with her parents. 

Asked whether she had seen her baby, she answered that she 
had not seen the little girl and that she felt as though she had 
never had the child, though sometimes she felt that she would 
like to see her. When she was asked to give the name and ad- 
dress of the father, she vehemently refused. When told that 
this was a necessary formality in arranging for adoption, she 
declared: ‘'That is impossible. He does not know about the 
baby and is in New York.’’ 

She said that she would take full responsibility financially 
for the baby’s care and was sure that everything would turn 
out all right. Once she was very pensive and said: “I never 
thought this could happen to me.” 

This is a typical utterance of girls in her situation. 

Elsie was doubtless far beyond adolescence, but the whole 
atmosphere in her home contributed to making her seem some- 
what juvenile. She planned to go back to the farm with her 
parents, eventually to take her teacher examinations in New 
York, and then to return home to work. 

She refused persistently to give the father’s name. He 
was a teacher and lived in New York. ^ She assured us that 
there should be no difficulty in having the child adopted — 
his family were very good stock. She decided to leave Boston 
without seeing the baby, as she believed that this was the best 
thing to do. She would of course like to know how it was 
getting along. 

She described how she had come back from school pregnant 
but told her mother nothing until her condition was obvious. 
She was very reticent about the whole matter and her parents 
did not know anything about the father of the child. 



According to her mother, she had always been determined 
and stubborn, but all the family were fond of her. Everyone 
in the agency was amazed at how cheerful and unconcerned she 
seemed — on the surface she took the situation too complacently. 
In a letter to the foster mother she wrote: ‘'The baby has not 
been given a name. I have no ideas about it ... . I would 
appreciate it if you would choose one.’' She thus emphasized 
her emotional unconcern about the baby, who remained in 
the foster home until it w^as adoped. 

After the summer vacation Elsie returned to Boston and told 
us what a good time she had had on the farm. She had stayed 
with her parents and they had treated her “just grand.” They 
were neither oversolicitous nor evasive, but just as they had 
always been. She had passed in her teacher examinations. 
She said laughingl)^: “I managed to keep myself busy.” When 
told that the baby had blue eyes she said in a gay but very 
impersonal and matter-of-fact manner, “I guess all babies have 
blue eyes.” 

Under pressure of the investigation necessary for arranging 
the adoption, she answered questions. The father of her baby 
was a teacher in the school where she had taken her courses. 

’'She had known him for two years; she did not know very much 
about his family. She had been attracted to him by his gay 
personality. She had never told him about the baby, fearing 
that he would want her to have an abortion, and this, she 
felt, would have been scandalous and would have impaired 
her health. They had never used contraceptives. When it 
was pointed out that perhaps she really wanted a baby, she 
shyly admitted this. On the other hand, she had rejected the 
idea of marriage because she would “never, never want to tie 
him down.” 

She did not think that he had very much money; he was 
ambitious, greatly interested in his career, and hoped to win 
a scholarship and continue his training. He felt that his 
parents had done enough for him. Asked whether she really 
thought that she would have tied him down, she answered in 
a thoughtful manner: “I don’t really know.” 



An exact computation of her earnings and expenses made by 
herself showed that she would have nothing left for herself if 
she assumed the entire responsibility of the child. She said 
that it would not be too hard for her, she had it all planned 
out. Suddenly she said: “I would like to see the baby.” 

During the summer, when she had received word that the 
little girl was ill, she was so anxious about her that she had 
made up her mind to see the child when she got back to Boston. 

She agreed that she had an inhibition against talking about 
her troubles; “I know there is some block that keeps me from 
talking about myself. I guess it might have been due to the 
way I was brought up. ... I guess the real reason that I never 
confide in anybody is because I never really trusted anybody. 
It’s my puritanical family — the way I was brought up. It’s 
just that one must not display too much emotion or affection 
for anything. One realizes that it is there, but one does not 
express it ... . I love my brothers and parents dearly, but 
I never express my affection for them. . . . Whenever I am de- 
pressed I play solitaire and try to think it through myself.” 
All the time she preserved her quiet, friendly manner, and was 
very attractive and charming; she impressed everyone by her 
matter-of-factness. She insisted on adoption and responded 
to the baby on her visit to the foster home in a typical, detached 

Elsie had never been able to confide in anyone. She had 
always been popular, but had never had any real friends. 
She was always changing schools and easily made new friends. 

She described her family situation. She had a sister twelve 
years older than herself and long married, who rarely visited 
her parents and her four brothers. Elsie was the youngest in 
the family. Her brothers, she said, were “wonderful,” and 
her parents were proud of them. In fact, she was the only 
girl at home and she knew that she was very much loved. 

Her life had always been very easy, her parents and brothers 
had been so good to her, they had perhaps babied her a little. 

Her sisters-in-law were not so inhibited and readily showed 
their emotions. She admitted eventually her jealousy of her 


sisters-in-law. Two of them had had babies at about the time 
when Elsie was pregnant. 

Her mother had always told her that whatever happened, 
she could always come home. She felt very sorry for her 
parents — they had tried to be so nice to her. She had returned 
home when she was pregnant because, she said, ‘T always 
knew that whatever trouble any of us ever had, my parents 
would always want us to come to them.’’ 

She had not told her mother of her pregnancy immediately 
because she wanted to go back to school and finish her exami- 
nations, and felt that her mother would not let her continue if 
she knew of her condition. Her mother discovered it when 
it was no longer concealable and only then was the matter 
discussed. Concealment of the fact was the main concern and 
adoption was decided upon at once. 

Elsie’s attitude toward the father remained unchanged. She 
was always very unemotional when she talked about him. She 
said that when she found out that she was pregnant, she felt 
that she wanted never to see him again. She didn’t know just 
why. She didn’t want to get more deeply involved with him 
because she knew she didn’t want to marry him. ‘T suppose 
"some girls would think about it and worry,” she said, “but 
I’m not that kind. I made up my mind what was to be done 
and did it.” 

She referred to the man as very attractive, “very outgoing 
with people, keen mentally . . . rather superficial.” Here she 
stopped and refused to elaborate. Asked whether this trait 
had anything to do with her not going to him when she knew 
she was pregnant, she blurted out that she knew he would 
suggest only one thing — abortion — and that was absolutely 
against her principles. She agreed that not using contraceptives 
was “pretty dumb.” She should have known better. She could 
not explain it. 

She had no social grounds for not marrying the man. His 
family was just as good as hers. It was just that she didn’t 
know whether he would want to marry her, and she supposed that 
“there was a lot of pride mixed up in it” somehow. She 



certainly wouldn't want to have him give up his work, as he 
might have to, if they married in order to keep the baby. 
She didn't want him to give that up for her. 

She had never thought much of petting or carrying on with 
men. She had felt very guilty ever since her first Intimate 
experience with Frank. She had never felt serious about 
anyone before she met him. He had often spoken to her of 
.iiarriage: he would always say that when he finished this and 
this — then he would get married. Once during the interview 
she admitted that she had thought at one time that ''it w^ould 
be fine to marry him." But she felt that she did not want to 
marry him then when she was pregnant. 


“Oh, I guess it would interfere with his plans. Besides, I 
did not care to marry him any more myself." 

Asked whether she had thought at all about Frank’s possible 
reaction to having a child, and whether she could approach 
him to help facilitate the adoption proceedings for the baby's 
sake, she answered that she had thought about this, but the 
answer still remained the same: she still wanted the adoption 
but did not want to approach him. 

During the whole formal procedure of adoption, Elsie ex-'' 
hibited no sign of emotion. She usually spoke flatly and 
objectively about her relationship to the alleged father and 
to the child. 

Before discussing the question of Elsie's illegitimate mother- 
hood, it is necessary to arrive at a better understanding of 
her personality. She was an emotionally inhibited, cold 
person. She herself complained of her inability to show 
feelings, and denied having any. She was a lonely girl who 
longed to find not love but security and satisfaction in her 
own strength and independence. The deep causes of her 
emotional inhibition are unknown to us; we have only the 
scanty statements that she herself made about it. She referred 
to her background, and we can believe that she came from a 
milieu in which the parents love their children and declare 
themselves ready to do everything for them, but obviously 



avoid any display of tenderness in order not to make them 
soft. Elsie refused to express her feelings because of her dis- 
position or probably as a result of her upbringing. Compelled 
from her earliest childhood strongly to repress (i.e., hide) her 
emotions, she later became unable to produce any or to enter 
into warm emotional contact with others. Up to her twenty- 
third year Elsie had never been in love and had had no intimate 
triends. Because she rejected all emotions, because she branded 
every emotional expression as exaggeration or weakness, she 
developed a strong inhibition of her entire emotional life that 
survived her childhood. Elsie compensated the lack of a 
warm feminine emotional life by overemphasizing her self- 
assurance and will power, and intensified her recourse to these 
qualities especially when she felt affected and endangered in 
her narcissistic self-love. In such instances she fought behind 
the bastion of her self-assurance after an even more radical 
emotional withdrawal from the outside world. 

Elsie was a completely narcissistic person, bent upon proving 
shrewd and efficient in the struggle for existence. She con- 
sidered herself independent and had the necessary self-con- 
fidence for proving her independence. 

’ She was a scanty giver but a very exacting taker. She 
wanted to be sure that she was loved, but since she was wretch- 
edly ignorant of emotional experience, she measured emotions 
by their objective proofs. And here I think was the root of 
her feminine and human misfortune. The situation in her 
home, where, after her sister married, she spent many years 
as the only girl and the youngest child, with several suc- 
cessful brothers, produced in her a double desire. She wanted 
to be strong like her brothers, to have a career as they did, 
and at the same time to be especially loved as the youngest and 
as a girl. Her feminine position at home was somewhat shaken 
by her sisters-in-law and she probably reacted to this by an 
intensified hunger for stronger, objective proofs of love. 

Although she did not fall in love — she was unable to — ^she 
gladly let herself be loved by an intelligent and attractive man. 
Completely unawakened sexually, she had the typical attitude: 



nothing could happen to her. The fact that she expected the 
man to take full responsibility for contraception shows that 
here her infantile narcissism won the upper hand over her 
proud self-reliance. In a moment of frankness, she admitted 
that she expected pregnancy (we can even conjecture that 
she provoked it). What were her motives? On the basis 
of our impression of her whole personality, we are entitled to 
assume that it was not the feminine, motherly longing of a 
loving woman but rather self-love that influenced her in 
this, as later in all her other decisions. We must not forget 
that two of her sisters-in-law expected babies when she be- 
came pregnant. Probably her first sexual relationship had 
given a definite content to her previously existing envy; she 
wanted to have a child too, and pregnancy would supply her 
with an objective yardstick for measuring the extent to which 
she was loved. 

From the very beginning the voice of motherliness had been 
drowned out in Elsie by egoistic motives, for what she wanted 
was proof of being loved, rather than the fulfillment of her 
desire for motherhood. Narcissism is extremely sensitive in 
its processes, and Elsie, even before she thought of informing her 
lover of her pregnancy, perceived that in the circumstances ' 
she could not proudly march into marriage. The man loved his 
ambitious plans more than he loved her. Upon realizing 
this humiliating fact, she proudly withdrew into herself, and in 
a typical fashion enjoyed a narcissistic gratification by the de- 
tour of her sacrifice for him. Such concealment of pregnancy 
from the father of the child in order to’ be spared the deep 
humiliation of rejection is a frequent occurrence and a typical 
narcissistic reaction. The suggestion of an abortion on the part 
of the man is often felt by the woman as a severe and deep 
mortification, and many girls save their future relation to the 
man, and often to the male sex as a whole, by avoiding such a 
suggestion and choosing the difficult fate of an unmarried 
mother rather than abortion. Elsie consciously admitted this 
avoidance by referring to her “principles.” 

Elsie showed that she had brought her competition with her 
brothers into her love relation when she observed with a 



court. A middle-aged man, very highly placed socially, the 
respectable father of three grown-up children, was suddenly 
sued for support by a young man about 20 years of age. Ac- 
cording to his mother’s statements, the defendant was his 
natural father. The latter, a small, weak intellectual, appeared 
timid and inhibited. Almost paralyzed with surprise, he 
was confronted by an enormous fellow, a typical healthy 
peasant, twice as big as himself, who threw himself at his feet 
and said: ''Little father, don’t you want to recognize me?” 

The alleged father’s surprise seemed genuine. 

The young man’s mother, a healthy, aggressive peasant 
woman, stated that twenty-one years earlier she had been a 
servant girl in the city, that the defendant had visited her 
employer’s son, that he had come to her room at night and 
there had had intercourse with her. As a result of this re- 
lationship, her son was born. Now, she said, she wanted to 
give this son an opportunity to be trained in a city trade, be- 
cause he disliked life in the country as a laborer. She herself 
was happily married, the mother of two healthy legitimate 
children, and her husband thought it proper that not he but the 
natural father should take care of her first-born. The woman’s 
attitude gave the impression that she was quite convinced^ 
of the justice of her case. She had obviously remembered the 
alleged father under the pressure of new life problems and had 
initiated a suit for support because of her ignorance of the 
statute of limitations. Although the defendant could not 
recall this episode of his youth, he was honest enough to admit 
that "it was after all possible that something like that had 
taken place.” The judge asked the plaintiff the natural 
question: "If you were convinced at that time that this man 
was the father of your child, why did you not sue for support 
at once?” 

Whereupon the robust woman exclaimed indignantly: "I 

did not want that son of a b to think that I needed him 

or his money.” 

The offended narcissism of a servant girl emotionally hurt 



had made her assume the burden of supporting an illegitimate 
child in preference to appealing for help to a man who had 
used her only as an object of pleasure. 

The character of a woman’s reaction to her illegitimate child 
depends upon her outposts, the preparatory acts that have 
taken place in the preceding development. Legitimate mother- 
hood too originates emotionally in the past. The psychologic 
conditions secondarily created by illegitimacy or primarily 
leading to it usually strengthen these outposts. The tendency 
of the young mother to '‘give back” the child to her own 
mother can be more easily gratified in an illegitimate situation. 
In some social circles the parental home is a depot for the 
daughters’ illegitimate children, and the grandmothers in 
such homes consider it natural that they should take care of 
these children without any feeling of resentment over their 
illegitimate birth. 

An illegitimate child fathered by a married man fits readily 
into the frame of the Oedipus complex. The realization of 
the masochistic fantasy about being left "on the street” with 
the illegitimate child of a seducer, is a very frequent variation 
•.of the puberal prostitution fantasy. Psychoanalysis shows 
us that the little girl’s wish for a child has many components 
and each of them can be reactivated and lead to realization 
under certain circumstances. 

The masochistic wish to be abandoned with the child has 
an aggressive counterpart in the wish to deprive the man of the 
child begotten by him, as an act of revenge. The wish for 
revenge is a consequence of the frustration experienced at the 
hands of the father in the past, which is now transferred to 
another man. The fantasy of the illegitimate child is ex- 
traordinarily frequent, and its determinants are many and 
varied: there is the masochistic Cinderella, who punishes 
herself as a deserted mother; we meet the vindictive "strong 
woman,” who takes the child away from the man, and also 
the bisexual individual who does not even take the man into 



consideration in her parthenogenetic fantasies. ’All these in- 
dividual motivations can later .result in the conception of an 
illegitimate child or in definite reactions to the birth of such 
a child. 

When we pointed out that adolescent fantasy life involves 
the danger of a break-through in the direction of acting out, 
we emphasized the fact that fantasies nevertheless usually 
manifest themselves in neurotic symptoms rather than in 
direct realizations. Many young girls dream of rape, suffer 
from hysterical vomiting or anorexia nervosa as expressions of 
pregnancy fantasies, insist upon being operated on, etc. Much 
more rarely are they raped, impregnated, etc., as a result of 
their own provocations, and this occurs only when their 
fantasies are accompanied by a real, emotionally irresistible 
motive or by a number of motives. 

A mother’s or an older sister’s real pregnancy may provide 
the final stimulus to a premature or illegitimate realization 
of the wish for a child in a young girl, but only when destructive- 
sadistic motives in reference to the mother or sister, or mas- 
ochistic motives directed against the self, break through the 
normal inhibitions and defense mechanisms. 

Evelyn, whose difficult adolescence we have examined in^ 
detail (vol.i), was unable to halt the morbid acting out that had 
been provoked in her by definite events. After her prostitution 
escapades, her sleepless Cinderella nights on the stairs, her 
protest against her mother’s new pregnancy, and her expressed 
intention to appropriate the child expected by her mother, 
she had an urge to make herself independent and to take in- 
disputable and exclusive possession of the child. ''I will be 
the first,” she said, for her ambition was always to precede 
her older sisters in every experience. 

We lost sight of Evelyn for many months. She hid herself 
from everyone who wanted to guard her against her evil fate, 
and she was able, driven by the fatalistic power of the un- 
conscious, to transform her puberal fantasies into a masochistic 
orgy. She re-emerged only shortly before her delivery, when 
she dragged herself from the neighborhood of a military camp 
in California all the way back to her parents’ home in Mas- 



sachusetts. The father of her child was probably one man 
among many, “a guy named Joe,” who could, however, easily 
be replaced by another Joe. All these real and yet unreal 
fathers, assuming their roles simultaneously or successively, 
combine into one inaccessible father. 

Evelyn was placed in a maternity home; she had been en- 
riched by a bitter experience, yet she remained the same as 
before. According to her, the girls at home wanted to talk 
to her about their boy friends as if she knew all about every- 
thing. She supposed it was because of the baby, but she was 
far from knowing everything about men. There was the 
danger that Evelyn would again run away blindly in order 
to “know everything.” 

“Funny how things have changed,” she said. She felt 
like a stranger at home, even though they had been “so darn 
nice” to her — she knew that she had changed so much, but 
she was “dumb” about the others. She had not asked to come 
home; her mother had asked her to come back, she said. 

The thing that worried her so, she said, was that, being in 
a maternity home, she would have to take care of her baby for 
five weeks. She did not want to keep the baby, but she was 
’afraid that she would get so fond of it during that time that 
she would not be able to give it up. Her father and mother 
had told her that she could bring the baby home and that they 
would help her to take care of it, if that was what she wanted 
to do. She thought it was “swell” of them, but she took the 
attitude that as she was only 16 she “had no business being 
mother to a baby , . . “it wouldn’t be fair to the baby.” But 
she had thought so much about having a baby, and was always 
so crazy about the babies in her family, that she was afraid 
of this “five weeks business.” There did not seem to be any 
way out of it, but it worried her. 

Of course, said Evelyn, her mother was willing to take care 
of the baby, but that didn’t seem right. Evelyn felt that the 
child belonged to her, but at home even with her own child 
she would be only an assistant mother, because she was not yet 
ready to be a real mother. 

The last weeks of Evelyn’s pregnancy were those of any 


woman having her first child — full of impatience and in- 
creasing although denied fear. -Asked whether she was afraid, 
she sighed and said that she was not, then smiled sadly and 
amended: “Very.” 

The fact of illegitimacy adds specific fears to the general 
fears: in addition to the antithesis of death and life, and that 
of hero and monster, there is the question : Shall I fulfill my 
yearning or deny it? Let us recall Ida and Elsie, who simulta- 
neously denied and admitted their yearning by choosing, like 
Evelyn, to renounce the confrontation with their children in 
order to avoid the danger of maternal feelings. We were able 
to follow Evelyn’s course before she became an unmarried 
mother, and we know that all her behavior — her restlessness, 
her flights from home, and finally her pregnancy — were the 
results of severe puberal conflicts. 

She wanted to be more experienced than her older sisters, 
and, in competition with her mother, to have her own child. 
She achieved this goal; she had a child, and her mother was 
willing to take care of him. Evelyn consented and brought 
her child home. Her motherhood failed to influence her 
puberal behavior to any great extent; she soon began again 
to wage her old hostile struggle against her mother. She was' 
still torn between two contradictory tendencies — the wish to 
be free, and the wish to be a mother bound to her child. 

Evelyn is particularly instructive for us, because we often 
indulge in the deceptive hope that motherhood can favorably 
influence the morbid acting-out tendencies of immature girls, 
overlooking the fact that in such cases motherhood itself is 
only part of the acting-out behavior. We know many un- 
married mothers of Evelyn’s type. Common to all of them 
is the compulsive, blind realization of the immature wish for 
a child. If this unconscious wish proves stronger than the 
protective inhibitions, the girl is easily driven to biologic 
motherhood without being psychologically capable of mother- 

Some girls are from birth destined to be unmarried mothers. 
It is a family tradition: grandmother, mother, aunts, sisters, 



one after the other, have brought illegitimate children into 
the world and scattered them in foster homes or brought them 
to the grandmother. 

Although there is usually no lack of respect for the grand- 
mother, who also has had personal experience with illegitimacy, 
as a rule there is contempt for the mother. The girhs own 
nonachieved ego ideal says: "T shall not bring a bastard 
home/’ At an even younger age than her mother did it, 
barely on the threshold of adolescence, she becomes illegit- 
imately pregnant, although she consciously rejects identifica- 
tion with her mother. If the bodily symptoms of an illness 
were involved, heredity could be held responsible; here one is 
inclined to speak of educational influences, I observed the 
fate of a family of very high social standing in which the dread- 
ful Jaux pas occurred in three generations. My patient, who 
belonged to the last of these generations, and who was brought 
up in a convent school, had no idea that her mother and 
grandmother had perpetrated the same misdeed, and it was 
only in the course of a long analysis that the secret that she had 
guessed all her life was revealed as preconscious knowledge of 
the ‘'family disgrace.” In this case it was certainly not 
the educational influence of the environment but an ineluc- 
table identification with the mother that entangled the girl 
in the same fate. 

A girl of poor, proletarian family in which illegitimate mother- 
hood had been traditional for generations, was very proud of 
the fact that she alone, among all the feminine members of her 
clan, married at the age of 25 without having given birth to 
an illegitimate child. She remained sterile for eight years 
after her marriage, and only gynecologic treatment enabled 
her to become pregnant. Whether she owed her unique 
position in her family to an organic deficiency, or whether her 
psychic defense extended even beyond the desired boundaries, 
is difficult to say. 

F. Clothier^ cites a case in which the girl’s fateful identi- 
fication with her mother led her with mathematical certainty 
to illegitimate motherhood. 

* Clothier, F. : Psychological implications of unmarried parenthood. Am. J. Ortho- 

psychiat., vol. 13, 1943. 



In some cases, the path that ieads from fantasy to realization 
is very short, and the events that ordinarily take place in 
fantasies are starkly acted out in reality. Conception takes 
place under specific conditions that have nothing to do with 
love or sexual excitement. The psychic state of these girls 
excludes every possibility of self-control, so much so that one 
might say that they fall into a twilight state. In many cases 
there is even amnesia of the event, the girl denies her pregnancy 
or maintains in good faith that she has no idea how it happened. 
I know of a young minor who at first refused to hear of her 
pregnancy and later stated in court that she had been impreg- 
nated by the respectable father of her schoolmate. The accusa- 
tion was revealed to be pseudologic, but the girl had a real gap 
in her memory as far as her impregnation was concerned, and 
‘Telt” that it was this man who was responsible. It is hard to 
say whether her pseudology was caused by a dark reminiscence 
of what is usually experienced in childhood as seduction by the 
father. It is noteworthy that in a real seduction by an older 
man, whom the seduced girl naturally identifies with her own 
father, the fact of pregnancy is denied with particular stubborn- 
ness and often until the last moment, as though the youngster 
wanted to say: ‘‘One cannot have a child by one’s fat^ier.”^ 
The morbid acting out, which unfortunately has inevitable 
biologic consequences, tends to be repeated, and a not in- 
considerable number of cases of illegitimate motherhood 
with multiple pregnancies owe their existence to a blueprint 
fidelity in the repetition of the situation that leads to pregnancy. 
The event is then endowed with the character of a hysterical 
fit, sometimes even of a psychotic episode. Some of the cases 
observed by Beata Rank® seem to belong to this category. 

In such cases the social agencies must cope with almost in- 
surmountable difficulties. The fact that social-cultural prob- 

* In an examination of sixteen unmarried mothers, Kasanin found various neurotic 
traits leading to neurotic acting out and illegitimate motherhood. Cf. Kasanin, J. 
AND Handschin, S.i Psychodynamic factors in illegitimacy. Am. J. Orthopsy- 
chiat., vol. II, 194I. 

*Rank, B.: Unpublished. 



lems are here mixed up with biologic, psychologic, and psycho- 
pathologic problems is responsible for these difficulties, and 
so far the progress accomplished in this field has been far from 

The psychologic approach cannot change the fact that un- 
married mothers must also fight on a front that lies outside 
psychology. The social prejudices against the mother and 
child make it difficult to solve the psychologic conflict and to 
create the preconditions for a gratifying motherhood ex- 
perience. Thus the debate takes place between two tendencies. 
One represents the view that social assistance must first of 
all take the child into account and simultaneously free the 
mother from the social and psychologic burden of illegitimacy; 
the other strives to educate the illegitimate mother for mother- 
hood and to secure for her the most favorable conditions for 
achieving this goal. Clothier supports the first view, which 
is certainly more in harmony with reality.^ 

She justly criticizes the ‘Vigid attitude among social workers 
that the baby should remain with the mother at all costs^ 
She also questions the value of the trial period of several 
months during which the mother '^must be given every op- 
portunity to decide herself whether or not to retain custody 
of her baby.’’ As she states the case, 

By urging the mother to nurse her baby and permitting a mother-child 
relationship to develop, we put tremendous pressure on the mother to keep 
her baby .... The mother who after i-6 months gives up her baby loses 
not only the product of her conception and whatever it may have stood for 
in her fantasy, but she also loses a baby with whose personality her own has 
become inextricably interwoven. Suckling, fondling, and caring for a baby 
have made it more consciously a part of her than ever it was in the uterus. 
Compare the loss of the mother whose baby dies at or within a few hours of 
birth with the bereavement of the mother who loses her baby during or 
after the nursing period. 

Where the mother-child relation has followed a straight line of 
development, Clothier’s argument can be accepted without 
reservations. But the psychology of motherhood under socially 

^Clothier, F.: Problems of illegitimacy. Ment. Hyg., vol. 30, 1941. 



normal conditions has shown us that this relationship is often 
more complicated. We know that in the legitimate situ- 
ation the child's position in the mother’s emotional life is often 
influenced by the unconscious, and this is even more true in 
the illegitimate situation, which itself is often produced by 
unconscious motives. The unconscious also partly determines 
the role that the child will play after it has become a reality. 
The child’s position in the mother’s psychic life can turn out 
to be negative or positive; even under the most favorable 
conditions, the child may in the end be felt as a negative 
element, and in that event the mother’s relationship to him 
is full of guilt feelings that arise from her unconscious hatred 
and protest against his existence. Similarly, both the un- 
married and the married mother can enjoy the proud feeling 
of productivity and gratifying tenderness despite unfavorable 
conditions. Such a relationship with the child can overcome 
the conflicts arising from the struggle against the outside world 
and the fear created by it, if the mother has the requisite time 
and opportunities. Tactfulness and experience on the part 
of those who give help play a great part here. 

The woman’s real readiness to adjust herself to a difficult 
reality in favor of maternal love must not be confused with 
infantile ignorance of reality and denial of its difficulties. The 
least matu reamong unmarried mothers are the very ones 
who often fight to keep their children. Theirs is a struggle 
for a possession, not very different from that for a desired toy. 
In such cases the child is removed from the center of the 
emotional life after the first excitement of the will to possess 
has died down, and like a toy it is desired again after it has 
been taken away. Many a repetition of pregnancy in a youthful 
mother whose child has been taken away arises from this 
protest: '‘But I want my child after all.” 

Many young mothers are helpless and undecided about their 
motherhood and fall into even greater helplessness when they 
are given the freedom and right to decide. In all such cases., 
as in all the actions of children, external authority must step 
in, to assume not only responsibility for the child’s subsequent 



real fate, but also responsibility before the inner court of the 
mother’s immature personality. This assumption of re* 
sponsibility is, psychologically speaking, equivalent to the 
creation of an ego ideal in the outside world to which the youth- 
ful ego can submit itself. The situation is the same as that 
in all the conflict-ridden puberal experiences in which the young 
struggle for independence, yet would gladly leave all the 
responsible decisions to the grownups. The fact that the 
young girl has gone through the purgatory of a serious ex- 
perience does not always make her mature, and motherhood 
creates only a possibility of maturity, not maturity itself. The 
solution here should follow the path of an identification with 
an authoritative person. In this case command or advice is 
not sufficient; the outside influence is effective only as a direct 
offer of opportunity of identification for the weak ego. 

Another group of unmarried mothers, while recognizing 
the real difficulties, are ready to tackle them in order to keep 
their children as possessions. They are the same aggressive 
women who, as married mothers, become overindulgent; with 
this feminine detour they gratify their aggressive masculinity 
^through the child. They put into effect the parthenogenetic 
puberal fantasy to which I have repeatedly drawn attention: 
“I have a child born of me alone, I am its mother and father. 
I do not need or want a man for the begetting of a child.” 

I have also mentioned unmarried mothers who are fully 
conscious of this tendency (vol. l, p. 123) and who give them- 
selves the luxury of producing a child on their own, reducing 
the man’s role to begetting. But in most cases this process 
is unconscious, and these very women often pursue the child’s 
father with hostile demands, not out of their emotional need 
for a solicitous father for their children, but out of revenge and 
fury at the fact that he exists and was indispensable. It is 
just as impossible for understanding outsiders to influence the 
fate of the unfortunate child here as it is in the case of 
married mothers of this type. 

Broadly speaking, the conflict of illegitimate motherhood 



is fought out on two fronts. The first front is that of the 
relation to the Immediate and the remote milieu. The social 
structure and the degree of the girl’s and of her family’s de- 
pendence are the decisive factors here, A jaux pas in a re- 
spectable middle class family does not have the same implica- 
tions as it has in a proletarian milieu; it is not the same when 
committed by an artist as it is when committed by a school- 
teacher, etc. 

The second front is the unmarried mother’s inner life. 
Very often such women transfer the center of gravity of the con- 
flict to outward reality and attempt to resolve it by renouncing 
the child. Here the inner world is disavowed, the woman is 
guided by the outside world, and she imagines that by adjust- 
ing herself to its demands she can achieve the status quo ante. 
This disavowal of the inner world is not always permanently 
successful, and often the principle of reality can be applied 
advantageously only if the woman has gone through the full 
conscious experience of frustration, disappointment, and re- 
nunciation. Otherwise she is exposed to the danger of a sub- 
sequent reaction such as we see in the following case, 

Mr. Valentin, a well-to-do and cultivated business man, 
asked me to give psychiatric assistance to his 34-year-old wife, ^ 
who refused to consult a psychiatrist herself. She maintained 
that she herself would eventually master the nervousness 
caused by her emotions, and, according to the physician who 
treated her, by her extreme physical exhaustion. Six months 
before, she had given birth to a healthy girl and had nursed 
the child for several weeks. Later, however, she was com- 
pelled to stop nursing the child as a result of her nervousness. 
She had had a number of sleepless nights and displayed in- 
creasing signs of agitation. 

Mr. Valentin had married Lina, the patient, eight years be- 
fore, as a widower and father of four children ranging in age 
from 6 to 12. The bride was a calm, well mannered girl who 
was employed as a bookkeeper in his office and was an ex- 
cellent worker. Mr, Valentin was fifteen years older than 
his wife; when he met her he had been a widower for three 



years, and he felt that Lina could be a good mother to his 
children. Throughout their years together he had considered 
his marriage to be a blessing for all his family. Lina willingly 
gave up her job and devoted herself to the children, who clung 
to her as to their own mother. She was perhaps a little too 
soft and pampered them. She had never expressed a wish to 
have a child of her own and was glad that she had not become 
pregnant, because this might have disturbed the harmonious 
relationship between her and her stepchildren. But seven 
years after her marriage she did become pregnant, and the 
whole family looked forward with eagerness to the birth of 
her child. Her pregnancy and delivery were completely 
normal. But even during her confinement she displayed 
restlessness and impatience, refused to give her breasts to the 
child, and seemed completely changed toward her husband. 
After returning home she resumed her housekeeping duties. 
Her attitude toward the newborn baby was most peculiar. 
She refused to see it, neglected it completely, and, according 
to the statements of her neighbors and the older children, let 
the infant cry for hours without paying any attention to it. 
Mr. Valentin took care of it at night, because he felt that 
' his wife needed rest, and when she slept, she slept very heavily 
right through the night. Mr. Valentin mentioned incidentally 
that before her marriage his wife had had an illegitimate child, 
but that she had long since solved this problem and that it 
played no role in their common life. 

Finally Mrs. Valentin was induced to submit to psycho- 
therapy and I was able to learn the psychologic motives of 
her depressive agitation. 

She had been seduced at the age of i8, had given birth to 
a child, and had placed it for adoption immediately after 
delivery. The father was a young man whom she had known 
for several years. He had wooed her for a long time, and im- 
mediately after achieving his sexual goal and impregnating 
her, had deserted her. She considered her fate sealed, refused 
to get married when opportunities offered, and responded only 
to the wooing of the widower with children, feeling that in 

38 o 


marrying him she would be doing a good deed. She informed 
Mr. Valentin of her past and by his liberal attitude toward it 
he earned her gratitude and respect. She was very happy in 
her marriage, loved her stepchildren as her own, and did not 
think of the possibility of becoming pregnant. She was over- 
joyed, however, when it became clear that she was about to 
have a baby. What tormented her now was that from the 
beginning she had felt hatred and aversion for the newborn 
child; she was unable to overcome her antipathy to it, and 
feared that some day she would “do something” to it. She 
felt that it would be best for the “poor thing” if she left her 
home until she recovered from her peculiar exhaustion. 

The psychologic solution of the problem seemed obvious: 
the birth of her new child mobilized the buried memories of 
the past, and the guilt feelings associated with having given 
away her illegitimate child prevented her from being a good 
mother to the new one. This interpretation tallied with the 
real situation: she now wanted her legitimate and desired 
child to suffer the same fate that had perhaps befallen her 
illegitimate one. She was a good stepmother to another 
woman’s children and a bad mother to her own child. Her 
guilt feeling derived its strength from the renewal of the old' 
situation. Does this not indicate that the biologic tie between 
mother and child cannot be dissolved with impunity ? It would ■ 
be incorrect to think that every woman who disavows her child 
— as many young unmarried mothers do, under the pressure of 
social demands — is exposed to this danger of psychic punish- 
ment. Usually, the birth of a legitimate child erases the last 
vestiges of the traumatic experience. Such an experience 
creates only a disposition to guilt feelings, or intensifies a 
previously existing or subsequently acquired guilt. The 
woman’s consciously good intention to secure a good future not 
only for herself but also for her child through having him 
adopted, can give rise to the unconscious idea “I have 'de- 
stroyed, killed my child.” 

Analysis proved clearly that in Mrs. Valentin’s case the 
guilt feelings were tenacious and inexorable because behind 



her disavowed motherhood there was a heavy burden of pre- 
vious guilt. She had been the oldest child in a family with 
many children. Her mother, as a result of a heart ailment, 
became crippled after giving birth to her last child and urgently 
needed the help of her oldest daughter. At first Mrs. Valentin 
had been a loving mother substitute, but her relation with her 
father did not develop very favorably. Soon her relation with 
her mother deteriorated too, and she decided to leave her 
parental home and become independent. Her love affair 
and her illegitimate motherhood constituted an initial re- 
pentance and self-punishment. The psychic gods of vengeance 
often like to transform atonement into a new guilt, and that 
very thing happened to Mrs. Valentin. Her marriage to the 
widower gave her an opportunity to repeat and correct the 
old situation of her girlhood: this time the motherless children 
found her a good mother. But here too fate pursued her, for 
her repentance became a new guilt: she was unconsciously 
reminded of the fact that she would have remained in her 
parents’ home if her mother had cleared the way for her ac- 
tivities as substitute mother by dying, just as her husband’s 
first wife had done. With such a heavy burden of guilt, she 
'managed to preserve her psychic balance until her deepest 
wish — the wish to have her own child — was fulfilled; then the 
psychic line of toleration was crossed and she collapsed under 
the weight of her guilt feelings, again creating a new guilt by 
her act of self-punishment, for in her depression she justly 
accused herself of being a bad mother. 

Mrs. Valentin adjusted herself excellently to the demand 
imposed by her struggle on the first front, i.e., that of reality, 
but postponed the solution of her struggle on the second front. 
This second front is that of the woman’s own ego. In un- 
married mothers there is a conflict between self-preservation 
and awakened motherhood. Although pregnancy and its 
fantasy experiences have not yet produced maternal feelings, 
they have, even under unfavorable conditions, mobilized a 
certain tender readiness that the woman’s ego cannot renounce 
without a sacrifice. Clothier is quite right in thinking that 


motherliness grows with the care bestowed upon the child, 
and that the trauma of separation is the more intense, the 
longer the relation with the child has subsisted. But we must 
not overlook an important factor: we know how often con- 
frontation with the bitterest reality is borne more easily than 
a psychic burden. Ida, Elsie, and Evelyn avoided contact 
with their children because, as they confessed, separation would 
otherwise have been too difficult for them: by this very fact 
they revealed the existence of emotions that they at the same 
time denied. The insight we have gained regarding abortion 
should also teach us to be cautious here: the separation from 
a child not really experienced in the outside world may con- 
stitute for the mother the loss of a part of her own ego. 

The actually existent child from whom the mother has sep- 
arated is and remains hourly and daily a real object whose 
fate is uncertain, and for which she may feel responsible unless 
she has completed her liberation. All kinds of guilt feelings — 
that constant burden of the human soul — are ready to be 
activated under suitable stimulation, and such a stimulation 
is supplied by an unresolved conflict about a child. It goes 
without saying that separation from the child will be the 
harder for the renouncing mother, the more love ties have been*^ 
created between them. On the other hand, the later guilt 
reactions are the more effective in proportion as the mother 
has felt hateful and aggressive toward the undesired child. 
A mother who killed her child immediately after its birth, 
in a premeditated act prompted by social fear, stated before 
the court that she now felt great love for the child and wished 
to call it back to life in order to hold it in her arms and press 
it to herself: "T don't care what happens to me, for the child 
can't be given back to me." 

She also frankly described the fury and hatred she had felt for 
the expected child and for the newborn infant before its death. 

Under given circumstances it may be better for the mother 
to separate from a known and loved child than from an un- 
known and hated ‘"something" that only subsequently, after 
separation, assumes concrete form in her imagination. 



A decision in favor of motherhood nevertheless does not 
always guarantee a harmonious solution even if it has been 
taken after mature deliberation and realistically. The case 
of Mrs. Nawska, unmarried mother of a little girl, confirms 
this. I was able to follow her fate for several years. She 
lived in a Catholic town in Europe, and came of the petty 
nobility, among whom an illegitimate child represented the 
worst possible disgrace. She led a curiously isolated existence. 
The only teacher of French in her town, she gradually lost all 
her pupils from the good families, gave lessons to pupils of 
obscure origin, and earned her living partly as a fortune teller 
to servant girls. For many years she was seen wearing the 
same black dress, which gradually became green with age, 
while her little girl was always dressed with the greatest 
elegance. Up to her puberty, little Stella had the best that 
could be had in toys, dresses, etc. In public parks the mother 
and child always huddled close together, and Mrs. Nawska 
was very careful that her little ostracized Stella should not 
receive any social rebuff. Children willingly played with her, 
especially because the room that Mrs. Nawska occupied with 
her child was a place forbidden to the children by their parents. 
.Moreover, Stella always had the best toys and the best books, 
and her mother took care of her and her friends much more 
tenderly and interestingly than did the other mothers. 
Mrs. Nawska always had the most delicious sweets, knew the 
most interesting fairy tales and the most exciting games. She 
herself seemed to be suffering from hunger, but she always 
gave alms to beggars with the words, “Pray for the soul of 
Otto Retlow.” 

The most striking fact about her was that she painted her 
face with white paint, through which custom she earned the 
nickname of “the pale countess.” Otherwise her behavior 
was full of tact and dignity and showed no symptom of psy- 
chotic trouble. The ban put upon her by the little town 
and her social isolation gradually turned her into an eccen- 

Mrs. Nawska told me her story herself and I was able to 



verify it. At the age of 18 she had met a young Austrian 
officer at a ball given by a Polish noble and soon developed a 
love relation with him. Since she was unable to produce the 
large sum of money demanded by the military hierarchy as a 
condition of her marriage to him, he decided to give up his 
military career. Meanwhile, fully certain of their common 
future, they continued their relation quite openly and as a 
result the girl’s reactionary family threw her out of the pa- 
rental home. She immediately made use of her good education 
to earn her living and became a teacher of languages. 

Everything went according to plan, until one day the 
young man’s mother summoned her and declared that if 
she really loved her son, she must for the time being renounce 
the idea of becoming his wife, because marriage would lay 
a burden upon him to which his weak constitution was unequal. 
She, as his mother, felt it her duty to protect her son. The 
young girl calmly accepted this declaration ; the word “mother” 
deeply impressed her. It created in her the conviction that 
the other woman was acting for the highest interest of her son, 
and she immediately promised to separate from him. She 
did not wish to cause complications by telling him what had 
happened, and, taxing all her psychic strength, forced herself ^ 
to declare to her beloved that she no longer loved him. She 
was then in the fourth month of her pregnancy, and told him 
that she was not sure that the child was his. 

In view of the fact that Mrs. Nawska seems to have had 
an extraordinary fantasy life, we may assume that she found 
the strength for this masochistic renunciation by identifying 
herself with a heroic character in a novel. But the fact re- 
mains that, standing on her own feet, she struggled through 
her very hard life with her illegitimate child, that she preserved 
the most faithful and romantic love for her lover, that she 
worshiped her child and was always a self-sacrificing mother 
to her. Endowed with great feminine intuition, she wanted 
to bring up her child in the greatest respect for her father, which 
is so important for femininity. The fact that she had left 
him with a heroic gesture, and that he had not left her in 



disgrace, probably became for her a source of lifelong nar- 
cissistic gratification. 

On one of our two fronts, Mrs. Nawska made a peace: she 
was happy in her motherhood and gave her illegitimate child 
the best that she could muster. On the second front (the 
social) her struggle continued throughout her life: she paid 
unremittingly for her transgression of the social commands, 
for her social guilt feeling, by her masochistic fate. She 
could surely have led a more dignified existence if she had 
moved to another town; she could also have made friends in 
a more liberal milieu. But she chose not only passively to 
yield to her fate as an outcast; she also actively emphasized 
her isolation by the pale mask she wore on her face like a badge. 

As illustrating another unsuccessful attempt at resolving the 
conflict, we may instance the history of a contrasting type of 
illegitimate motherhood. Mrs. Rowley was a married woman of 
Italian descent, with many children. Owing to the extreme 
poverty of her family, she was for many years in contact 
with a social agency. During her numerous pregnancies 
Mrs. Rowley was often gravely ill with toxemia, high blood 
pressure, gallbladder infections, states of exhaustion, and 
' other consequences of complete neglect of prenatal care. Her 
children were continually sick and the unfortunate mother 
sacrificed herself completely for them. Mr. Rowley too was 
often ill, usually at moments when the family situation was 
somewhat better. Although he was employed steadily, he 
was hardly adequate as a family supporter and filled a very 
modest job without making any effort to improve his earning 
opportunities. Apparently he completely lacked the urge to 
do so. 

According to the records, Irma, the oldest child, aged 14 
when her problem came up, was illegitimate. Her alleged 
father had deserted the mother and child to marry another 
woman. Very characteristically, the problem of Irma emerged 
only after several years of contact between Mrs. Rowley and 
the social agency. ■ When the social worker gently broached 
the matter of Irma’s paternity, Mrs. Rowley was embarrassed 


for a moment, then with a sigh of relief went on to tell the 
social worker what she had never dared to tell anyone else. 
She had been deeply concerned about Irma, who, it seemed, 
went to school under the name of Irma Arnold. At one time 
Mr. Rowley talked about adopting her, and Mrs. Rowley 
very much wanted him to do this, but the matter was re- 
peatedly postponed, because Mr. Rowley said that he did not 
have the money to do it. She regretted that it had not been 
done earlier, and believed that Irma was now self-conscious 
and wondered about her name. Mrs. Rowley had never given 
her any explanation about it, although all the time the whole 
problem had weighed like a stone on her heart. She did not 
know what to do about it, but frankly admitted that she was 
very much worried about her first-born. 

For one thing, Irma was a very quiet child, not care-free and 
happy like other girls of her age. The mother tried in every 
way possible to make her feel no different from her sisters and 
brothers, but she thought that Mr. Rowley, although he prob- 
ably did not mean it to be so, was less fond of Irma than of 
the other children. This hurt Mrs. Rowley and as she talked 
about it the tears welled up in her eyes ; she said that when Irma 
was small, she had had a chance to “give her away,” but she' 
loved her so much that she preferred to keep her. Although 
she liked all her children equally, she had to admit that if she 
had a favorite, it was Irma. She felt unhappy because she 
could not get Irma the clothes she needed to go back to school, 
but she had so many children to provide for that she couldn’t 
see her way clear to getting Irma the things she ought to have. 
Irma had begun to show symptoms of the usual puberal 
rebellion, which was complicated by her knowledge or surmise 
of her illegitimacy. Not long before, some children had asked 
her whether her mother was married when she was born. Irma 
had not been able to answer this and had asked her mother 
about it. Mrs. Rowley’s reply had been: “These children 
would do better to mind their own business.” 

When Mrs. Rowley talked about Irma,- she kept her hand 
over her heart and wept on and off. She confessed that 



throughout the years she had shed many tears about Irma — 
she thought a lot about her and had always been anxious to 
change her name to Rowley. Irma had questioned her several 
times as to why her name was Arnold. Mrs. Rowley’s only 
answer had been, ‘'Well, aren’t you the curious one.” 

She would like to change Irma’s name now without talking 
to her about it, because she was so terribly afraid that Irma 
would run away from home if she found out that Mr. Rowley 
was not her father. Irma would often talk about children 
who had stepfathers and how mean they were to them; she 
said that she would never remain in a home with a stepfather. 
Mr. Rowley had always been very kind to Irma and treated 
her no differently from the other children. Mrs. Rowley 
felt that Irma should know the truth, but could not make up 
her mind to reveal it to her; she discouraged the girl from 
questioning her, and postponed the whole thing to some 
future date. 

Mrs. Rowley worried a great deal about Irma’s future. She 
was obviously obsessed by the fear that the girl would not be 
able to find a job with her telltale name, that it would make a 
difference to her future husband, etc. She would hate to 
^lave Irma unhappy because of something she had done. More 
than anything in the world, she wanted Irma to be happy. 
She suspected that many people knew the truth, and she did 
not know what they thought of Irma. Perhaps it would have 
been better to have had the girl adopted when she was a baby. 
But as soon as Irma was born and she saw the baby, she knew 
that she wanted to keep it. She was sure that she would always 
try to do the best she could for Irma. Now she wondered 
whether the girl was worrying about something, whether she 
was sad. Irma did not stay out late at night and was always 
careful to do just as her mother told her. Mrs. Rowley was 
thankful for that, as she would not want Irma to get into the 
difficulty that she herself had got into. 

Mrs. Rowley’s relation with Irma’s father had gone over 
several years; they had always planned to get married, but 
they never had done so. When she met Mr. Rowley she told 


him about Irma, because she thought it best to have that 
settled beforehand. She knew a great many other women who 
had not told their husbands about such things and later there 
were all sorts of marital difficulties. She wanted to avoid this 
if possible. 

She did not know whether they could afford to have Irma’s 
name changed, but she would like to have it done as soon as 
possible. It was suggested to her that the best way of getting 
Irma’s name changed was that of having Mr. Rowley to adopt 
her. The fee for this was only $5. At this Mrs. Rowley began 
to withdraw, asking whether it would be necessary to appear 
in court and to tell Irma about changing her name. She did 
not care about herself, Irma was the important one; she could 
not bear to see her daughter unhappy. 

She knew that it was her guilty conscience that made her 
wonder so often how many people knew about Irma. She 
had worried about her daughter for so many years; when she 
went to the hospital because of illness, Irma was on her mind 
constantly. She was concerned lest her husband might not 
treat Irma as nicely then as he did when the mother was there. 
Sometimes she thought that she had become sick from worrying 
about all these things. 

Sometimes she thought that her own mother’s death was 
God’s punishment visited upon her for becoming pregnant with 
Irma; her mother had died just before Irma was born. She 
thought that God had continued to punish her all through the 
years and that was why she had had so much trouble in her 
life. She felt that it was God’s punishment that her children 
were always getting sick and that she never had enough money 
to live on. 

Mrs. Rowley could not accept the idea of telling Irma the 
truth — even though she knew that this was the best thing to 
do. She feared that Irma would take a hateful, revengeful 
attitude. She confessed that she had had a thought that she 
would not dare to reveal even to her husband; the only person 
to whom she would tell it was the social worker. The thought 



was that it was too bad that Irma had not died when she was 
a little baby, because she was like a little angel then. If the 
girl had died as a baby, she would not be facing all this now. 

Then Mrs. Rowley started to speak about her repeated 
pregnancies. She had told her husband that she did not 
want another child, and he did not bother her very much. She 
did not enjoy sexual relations particularly, because she was 
always worried about having a baby. They never used any 
means of contraception, nor did she ever do anything to her- 
self after she became pregnant. She told how sick and fragile 
her children were, complained about her misery, and returned 
obsessively to her most burning problem, Irma. She was afraid 
that some day quarrels might arise between her and Irma and 
she might ask the girl to get out of the house, when actually 
her resentment toward Irma was only because of the worry she 
caused her. “Do you mean I really hate Irma?” she once 

Mrs. Rowley also had other guilt reactions; everything she 
did was under the sign of a bad conscience. She was always 
apologetic and asked over and over whether this or that act of 
hers had been right or wrong. She had no personal life, neg- 
dected her appearance and health, and was entirely absorbed 
in her worries about hqr children, her pregnancies, and procure- 
ment of food for her family. She went to church at night so 
that nobody would see her, because she was ashamed of the 
way she looked; she felt that this was God’s punishment for 
what she had done in the past. There was always someone 
sick in the family and she lived in constant fear that one of her 
children would die. She also said she was worried for fear 
that something might happen to Irma. 

Whenever she began to recover a little from the family’s 
recurring economic crises, she became pregnant, sick, and then 
neglected herself physically; whenever their financial situation 
improved a little, either her husband or one of her children fell 
ill; their expenses increased and her worries along with them. 
She was threatened now with a new pregnancy and declared 

39 ° 


that she was afraid that she would not be able to live through it; 
she had suifered too much during her previous pregnancies. 
When she actually became pregnant, she felt very much 
ashamed because, she said, it was wrong for her to have more 
children when they were already having such a difficult time. 
But still the problem of Irma preoccupied her most of all. 

This is the story of a mother who thought that she had solved 
the problem of her illegitimate child. At the outset there is the 
mother’s conscious or unconscious death wish against the “poor 
fatherless child . . . the poor angel.” Her decision to have the 
child adopted would make the death wish unnecessary, but in 
the mother’s guilt feeling placement for adoption can have the 
same meaning — “I have destroyed my child.” We have seen 
how often a motherly feeling appears in unmarried mothers; 
it is perhaps accompanied by an old wish fantasy, perhaps the 
voice of conscience becomes very loud, perhaps a summation 
of motives leads the mother to decide in favor of the child: 
“I want to keep it.” Then comes the life struggle, as in the 
case of Mrs. Nawska, although not always in such a grotesque 
form, or a favorable marriage solves the conflict and the illegiti- 
mate child has a chance to become a member of a legitimate ' 
family, as in Mrs. Rowley’s case. In many cases, however, 
the shadow of the past hangs over the child’s existence and it 
turns out that the solution of the conflict was only apparent. 

The vital question is always: Does my husband really love 
my child? A living symbol reminds the mother of some- 
thing she has consigned to oblivion, and the effects of the 
relinquished love for the father or of the subsequent hatred 
of him cannot easily come to rest, because the corpus delicti 
in the person of the illegitimate child constantly reopens the 
old wound. The now respectable mother is reminded of her 
disavowed past and anxiously tries to find in the heritage of her 
bad past a sign of an identity with the rejected part of her own 
ego. Mrs. Rowley feared that her daughter would become a 
runaway, thus expressing her worry that the girl would have an 



illegitimate child just as had happened to herself. She, like 
many others, believed in divine punishment. In Mrs. Rowley 
another guilt feeling accompanied the guilt of sexual sin: she 
thought that she had killed her mother by having an illegitimate 
child. The grandmother does not always die shortly before the 
birth of an illegitimate granddaughter, as in the case of 
Mrs. Rowley, but very often the blow inflicted upon the 
woman’s mother by the disgrace weighs just as heavily in the 
daughter’s guilt feelings. 

Mrs. Rowley was caught between her conscious love for Irma 
and her constantly lurking hate feelings toward her; for this 
reason she was unable to tell her the truth and carried her op- 
pressive secret as a constant burden. 

She became pregnant repeatedly, and a strict taboo against 
birth control ruled over her conceptions and pregnancies. Hers 
were compulsive pregnancies to make her pay, by the misery 
of her legitimate motherhood, for having had an illegitimate 
child. She evidently used religious motives as a rationalization 
against birth control (although she had not feared to enter into 
an illegitimate relation with her first mate). In her uncon- 
scious she was a child murderer, and she refused to perpetrate a 
^ new sin by murdering other children (through birth control or 
abortion). Thus she used motherhood as a painful atonement, 
and since this did not effect much change in her hatred of her 
illegitimate child, she was compelled to be pregnant again and 
again. Her maternal joys were smothered under her worries, 
and the constant illnesses of her undernourished children only 
intensified her motherly guilt feelings instead of weakening 

The fate of an illegitimate child accepted by the mother is not 
always as full of subsequent negations as in Mrs. Rowley’s 
case, nor are the guilt reactions of the mother always so strong 
and the method of the struggle so bound up with the functions 
of motherhood. But in a great number of cases, the conflict 
between the self-preservation tendency and motherhood is 
made more acute and complicated by the ambivalence of the 
feelings for the illegitimate child. 



Mrs. Valentin had her child adopted, and we have seen the 
severe conflict that flared up after several years as a result of 
this. Mrs. Nawska kept her child, paying for her maternal 
happiness with social misery. Mrs. Rowley struggled inces- 
santly to transform her decision to keep her illegitimate child 
into maternal love. 

We must admit that our psychologic understanding is still 
very incomplete; we never know how a decision that seems wise 
and in harmony with reality at the beginning will work out 

A good solution should take both aspects into consideration 
— adjustment to outside reality, and understanding of the 
psychic forces. One should not try to adjust the woman to 
reality by making her yield to outside compulsion and renounce 
the child. Nor should one insist on the ideology of happiness 
through motherhood if the woman is psychically incapable of 
such realization under the given conditions. Since mother- 
hood, as we have seen, is a complex psychologic problem that 
includes many components, those who are called upon to give 
social aid must take these components into consideration. 

And we must not forget a truth that experience has taught 
us. In addition to the social problems of illegitimate mother- ' 
hood, there is woman’s profound need to love her child in a 
family triangle. For this reason it will not be enough to give 
social protection to unmarried mothers and to change social 
morality. A feminine woman needs this triangle, and if it is 
lacking, all the other emotional conflicts, on whatever front 
their solution is attempted, are intensified. 


Adoptive Mothers 

I F the emotional experience of motherliness presupposed 
biologic motherhood, the psychic misery of a motherly 
woman yearning for motherhood though her body has 
proved sterile, would indeed be insurmountable. The somatic 
factor would triumph over the psychic, and as a result the 
existence of the barren woman would necessarily be one of 
constant and bitter frustration. We have pointed out in an 
earlier chapter that a genuinely motherly woman has the oppor- 
tunity to divert her feelings from the immediate goal to another, 
sublimated end. The shortest way to achieve this is to 
substitute for the fruit of one’s own body a helpless human 
being in need of maternal love and protection. An adoptive 
mother can be the full equivalent of a real mother in so far 
as the child is concerned, and whatever difficulties he may 
experience later are of secondary psychologic importance, if 
, he is assured a sufficient amount of biologically determined 
gratifications and adequate emotional atmosphere. The bib- 
lical concept “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” has 
great power when the mother’s relation to the child is deter- 
mined less by the feelings of motherliness than by her 
narcissistic wish to continue in him her own physical ego. 
This wish, which is materialized in the enlargement of preg- 
nancy, is frustrated in the mother whose child is not born of 
her own body. For the gratification of maternal love, however, 
and for expression of tender feeling toward a human being 
who needs it, as well as for exercise of the masochistic-feminine 
willingness to sacrifice, the adoption of a child affords a 
complete opportunity. 

The woman’s narcissistic pride in the product of her body 
can easily be transferred to the success she achieves through 
tender care, education, and personal influence in her relation 




with another woman's child. Love and continuous contact 
can make the adopted child her own as it were, and the fact 
that it is not of her blood can be forgotten after a relatively 
short time. Especially does a child adopted during the first 
months of his life, who from the beginning has been freed from 
the conditions in which he was born, who has not enjoyed 
any other maternal love than that given him by his adoptive 
mother, who has learned to think and feel as she does, cease to 
be a stranger for the motherly woman; he becomes a part of 
her own ego, just as precious and loved as if she had engendered 

More particularly, a ''child of sorrow," a child for whose 
life she must fight, a sickly child whom she has "saved," 
has all the chances of a child of the flesh with a motherly 
woman. A moving example of this is that of a young foster 
mother who found it so hard to separate from the child in her 
care that she induced the mother to let her adopt him. When 
someone protested to her that she could have her own children, 
she answered emphatically:" What do I care for children as 
yet unborn, when I love this child?" 

The family triangle too, the foundations of which are nor- 
mally laid in the act of fecundation, can be fully formed on the " 
basis of mutually valued developmental goals, shared hopes 
for the future, and community in the care of an adopted child. 
The biologic disadvantage of his not being of his parents’ 
own flesh and blood can be neutralized later by appropriate 
educational influences. 

Our direct observations for the most part refer to situations 
that were optimal for the adoptive mother. Historically, a 
tremendous change has occurred in the procedure of adoption. 
It is amazing that in the past the will to motherhood by adop- 
tion of a child was undaunted by the tremendous difficulties 
that had to be overcome. When we recall that in the last 
century in Germany a woman was not permitted to adopt a 
child before she was 50 years of age, that in France a child 
could be adopted only after reaching the age of 21, and that 
in America the anonymity of the natural and of the adoptive 
parents has been safeguarded only in recent years, we realize 



what enormous progress has been made. Today we can secure 
the most favorable conditions for adoption by study of the 
subtle psychologic processes in both the parents and the chil- 
dren involved. 

Much has been said and written about the psychology of the 
adopted child, less about the psychology of the adoptive 
mother. Yet the primary cause of the adopted child’s psycho- 
logic reactions lies not so much in the circumstances of his 
birth as in the effects of this reality on his environment, above 
all on his adoptive mother; only from her does the influence 
extend secondarily to the child. 

To understand the adoptive mother as an individual and 
as a type, two factors must be considered — the woman’s 
capacities for motherliness in her relations with the adoptive 
child, and her motives for adoption. It goes without saying 
that we are here disregarding all motives of a practical or social 
character and are interested only in those cases in which a 
purely emotional motive is present. 

When a woman’s longing to be a mother is not gratified by 
children of her own, and when she seeks a substitute by the 
^most natural method, namely, adoption, the question arises as 
to why she has no children of her own. In the course of our 
discussion we have met various types of women who long tor 
children but are unable to gratify this longing directly, owing 
to unresolved psychic conflicts. We have seen the midwife 
(chap, ii) who out of fear of the biologic functions was obliged 
to content herself with presiding over the delivery of other 
women’s children, and Unamuno’s Aunt Tula, who despised 
sexuality to such an extent that she could gratify her ardent 
motherliness only by exploiting the sexual service of other 
women. We have seen the androgynous woman who with- 
draws from female reproductive tasks and yet wants to create 
and shape a human being after her own image, and the woman 
whose eroticism has remained fixed in homosexuality and whose 
yearning for a child derives from the profound source of her 
own mother relationship. Many such women renounce men, 
but gratify the wish for a child by adoption. 


Among these single adoptive mothers there are some ex- 
cellent women who are so tactful and have so much insight 
for the needs of the child that they find ways and means to 
bridge socially and emotionally a situation that is abnormal 
for the child. Their position is like that of unmarried mothers, 
with the difference that the latter are condemned by society, 
while the former are only considered dubious. The amount 
of neurotic tension that produces this socially and emo- 
tionally unfinished situation determines the child’s fate. Those 
cases in which the motive of the adoption is rooted in the 
parthenogenetic fantasy “I do not need a man for that” usually 
end, so far as I have been able to observe, in relinquishment 
of the child as soon as he begins to make stronger demands 
on the mother. Unfortunately, the financial, intellectual, and 
ethical standards of the prospective adoptive mother are more 
carefully considered than her emotional balance when her 
fitness for adopting a child is being judged. 

The situation is different when an unmarried woman adopts 
a child not primarily because of her own urge to do so but 
because a motherless child needs her as a mother substitute. 
An aging spinster who out of pity undertakes to care for an 
orphaned child is completely unlike the bachelor girl who wants ^ 
to have a child. The danger of a woman of the “motherly 
aunt” type often lies in the extravagance of her motherly 
happiness. She regards the adopted child as an unexpected 
gift of fate, and because of this feeling of gratitude or obligation 
she creates an excessively soft and tolerant atmosphere for her 

Sometimes two women friends who live together are psycho- 
logically so much like a married couple that they need to be 
complemented and to form a triangle. I have observed several 
cases of sublimated relationship between two women friends 
whose feminine longing, combined with their masculine urge 
for a permanent accomplishment, led to the adoption of one or 
more children. The allocation of roles was not clear and ap- 
parently the two women played both roles, those of father and 
mother, just as is often the case in unsublimated overt homo- 
sexual relationships in which both partners are bisexual. My 



personal impression is that the masculine principle in such 
family units is represented by the excessive intellectualization 
of the relationship to the child. These female couples engage 
in psychologic-pedagogic observations and experiments, aspire 
to give their adopted child a perfect education, and the out- 
sider has often the paradoxic and slightly comical impression 
that their manless menage lacks a feminine member. 

The largest proportion of adoptive parents, however, is 
recruited from among sterile married couples. Here the psy- 
chology of the adoptive mother is largely determined by the 
psychologic motives for sterility (if any) and by the wom- 
an’s reaction to her renunciation. Has her fear of the repro- 
ductive function proved stronger than her wish to be a mother? 
Is she still so much a child that she cannot emotionally and 
unconsciously decide to assume the responsible role of mother? 
Is she so much absorbed emotionally in other life tasks that she 
fears motherhood? Is her relationship with her husband so 
gratifying and fulfilling that she fears a change in the status 
(juo ? Does she think that her husband should not be burdened 
with the tasks of real fatherhood? Does the threatening and 
' forbidding voice of her mother speak from the depths of her old 
guilt feelings? Does she think that her body has been injured 
by forbidden actions? Does she hold her husband responsible 
for her childlessness? Does a deeply unipnscious curse of 
heredity burden all her motherly wish fantasies? And, above 
all, has the sterile woman overcome the narcissistic mortifica- 
tion of her inferiority as a woman to such an extent that she is 
willing to give the child, as object, full maternal love? 

If a woman has consciously made up her mind to adopt 
a child all these questions are unimportant, and she is only 
later confronted with the task of overcoming all the remaining 
unconscious obstacles. Many women mature to the stage 
of motherhood only when they have a child; many, even in 
relations with children of their own, struggle against uncon- 
scious difficulties that have not hindered the reproductive 
functions but nevertheless have created either physiologic or 
psychic disturbances. 



The hopes, fears, and worries of the adoptive mother are 
largely the same as those of the natural mother: she wants 
her own ideals and wishes fulfilled in the child, she wants 
to make real the “hero birth myth/' In both cases, the dis- 
appointments are absorbed in maternal love, and the demands 
in regard to the child's destiny grow more modest. If the 
mother's narcissism remains uncompromising and the demands 
upon the child are not reduced, the adoptive mother's dis- 
appointment reactions are more ready to manifest themselves 
than the natural mother's in the attempt to blame reality for 
her disappointment: “It is not my child." 

The natural mother's fear of heredity can have an actual 
physiologic basis in a family that is really tainted. If the 
woman is predisposed to emphasize the pessimistic aspects 
of life, her joy in the child is disturbed by her fears of bad 
heredity and these fears often exert an unfavorable influence 
on the child's free development. This fear can also have a 
psychologic source: the mother’s hostile feelings toward mem- 
bers of her family, especially toward her husband, create in 
her a tendency to be on the alert for expressions of hereditary 
traits; indeed, she will try to discover and often will provoke 
manifestation of them in her own child. Sometimes the famil- ^ 
iar fear of giving birth to a monster, accompanies — in a very 
mild form — the mother's relation to a normal child and in 
her hypochondriaqt fantasies makes him the innocent victim 
of her unconscious sins. From similar psychologic motives, 
more deeply rooted and without foundation in reality, the 
adoptive mother will anxiously watch for signs of bad heredity 
in her adoptive child. All the fears and worries that would, 
in a different form and without apparent justification, relate to 
a child of her own, will now lead to the seemingly justified 
question: “How can we know?" 

An aggressive mother who tends to suppress every urge 
to independent, spontaneous activity in her child, will justify 
her attitude by her fear of the unknown in the adopted child 
and claim that every manifestation of a foreign will must be 
promptly suppressed. A masochistic mother allows the adopted 



child to develop his aggressions without restraint, in order 
perhaps to bring nearer to realization a deeply rooted fantasy — 
that of being “killed” by the father and now by the son. She 
experiences this self-provoked aggression as the effect of a 
hereditary curse in the adopted child. A woman whom I 
knew to be very masochistic was really murdered by her sister’s 
illegitimate son, whom she had adopted. Later it was dis- 
covered that her upbringing of the boy had been faulty, because 
it was based on her masochism and her constant fear of his 
heredity. In another case, the mother of a vigorous and kind 
adopted son had a severe anxiety neurosis because of a dream 
of the boy’s that he imprudently recounted to her; in the 
dream an unknown man attacked his mother with a knife. 
This dream confirmed her long-nursed fears: “one never 
knows.” And although she had never been superstitious, 
the woman saw in this dream, so typical from the psycho- 
analytic viewpoint, a portent that her son would slay her, 
his adoptive mother. 

All the difficulties of children that adults usually do not 
understand, and for which every mother seeks an explanation, 
are endowed, where adopted children are concerned, with the 
' character of something inborn. Why does the child have 
fears at night? Why does he have fits of anger? Later comes 
the problem that is the most difficult for the mother to accept 
and understand: “Why does he hate me, when I am so good 
to him?” The child’s normal conflicts of liberation, accom- 
panied by hostility toward the parents, are interpreted as 
signs that he does not “belong” to the family. The adopted 
child’s insecurity is fed by the mother’s insecurity, and a 
vicious circle arises, in which the mother’s anxious question — 
“Does he love me as my own child would?” — is answered by a 
similar question on the part of the child: “Who are my real 
parents? Am I loved like a blood child?” 

“Blood is thicker than water,” says the adoptive mother. 
She does not realize that it is only her fantasy that leads her to 
interpret the child’s behavior, under the magnifying glass of 
her fears, as a manifestation of bad heredity. Actually this 



behavior is mobilized in the child by the suggestive force of 
her suspicion, and he driven by that force to a kind of com- 
pulsive acting out. 

Such an interaction between the horrified, anxiously watchful 
attitude of the adoptive mother and the reactions of her adopted 
child is illustrated by the following case. 

Mrs. Asman, aged 26, of Russian-Jewish descent, came to a 
social agency for help in finding a domestic to stay with her 
three children, Anne, aged 7, Helen, aged 6, and John, who 
was 4, while she went to work in a dyeing establishment. She 
looked somewhat hard-boiled, sullen, inarticulate, and un- 
happy. She said that it was necessary for her to work 
because her husband, from whom she had separated two years 
before, gave her very little financial support. However, she 
would have preferred to be at home with the children, as she 
worried about them while at work. 

When the social service index was mentioned she asked for 
help in learning about her own mother. At the time of her 
marriage she and Mr. Asman had gone to the city hall for 
birth certificates and she had learned only then that she had 
been adopted and that she was the illegitimate child of an 
unidentified soldier. Her adoptive mother had died two years^ 
before she came to the agency and her adoptive father some 
years earlier. She described her life with her adoptive parents, 
who were Russians, as unhappy, because her mother was so 
strict. She left high school against her mother's advice and 
went to work in a candy shop, where she stayed several years. 
Her mother did not allow her to enjoy normal recreation and 
freedom and watched and escorted her carefully. Occasionally, 
Mrs. Asman suspected that she was an adopted child, but 
this was always denied by her parents. 

At 21 she married Mr. Asman, whom she had never loved 
or found attractive. Her adoptive mother did not approve 
of him, but she married him ‘‘for freedom" and in order to have 
a good time ''going places." For a brief time she was happy 
to be going out so much, but gradually her husband went back 
to his street corner gang, gambled, and left her alone frequently 



in the evening. When the children came Mrs. Asman became 
absorbed in them. Some years later she met an Irishman 
named George, an unemployed waiter, who was also unhappily 
married. She fell in love with him and after a few months 
arranged a separation from her husband. It was clear to 
Mr. Asman that she did not care for him, and he left the house 
but continued to support the children. 

After some months George and Mrs. Asman were arrested 
in the latter’s home, having been reported to the police by 
George’s wife and brought into court. Mrs. Asman was sullen 
before the judge and received a suspended sentence on an 
adultery charge and on a second charge of neglecting her chil- 
dren. The latter was based on angry statements made in 
court by Mr. Asman about her leaving the children alone in 
the house, etc. She was placed on probation, warned to stay 
away from George, and custody of the children was given to 
Mr. Asman. 

Mrs. Asman later obtained the custody of her children, 
as they were improperly cared for by her husband. She went 
to work again, since her husband gave her only slight financial 
support, and hired a domestic to care for the children. Her 
.husband refused to divorce her. She said that she still loved 
George and would marry him if he were free, but she denied 
that she was continuing her relationship with him. The social 
worker realized that Mrs. Asman could not confide in her 
because she was, in the woman’s eyes, a representative of the 

Mrs. Asman had given birth to a baby boy and had planned 
to conceal this from her husband and from the court, but Mr. 
Asman had discovered it and gone to the judge. In court 
his wife stated that the child was his, though it was not. Her 
probation was continued. George was still very much in the 
picture and was the baby’s father. 

Mr. Asman was rather limited both in intelligence and in 
character; he was impulsive and somewhat immature. How- 
ever, he behaved extremely well and generously, in view of the 
whole situation. He had always suffered from the fact that his 



wife did not want him. He was still fond of her and would have 
resumed living with her if she had desired it. He said of her: 
'Tve got nothing against her, she’s a good kid and a good 
mother, but the girl just can’t keep out of trouble. Help her 
out of one fix and she’ll get into another. She doesn’t know 
how to take care of herself.” 

George was also a problem. He was sincere in his feelings 
toward Mrs. Asman, but very much confused because of his 
deep love for his own children, whom his wife threatened 
to keep from him in the event of a -divorce. She refused to 
give him a divorce, at least for the moment, and at the time 
when Mrs. Asman returned to the agency he was living with 
his wife and spending less time than formerly at Mrs. Asman’s 
home. He appeared to have little initiative or ability to 
straighten out the whole affair, being a rather gentle and 
somewhat passive person. 

Mrs. Asman’s relationship to her children was interesting. 
She had a fierce determination to keep them with her, seemed 
to love them very much, gave them excellent care, and handled 
them quite well. She had some fears about possible delin- 
quency in them, owing to her uncertain heredity, and asked 
again and again what would be best for them. She reiterated- 
frequently that her husband was never interested in the chil- 
dren, and said that she first became interested in George 
because of the interest he showed in her children. 

Mrs. Asman seemed to be somewhat confused and at first 
it was difficult to understand her. Only gradually was it 
possible to get behind her confusion. As a child, she said, 
when she did not know that she was an adopted daughter, 
she found something strange in her mother’s behavior. Her 
mother was too strict with her, practically never allowed her 
to go out with other girls and boys, and watched over her as 
though she were a bad girl. “She distrusted me, although 
there was no reason for her to do so, ” said Mrs. Asman. 

No other mother whom she knew wanted to have her daugh- 
ter’s love and attention as much as her mother did. She was 
not permitted to have friendships with other girls and was 



prevented from having contacts with boys: “She wanted me 
all to hersell — she was kind of jealous.” 

When the girl was 12 years old, her cousin told her that she 
was an adopted child, but her mother emphatically denied 
this. The child accepted the denial but somewhere inside her 
a suspicion remained, and from then on mother and daughter 
constantly watched each other. The mother had fears about 
the daughter’s behavior, and the girl, obscurely understanding 
her mother, believed her cousin’s statement because she had 
suspected the facts before. 

From then on she interpreted everything her mother wanted 
to do for her not as a sign of love, but as a compulsion, and 
she protested against it with defiance and hatred. The adop- 
tive mother had apparently conceived an educational ideal 
formed in opposition to the character of the girl’s natural 
mother: she wanted to make her a virtuous, cultivated little 
lady, and was ready to make any sacrifice to give her a higher 
education. The child was not lazy, but she left school, refused 
to continue her education, and brutally destroyed her adoptive 
mother’s educational program. She felt cheated, responded 
to distrust with distrust and, out of protest, became the opposite 
’of what the mother wanted and expected her to be — all this 
not because it was “in her blood,” but because her mother’s 
anxious, suspicious behavior drove her to it. She married the 
first boy she met, not because she loved him, but because she 
wanted to be free from the compulsion to which she was sub- 
jected in her home — and perhaps in order to protect herself 
quickly from the fate that her adoptive mother feared so much. 

In the depths of her mistrust the girl must have sensed why 
her adoptive mother watched her every step with such strict- 
ness, “although it wasn’t necessary.” Perhaps the child had 
at an early date formed her idea of her natural mother as em- 
bodying a contrast to her adoptive mother’s educational 
tendencies, and in her defiant rebellion identified herself with 
the imagined mother, in opposition to her adoptive mother. 
Later, when she was “accidentally” confronted with the real 
facts, her suspicions received a most realistic confirmation. 



for she found out she was the daughter of nameless soldier 
and a prostitute. 

When she came to the agency she was a tender and loving 
mother, but she had to leave her children in order compulsively 
to repeat her own history with regard to them. She said her- 
self that she knew it was better for the children ‘'to have their 
father and mother together/’ but she was unable to achieve 

She had a legitimate husband, yet she could not avoid the 
fate of bringing an illegitimate child into the world. Charac- 
teristically, for this birth she gave her own name in the mater- 
nity hospital, although she had the right to use her husband’s 
name. She was torn between her genuine wish to have a home, 
a regular married life, and a socially adjusted existence, and 
the wish to lead an unsheltered and harried illegitimate exis- 
tence. She sought help from the social service workers, who 
were kind to her, but felt compelled to repeat in relation to 
them her fatal game with her adoptive mother: she distrusted 
them, lied to them, concealed her self-destructive intentions, 
and opposed their counsel, although she subsequently realized 
that it w^ould have been much better if she had earlier followed 
her adoptive mother’s advice and now the social workers’. 

The hereditary trend appeared to be continuing. Mrs. Asman 
was well on her way to repeating, with her children, her 
own experience as a child abandoned by its mother; but 
in her double identification she also imitated her adoptive 
mother and began to express concern that her children might 
become “criminal,” like herself and her natural mother. 

The life story of this adopted daughter who fell into psychic 
confusion casts retrospective light on the psychology of her 
adoptive mother who, because of her own watchful anxiety, 
had driven the girl into “heredity,” in this case into identi- 
fication with her natural mother. The concealment of the 
truth and its accidental disclosure seem to be responsible for 
Mrs. Asman’s fate. 

In other cases the hereditary evil feared and observed by 
the worried adoptive mother turns out to be only a projection 



of her own repressed tendencies. She identifies the child with 
a rejected part of her ego and naively refers to it as a trait 
inherited from an unknown mother. The following case offers 
an interesting illustration of this. 

Martha, a 12-year-old girl, was referred to a social agency 
by her adoptive mother. For the application interview, 
Mrs. Brooks came with a woman friend. She gave her name at 
the switchboard as Julia Brooks and was announced to the 
worker as Miss Brooks. Several times during the interview 
the social worker called her Miss Brooks and was not corrected. 
Mrs. Brooks never referred to the adoptive father except as 
“he.” All these factors, the girl’s problem, and an indefinable 
quality about the woman, led the social worker to believe that 
she was not married, so that the worker when filling out the 
application blank was surprised to learn that she had a husband. 
Mrs. Brooks seemed very anxious about the girl’s problem 
and thoroughly cooperative. She stated that the girl was 
subject to violent temper tantrums and frequently beat up 
the children in the neighborhood, particularly the boys. She 
was erratic in her school work and her teachers felt that her 
mind was not on her studies. In the application interview 
“Mrs, Brooks told of sex play between Martha and a neighbor, 
Kate, aged 14. She observed it particularly on a night that 
Kate spent in their house, sleeping in the same bed with 
Martha. Mrs. Brooks heard some evidently harmless words 
that made her suspect that the two girls were masturbating. 
Later she learned that for some time Martha had been the in- 
stigator of considerable voyeuristic activity in the woods 
back of the house, with both boys and girls. The girl had 
displayed herself to the boys and had persuaded them to do the 
same, saying: “I’ll show you that we are no different.” 

Mrs. Brooks was very cooperative and seemed to face the 
problems that emerged very well, and to be making a great 
effort to deal wisely with the situation. Martha never had 
a close relationship with the woman psychiatrist and never 
trusted her. This was rather characteristic of her, for on the 
whole she did not form close attachments, except for her 

4o6 psychology of women 

occasional crushes. Mrs Brooks thought that she was most 
fond of her maternal grandmother. Martha knew that she 
could rely upon her adoptive parents' affection for her, but 
never really reciprocated her adoptive father’s strong love. 

Mrs. Brooks was the second oldest of five children; she had 
one older sister and three younger brothers. She described 
her mother as of less cultured family than her father and as 
a domineering, aggressive woman who wanted to keep control 
of all her children. Mrs. Brooks said that in her childhood 
she was occasionally furiously angry with her mother and at 
such times went to sit outdoors until her anger cooled. 

Neither Mrs, Brooks nor her sister ever succeeded in be- 
coming pregnant, and each of them adopted two children. 
Mrs. Brooks had gone to Radcliffe for two years and wanted 
to continue, but her mother was opposed to spending the 
required money, so she went to work in a factory and took 
night courses to complete her college education. She was 
very bitter toward her mother for this attitude, saying of 
her: ‘'She tried to ruin my life.” The mother was also opposed 
to this daughter’s marriage, and Mrs. Brooks said that once 
when she was ill during her engagement she overheard her 
mother say : ‘"‘I’ll make her give him up. I’ve always controlled 
her and I always will.” 

At this point Mrs. Brooks made up her mind that even 
“if Mr. Brooks had been coal black” she would have married 
him. They were married for nine years before they adopted 
Martha; Mrs, Brooks had tried various devices prescribed by 
doctors in the hope of becoming pregnant. It was she who 
particularly wanted to adopt a child. They looked for a 
baby to adopt for quite a long while, both of them being deter- 
mined to have a girl. 

The child was the illegitimate daughter of a French mother. 
Mrs. Brooks refused to let the people who placed the child tell 
her anything! about its background, and also tried to keep 
the maternal grandmother from finding out anything about 
it. She insisted upon putting through the adoption papers 
three or four months after she took the baby, instead of waiting 



the customary length of time. It was in court at the time of 
the adoption that Mrs. Brooks saw the girhs own name for 
the first time — Lafontaine. She suddenly realized that the 
little girhs features were French and was quite stunned at the 
discovery that the child was of different nationality. She 
was upset and depressed over the matter for two days, but 
after that time felt no real difference between herself and the 
girl. However, she wished that occasionally she were better 
equipped to understand Martha’s temperament. About a 
month after the adoption, Mrs. Brooks was buying a dress 
in a cheap little dress store and saw a young factory worker 
with French features looking at dresses. Suddenly the thought 
came to her, ‘‘This might be the mother of my child.” 

This 'was an isolated instance in her experience. She was 
unaware of having had similar feelings at any other time. 

In the course of the interviews, Mrs. Brooks talked a great 
deal about various women friends of hers and about her outside 
interests. She frequently mentioned one of these friends, 
a teacher, who accompanied her at the time of the application. 
She also had a woman friend who was a responsible official in 
one of the state institutions, whose advice she had often asked. 
She told an involved story about a Canadian girl who came 
down for the summer and made advances to a girl whom they 
all knew. This was the first time that Mrs. Brooks became 
aware that there is such a thing as homosexuality. She later 
told of a nurse, a friend of hers, who had visited frequently 
in her home and who was very peculiar. This nurse was the 
first person who told her about masturbation. Mrs. Brooks 
had many outside interests, was very active in a feminist 
organization, was chairwoman of various clubs, etc. Some- 
times her husband was annoyed with her for devoting so much 
time to things outside the home. 

In the first interview Mrs. Brooks said that the children 
had been told about their adoption and that neither of them 
had shown any particular reaction to it or referred to it since. 
The social worker in her interview with Martha mentioned the 
fact of Martha’s being adopted. Martha was as if struck by 



a bomb. Gasping, she asked: “What are you talking about?” 

When questioned, Mrs. Brooks said that she did not use the 
word “adopted,” and that Martha, puzzled about where babies 
come from, had merely assumed that most babies come from a 
store and that Mrs. Brooks had bought her at a hospital. How- 
ever, after this talk Mrs. Brooks made a clean breast of the 
situation and answered every question Martha asked. The 
girl reacted very well and was overjoyed to learn that her cous- 
ins were also adopted. 

During all the interviews Mrs. Brooks blamed her own 
mother for everything. She described her mother not only as 
aggressive, but also as very masculine and “very possessive — 
she wanted to possess her children, body and soul.” She also 
said that her mother had always wanted her to sleep with 
her. She also willingly took her granddaughter Martha into 
her bed. Mrs. Brooks had disliked this, although she still 
liked to sleep with her mother. She wanted to know why 
people want to sleep with their mothers. 

Mrs. Brooks had obviously fled from her mother dependence 
into marriage. Her mother’s character, as she described it, 
was largely identical with her own : there was the same aggres- 
siveness, masculine behavior, and possessiveness with regard 
to the children, and above all there was the physical attach- 
ment of the daughter to the mother. Mrs. Brooks slept with 
Martha, just as her own mother had slept with her. She felt 
that this was not the right thing to do, but continued to do it 
even after she was advised not to. 

She was in a panic about her adopted daughter because 
the latter was boyish. The Damocles’ sword of homosexuality 
constantly hung over the girl’s head, and sexual curiosity, 
exhibitionism, and above all masturbation were the mortal 
sins from which Mrs. Brooks wanted to protect her soul. 

All the material she presented proved unmistakably that 
she projected her fear of her own homosexuality into the child 
and that her own guilt feeling about masturbation made her 
spy upon Martha. She noticed little things, just like a paranoic, 
and interpreted them in a manner that fitted in with her fears. 



Some years before, she had observed a homosexual relation- 
ship between two girls, which horrified and disgusted her. She 
had the impression that there was a certain “strange,” ag- 
gressive quality in the friendship of Martha and Kate. She 
was disturbed also because “sometimes Martha looked at 
boys with a very queer expression.” She was also alarmed 
by the fact that Martha had boyish tendencies, played like a 
boy, etc. She said that she had once known someone who was 
like that (obviously herself). 

Mrs. Brooks carefully watched the development of Martha’s 
sexuality, and it was interesting to note how closely she asso- 
ciated the two problems of adoption and sexuality. Thus she 
enlightened the child about both things simultaneously, as 
though they were related. 

She struggled against Martha’s masturbation, told her that 
“her body was a sacred thing and must not be played with.” 
It was sacred because at some time she would have a baby. 
Shortly before that, Mrs. Brooks told Martha that she had 
waited eight years for a baby and that God had not given it 
to her. In this, she obviously made an unconscious confession 
of her own “destructive” play with her body. There was no 
doubt that Mrs. Brooks had her own ideal of chastity, that she 
was frigid, and that her sterility was connected with the idea 
that she had destroyed her femininity by masturbation. She 
blamed her own mother for Martha’s sins: “They are very 
close — they are two of a kind.” 

During her interviews she constantly returned to the theme 
of her adopted daughter’s foreign origin. Obviously she 
thought that the girl’s own background played a great part 
in her abnormal behavior. She also constantly revealed her 
accusations against her own mother, and her feelings of guilt — 
a striking illustration of the projection of the mother’s own 
repressed tendencies into her child. But in the background 
there lurked the idea of heredity, of the French mother who 
had had an illegitimate child, who abused her body for sexua] 
things, and from whom Martha had inherited some of her 



traits. Mrs. Brooks had not yet clearly formulated this anx- 
ious accusation; she still divided the responsibility for the 
bad influences between her own mother and the child’s illegit- 
imate mother. But many adoptive mothers consciously direct 
all their accusations and morbid fears against the “stranger,” 
whoever she may be. 

Another case of adoption shows clearly how the whole situa- 
tion can be influenced by the adoptive mother’s unconscious 
tendencies. As usual, we gained an insight into this mother’s 
problems when she asked for aid with regard to her adopted 
child. Mrs. Slutsky came to the agency asking for help in 
controlling her “niece,” aged 12. She reported that the girl 
stole money, refused to obey, was sulky, played like a boy, and 
wanted to wear boy’s clothing. The school commented that 
though the aunt was seeking help for Rose, she was in definite 
need of it herself. Rose’s school work was satisfactory, the 
teachers reported that she was a quiet, inconspicuous girl who, 
when the visiting teacher talked to her, refused to admit any 
difficulties but was willing to see the social worker. The girl 
tended to minimize the problem and talked a great deal about 
her aunt’s illness, fatigue, and efforts to “dose herself.” 

Mrs. Slutsky was a pleasant, sociable person. She had " 
adopted Rose, who was her sister’s child, as a baby. For 
twenty years Mrs. Slutsky managed a cafeteria not far from 
Boston, and her parents lived with her. She spoke with partic- 
ular feeling about her mother, who had died three years before, 
describing her as a “beautiful, kind person who adored Rose 
also, and actually breathed for her, she was so fond of her.” 
She also said that her mother was an independent person, and 
that their relationship was extremely close. After her mother 
died she kept the cafeteria till her father died — this had occurred 
some months before she came to the agency — and then she 
moved to another house in another suburb of Boston to give 
Rose a new home. 

Her marriage to Mr. Slutsky took place soon after her 
mother’s death. She revealed that she had been engaged for 
ten years to another suitor, but could not marry while her moth- 



er was still alive. Her fiance was a sociable person who liked 
good times, and she had been afraid that if she did marry him 
things would be difficult in regard to Rose. He had told her 
that she would have to get someone to take care of Rose and 
she did not see how she could do this, since she had accepted the 
girl as her responsibility. Therefore she decided to marry 
Mr. Slutsky instead of her fiance, because he seemed a quiet, 
home-loving type of man and in living with him she could give 
Rose more time and a better home life. Mr. Slutsky was 
twenty years older and had proved to be a good friend, but 
Mrs. Slutsky now felt that the marriage was a mistake as far 
as Rose was concerned, because her husband was too reserved 
with her and evidently wanted her out of the way. 

Mrs. Slutsky’s description of her marriage and its effect 
on Rose showed that Rose was upset and cried considerably. 
For that reason, she continued after her marriage to share a 
room with Rose, except at the very first; however, during this 
short period she went to sleep with Rose first, and then left 
her to go to her husband’s room. She was worried about the 
tension in the home and described herself as being in a difficult 
position ‘‘trying to keep them both satisfied.” Then she 
^ spoke of her nervousness and illnesses. She had been ill ever 
since her baby girl was born a year before, and in the last 
several months had suddenly lost 26 pounds. The doctors 
called it “nervous exhaustion” and said that she would have 
to get her situation settled and her nerves calmed before she 
could feel well. She had always prided herself on keeping her 
emotions to herself and supposed that she “took it out” on 
herself. The housekeeping and care of the child were left 
largely to her husband. 

Mrs. Slutsky gave the following information about her life 
and family. Rose’s mother, who was divorced when Rose 
was 6 months old, was a “brilliant woman. . .a great musician,” 
and extremely successful in her professional work. She was 
not a home body or a maternal person. She also had a son 
by this first marriage, whom she had kept with her. She 
had remarried and now had several other children. According 



to Mrs. Slutsky, Rose’s father was ‘‘no good”; he was a drunk- 
ard, and his son was causing her sister much trouble now be- 
cause of traits inherited from his father. Very frequently 
Mrs. Slutsky spoke of Rose’s bad traits as likewise having been 
inherited from her father. Rose’s mother had no feeling for 
her, but Mrs. Slutsky wrote her in emergencies, and whenever 
the girl visited her mother she behaved well in contrast to the 
way in which she behaved with Mrs. Slutsky, which evidently 
hurt and offended the adoptive mother. 

Mrs. Slutsky stated that she had had a younger brother who 
died as a child. Of the two sisters, it was Rose’s mother who 
had enjoyed the education that Mrs. Slutsky had wished for 
herself. She had wanted to go to college like her sister, to 
have a career; in everything she wanted to be exactly like her 
sister. This wish was not fulfilled and she had to devote 
herself to a more domestic career. Her sister was her father’s 
favorite, but he had never liked Rose, although she was the child 
of this favorite daughter. 

When the adoptive mother discussed her problems in relation 
to Rose, it was evident that she was worried about the girl’s 
interest in boys, about her not picking the right friends, and 
about the girl’s definite antagonism toward both herself and^ 
her husband. Sometimes they feared that Rose would harm 
their baby. Mrs. Slutsky’s chief concern was that her relation- 
ship with Rose had changed, and that after all her efforts 
to make a home for the girl, things had gone from bad to worse. 
Rose had resented the marriage and the baby. 

Rose, now in the midst of her puberal difficulties, was in 
a critical situation. It was clear to the social agency that 
Mrs. Slutsky could not give her a feeling of security and that 
the young girl felt neglected and deserted. Having up until 
then had two mothers, she now felt threatened with having none. 
Her own mother had a large new family and her adoptive 
mother had a husband and a new baby. At Rose’s age girls 
have difficulties even under normal conditions. She was al- 
ready having fantasies of having a baby, yet did not want to 
give up her position as her adoptive mother’s only child. 



Mrs. Slutsky stated that Rose had asked directly to be 
allowed to tend the baby, but that she had revealed so much 
aggressiveness and hostility toward it that the parents were 
afraid to leave her alone with the child. We can understand 
that the young girl became rebellious, that she defied all dis- 
cipline, and that she fled into boyishness. She demanded 
additional proofs of love from Mrs. Slutsky and clearly revealed 
the longing of an adopted child who feels abandoned and un- 
loved and turns in fantasy to the ""other’' mother. Rose 
revealed this fantasy in a story she told: she brought a fictitious 
report from school that the teacher had said that Mrs. Slutsky 
was uncooperative and that Rose’s own mother should be 
approached to send her to another school. When questioned 
about this tale, Rose admitted that it was largely imaginary, 
‘"but the teacher might just as well have said it.” 

The psychology of Rose’s adoptive mother was more com- 
plicated than Rose’s. Mrs. Slutsky’s motherhood was entirely 
conditioned by her relationship with her sister. She wanted 
to have everything that the sister had, but since she could not, 
she had to make compromises. Her sister was loved by her 
father; Mrs. Slutsky had renounced him, turned to her mother, 
• and remained tied in this relationship all her life. The sister 
had a career; Mrs. Slutsky was willing to renounce this and to 
assume the role of woman and mother: ""My sister was not a 

But she succeeded in all this only under definitely neurotic 
conditions. She wanted her sister’s child and adopted it. 
Since she remained emotionally tied to her mother, she built 
her life on the triangle of her mother, herself, and the child. 
From the very beginning Mrs. Slutsky seems very consciously 
to have given her life and her motherliness the character that 
we commonly assume in that of two women friends adopting 
a child. She even built her triangle on two bases, for she did 
not cease sharing the child with her sister, let herself be called 
“aunt,” and whenever any difficulty arose concerning the 
girl addressed herself to “Rose’s mother.” 

She could have led a normal life and had children of her 



own; a man wooed her for ten years and she felt attracted to 
him, but she renounced him consciously in favor of Rose, un- 
consciously in favor of her triangle. Only after her mother’s 
death did she build a new home for Rose. She married a man 
much older than herself who was intended to take her mother’s 
role in the triangle, and it was not part of her life program 
that he should still be a man and make her a real mother. 
When he did, she inevitably collapsed. She did not keep her 
unexpressed promise to Rose not to have any children of her 
own. Out of guilt she did not permit herself to be a real 
mother and emotionally neglected her own child. But her 
relationship with Rose became complicated, and she was unable 
to master the new difficulties. 

Only now did she show the typical reactions of an adoptive 
mother. She blamed Rose’s difficulties on heredity — in this 
case the father’s — and presented her, not directly but emotion- 
ally, with a retrospective bill, a demand for gratitude: “I 
have sacrificed so much for you.” No such debt exists in a 
really motherly relation of a mother to her beloved child. 
But since adoptive motherhood is not in itself motherliness 
and only offers an opportunity for motherliness, it became in 
this case an arena of various emotional experiences, gratifications,, 
and frustrations that have nothing in common with mother- 
liness. If Rose’s fantasies had come true, Mrs. Slutsky would 
have lost her contest with her sister at the very moment 
when life forced biologic motherhood upon her instead of 
adoptive motherhood. 

An understanding of Mrs. Slutsky ’s situation reveals many 
typical elements in the psychology of adoptive mothers. 
These usually do not appear as clearly and directly as they do 
in this instance, but nevertheless reveal their existence in 
various ways. 

Having thus examined the difficulties of adoptive mother- 
hood, I can restate my main point; The motherliness of the 
adoptive mother can be enriched by the same joys and sorrows 
that fall to natural motherhood. The fact that the adopted 
child comes into the mother’s life under abnormal conditions. 



that the heredity of another mother casts its shadow on the 
nursery, etc., merely intensifies the readiness for difficulties 
that may arise in the natural situation too, but that usually 
assumes another form and is less easily rationalized. 

I have repeatedly stressed that aspect of motherhood which 
is still closely bound up with the woman’s old mother relation- 
ship. This relationship is a curse if it perpetuates the old 
conflicts, hatreds, jealousies, depreciations, and fears of re- 
taliation; it is a blessing if the woman’s old tenderness for her 
mother is free of fetters of dependence and if it can flourish 
anew in relation to the child. 

The adoptive mother must prove herself even more free 
from old dependencies, if she is to get rid of tormenting ideas, 
no longer animistic but really justified, about the robbed, 
competing, devaluated, and, above all, “unknown” natural 
mother. This is one of the fundamental conditions of her 
success as the mother of an adopted child. We have also seen 
that women readily transfer their own repressed conflicts to 
an adopted child. Mrs. Brooks’s fear of her own homo- 
sexuality assumed the form of fear of bad heredity. 

. A fairly frequent motive for adoption is that of replacement 
of the loss of a beloved child. Adoption is resorted to es- 
pecially in cases in which the mother is no longer able to have 
another natural child. But often the adoption of a homeless 
child is supposed to serve as atonement for unfaithfulness 
to the lost child. Sexual begetting is unconsciously regarded 
as a sin and rejected by the mourning mother. Often the 
adoption represents an attempt to interrupt the mourning 
violently — a mistake that is usually followed by bad con- 
sequences. For during the period of mourning even the wom- 
an’s own children are deprived of love and exposed to the 
painful silent reproach: “Why did you not die instead of the 

The mother’s guilt feeling with regard to the the dead child 
does not permit her to turn to other objects, especially to new 
ones; the child adopted as a comforter has very poor chances 



of conquering the mother’s heart. Under certain conditions 
the mourning mother is sometimes ready to give another child 
her love — as when the child is an unfortunate orphan, bereft 
of his own mother. Such a child becomes a companion in 
mourning and pity for him sanctions the new relationship. 

The rescue fantasy plays an important role in adoption. 
The symbolic expression of birth in dreams and in folklore 
assumes a real and important meaning for the adoptive mother. 
Her egoistic action assumes the moral and altruistic character 
of a good deed, and her guilt-laden scruples can be silenced 
more easily. It is better to rescue a child than to steal one 
from another woman. 

In discussing the psychology of the adopted child, many 
authors have pointed out that his situation is like the reali- 
zation of the fantasy called the family romance. The most 
general conscious content of this fantasy runs as follows: 
“I am not the child of my parents” (or “of my mother,” 
or “of my father”). This negative component is accompanied 
by a positive one that is supposed to answer the question 
“Then whose child am I?” Here we have two recurrent 
typical answers. The more frequent one is, “I am of higher- 
origin.” The other — “I am of lower origin” — is much rarer, 
but it does occur. These fantasies result from complications 
in the child’s relationship with the parents, which often be- 
comes so contradictory that it arouses in the immature child 
a feeling that he has two kinds of parents. 

The adopted child can give this fantasy a conscious and 
reality-adjusted character, because he actually has two sets 
of parents. He can manage his ambivalence, his unfulfilled 
longings, his hatred, and his excessive need for love within the 
framework of this dual formation. According to his psychic 
needs, he can endow his origin with a higher or lower quality. 
Even true information given him does not usually satisfy him 
and leaves room for speculative fantasies. 

It must be assumed that for the adoptive mother the way 
is paved for the revival of her own infantile family romance in 
a completely modified form. She too is usually confronted 



With the problem *^Who are the real parents of my child?’’ 
In one case/ analysis revealed how the infantile family romance 
influenced the mother’s later relationship with the child. The 
patient, who was of upper class family, related that in her 
early childhood she was convinced for a long time that she 
was the daughter of a dirty peasant. She connected this 
conviction with a jocular remark made by a member of her 
family, that if she were naughty one Michel Noxen would 
come and carry her away in a bag just as he had brought her. 
She knew this terrible Michel Noxen. He was an uncouth 
peasant whom she had frequently seen in her father’s office. 
Her belief that she was his daughter had no other basis than 
the casual jest she had heard. At the time this remark was 
made, the patient ardently worshiped her father. It was even 
then a tender, sublimated alliance in which she persisted all 
her life. She consciously formed her ego ideal after the model 
of her highly esteemed father, who at that time and later 
was equal to all her demands. 

The reason for her stubborn persistence in the belief that she 
was the daughter of the uncouth Michel Noxen was discovered 
by analysis. The young girl, in addition to her adoring, 
^sublimated attitude toward her father, had preserved an un- 
conscious fantasy from an earlier period of her childhood. 
This fantasy originated in her interest in the sexual relations 
between her parents. The role she ascribed to her father 
corresponded to her sadistic interpretation of coitus and rep- 
resented him as cruel, mysterious, and “dirty.” The dirty 
Michel corresponded to her unconscious version of her beloved 
father, and she thus accepted him in one component of her 
psychic life as her “true” father. 

What interests us here is that the girl included this family 
romance in her own motherhood. Married young, she always 
had an ardent desire to have a son who would resemble her 
revered father — who would be intellectually distinguished, of 
lofty morality, etc. 

When her yearned-for son was born, she gave him a name 

^Deutsch, H.: Zur Genese des Familienromans. Internat. Ztschr. f. Ps^choanal.} 

vol. 16, 1930. 



unusual in her circle — Sepp, a typical Austrian peasant name. 
She herself did not realize how she had happened to come upon 
this name. She rationalized her action by thinking that the 
name Sepp had an implication of sturdy quality, and that she 
wanted her son to be adjusted to the coarser aspects of life. 
During her analysis she recalled the following event. As a 
little- girl, she was once sitting on a stool near her father’s 
desk, as she often did. Her father, a lawyer, was dictating to 
his secretary: “Michel Noxen bequeathes his farm and all his 
belongings to his only son, Sepp.” 

Now everything became clear to our patient. Behind her 
conscious wish to have a son like her respected father there 
was concealed the old fantasy of the brutal, low class father, 
which asserted itself in her naming of her son. Thus after 
many years her family romance had its epilogue. 

Although this patient was not an adoptive mother, her case 
shows that the family romance can be preserved for a long time, 
to be revived at an appropriate moment in adult life. The 
psychologic situation of adoption, with its often unanswered 
question as to who the real parents are, can supply a mighty 
impulse for fantasies in the mother and child. I had occasion 
to observe a well known actress, mother of an adolescent son, 
who adopted a little girl. The adoption was arranged pri- 
vately and all she learned about the child was that it was of 
superior, perhaps even aristocratic parentage. This otherwise 
sensible and not appreciably neurotic woman immediately 
built a real family romance around the child. She fantasied 
that the little girl was of very special origin, that Prince X, who 
was notorious for his many love affairs, would one day appear 
on the scene as the father, fall in love with his little daughter, 
and richly reward her kindly adoptive mother. This fantasy 
was developed in every detail; it became increasingly unreal- 
istic, and absorbed the woman more than her real relationship 
with the adopted child. Finally she herself began to feel that 
the situation was uncanny. 

This woman’s mother was a minor actress who, after separ- ' 
ating from her insignificant husband, had a love relationship 



with a wealthy and influential man. This man took care of 
his mistress’ daughter, and my patient owed to him her careful 
professional education and career. The little girl knew and 
loved her own father; nevertheless she was not free from the 
fantasy that her mother’s lover was her real father. With 
her adoption of a little girl, this fantasy revived, and my patient 
experienced a new edition, so to speak, of the original fantasy. 
Using means different from those used by Sepp’s mother, 
she realized her family romance after postponement for a 

Another adoptive mother followed her little adopted son 
like a shadow. If he had been her own, we would easily have 
recognized in her the type of neurotically overanxious mother 
with whom we have dealt earlier (e.g.,the mother of Massimo). 
But she rationalized her fears of separation and left us in the 
dark as to whether her fears were occasioned by the real situa- 
tion or whether she would have behaved in the same way toward 
a child of her own. She was fully conscious of the content of 
her fears : she was afraid that the unknown mother of the child 
would kidnap him. She accepted only intellectually all my 
arguments that this mother was probably glad to be rid of 
'the child; she felt that “one can never know.” She was tor- 
mented by anxiety dreams, in all of which the other woman 
persecuted her, took revenge upon her, stole the child, etc. 
We know such anxiety dreams in other women. The symbolic 
vehini-hai usually aims at the blood children of the Marquesas 
women. But here the vehini-hai was the real mother of the 
child, who had really lost the child, and who might really try 
to claim him as her own. 

This anxious adoptive mother had a child of her own several 
years later; she paid much less attention to him. Her excessive 
anxiety with regard to her adopted child bore evil fruits, as we 
could have predicted. This handsome and very gifted boy 
became a chronic runaway in his puberty. Even under normal 
conditions boys run away from an excessive attachment to 
their mothers and unconsciously seek another mother vvhom 
they have the right to love without committing incest. They 



not only imagine a family romance, they act it out. But, 
in connection with the fantasy of our anxious adoptive mother, 
the behavior of her adopted son confirmed her eternal suspicion 
that he yearned for his real mother. 

Another such mother, a somewhat hypochondriac woman, 
was obsessed by the idea that her adopted son would become 
mentally ill. She fearfully observed him and saw in each of his 
gestures the first symptom of illness, for “one can never know’’ 
— he might have had insane ancestors. 

The idea of heredity, in which we see irrational but deeply 
rooted motives, is tenacious in all such cases, and the struggle 
against the rationalization “One can never know” is very 
difficult. The test of reality, the only court to which we ascribe 
the full right of a decision in a dubious situation, is here largely 
on the side of the afflicted mother. Everything that has been 
preformed and determined in the deep anxieties of her psychic 
life is now in the realm of real possibility. The relation between 
reality and fantasy is displaced; much that otherwise would be 
recognized as the pure product of fantasy activity is here 
stimulated, intensified, and endowed with a real character 
by external events. 

Adoptive mothers whose motive for adoption is sterility " 
are particularly prone to such overestimation of the real 
situation. We must not forget that in such cases adoption 
constitutes an attempt to remedy a severe trauma, and that 
this trauma must be overcome before motherliness with its 
gratifications can fully develop. What kind of trauma it is, 
and the woman’s reaction to the necessary renunciation of the 
hope of giving birth to a child, depend very much, as we have 
seen, upon the cause of sterility. The emotional difficulties of 
adoption may originate in the very conditions that have led 
to sterility, and the ghosts that were supposed to be banished 
by the renunciation of the reproductive function can under 
different circumstances re-emerge in the adoptive mother in 
a new form. The fear “I cannot have a child” will, for instance, 
assume the form that we, have seen in our last case: “The 
child will be taken away from me.” The adopted child can 


4a I 

become the bearer of all the problems that have led to sterility, 
as well as of those that normally pertain to a child of one’s 
own. The only difference is that here the conflicts have a more 
real background. 

As I have said, childlessness is probably the most frequent 
motive for adoption. Relative childlessness, that is to say, 
when the adoptive parents have begotten one or several chil- 
dren without attaining the intended number, is similarly a 
motive. Especially parents with one child will often manifest 
an intense yearning to have more children. A woman who 
has given birth to a child, especially a woman who has enjoy- 
ably tested her motherliness on her own children, will make 
a more reliable adoptive mother than one who longingly pursues 
her frustrated desire for an unknown experience. The pros- 
pects for all participants are particularly favorable if the differ- 
ences in age and sex between the adoptive mother’s own child 
and the adopted child are such that she does not fall into the 
conflict of preferring one to the other, and such that the older 
child is well prepared to accept the child from outside in a 
friendly way. An obsessional-neurotic mother with a tendency 
to guilt feelings will naturally be exposed to the danger of 
'attentively “listening to her heart’’ in order always to be fair 
to the adopted child. In her self-distrust she often overcom- 
pensates her emotions in favor of the adopted child and thus 
puts him in the exceptional position that she properly wants 
to avoid. This is particularly true of the adoptive mother 
who unexpectedly gives birth to the child whose place the 
adopted child was supposed to fill. The power of natural 
forces, the “voice of blood,” the stronger attachment to the 
child she herself has borne, do not necessarily outweigh the 
prior right of the adopted child who was loved first. The 
manner in which the mother manages her ambivalence conflicts 
and guilt feelings will determine the decision in favor of one 
or the other. 

I have spoken of mothers who have a sort of passion for 
pregnancies or for babies. Others want to have a definite 
number of children, still others desire large families. The 
same, perhaps to a higher degree, is true of adoptive mothers. 


There are women — I might call them female Pied Pipers — 
who use the bait of a cozy home and motherly care to lure 
children out of social institutions without regard for their 
nature, driven by a strong psychic urge to help children, to 
foster fledglings in their nests, and to hear the name “Mother” 
uttered by as many mouths as possible. They have both 
their own and other women’s children; what is important to 
them is the number and the results. If they have no children 
of their own, one suspects that in them too the quantitative 
mechanism “many for one” is at play. But even in women 
who enjoy their own capacity to bear ofi'spring, an unstilled 
yearning for one unachieved child may lead to reaching out 
again and again for a new child, and as soon as they have it, 
to looking for another. There was a female eccentric in New 
York who devoted her fortune and energy to looking for 
homeless cats; she was an adoptive mother with unsocial 

A masked kidnaperism may often lead a kind and reason- 
able woman to undertake the grandiose social task of becoming 
a replacing mother of the abandoned or neglected children 
of many mothers. I have heard such an addict of adoption 
speak with the greatest energy against social assistance to " 
children: a child — every child — needs one mother, the mother. 
And she offered herself as such a mother to society. 

Many women have a quantitative ideal of a family and strive 
to achieve it. The number they want is the number their 
parents’ families had, or, more frequently, an improvement 
upon that number. If such women do not acquire the number 
of children they want by giving birth to them, they resort 
to adoption. In other cases, the woman is not satisfied with 
the sex of her children, and adopts a child to fill the place of 
the boy or girl she lacks. 

One of my patients was moved to multiple adoption by a 
curious infantile idea that had become fixed in her unconscious. 
When she was 8 years of age, her mother became pregnant. 
She had two little brothers, and she was prepared for the arrival 
of the new baby by being told that a little sister was going to be 



bought for her. She had been enlightened about the process 
of birth by her nurse before the arrival of one of her little 
brothers, but she completely ignored the nurse’s explanation 
and expected the new baby as a gift that would be bought for 
her. She now imagined that there were two kinds of children : 
those who were born and did not belong to her, and those who 
were bought outside the home and were her legitimate posses- 
sions. Later, after she married, she gave birth to three boys 
in succession, and after each of these births she adopted a 
girl, feeling that the boys were for her husband, but the girls 
belonged really to her. She tried to explain this curious be- 
havior by the child’s sex — “girls belong to the mother”; only 
later did she realize her true motive. 

It is certain that similar individual motives, which remain 
completely unconscious, operate in adoptions. Thus in the 
psychology of adoptive motherhood we are confronted with 
two different sets of problems. The first relate to women 
condemned to absolute or relative sterility who nevertheless 
refuse to renounce motherhood. The second relate to mothers 
who for one reason or another try to add to the number of 
their own children by adoption. Sometimes adoption is used 
' to solve financial or other practical problems. 

Referring to the group of sterile women, I shall again raise 
the question : What privations must the sterile adoptive mother 
endure, and what are her opportunities for gratification ? The 
privations consist above all in the foregoing of the emotional 
experiences that accompany the biologic process of motherhood. 
The dolce far niente, the gratifying introversion of pregnancy, 
with its absorption in the promising future, the gradual matu- 
ration of the fantasy of a child to its reality, the uncomfortable 
and yet satisfying yielding of the woman’s own organs to 
prepare a dwelling place for something that is only developing, 
the exemption from obligations and the joyful postponement 
of ordinary life problems to a later date, the fantasies about 
what sort of being the child will be, the active and joyful prep- 
aration of a nest, all are denied to the adoptive mother. The 
adoptive mother who has never had any children of her own 



is also deprived of the means of freeing herself from anxiety 
by the cathartic experience of the fear of birth, of the dis- 
charge of her guilt feelings through suffering, of the painful- 
joyful experience of delivery, of the repossession of the child 
after being separated from him, of the narcissistic gratifications 
of the confinement period, and of the reunion with the newborn 
through lactation. 

An interesting representation of adoption can be found in 
the Etruscan statues of Hera, the adoptive mother of Hercules, 
who is shown giving the already grown boy her breasts to suck, 
in order to perform, belatedly at least, this basic task of mother- 

The adoptive mother is spared the fears of expectation, the 
piece by piece fighting out of the inner conflict between the 
polarities of self-preservation and service to the species, of life and 
death. She remains free from the regressive affects that are pro- 
voked by the biologic processes of the reproductive function. 
She is also spared the bodily pains, the fears, the conflict between 
retaining and giving, the real and fantasied death threat, the 
ensuing void, the often slavish service to the species. But 
here as elsewhere, deep in the unconscious, there remains the 
unsatisfied longing for the masochistic experience she must , 
miss and the reproach directed against the ego for having 
avoided this function. Both the woman and the man are 
deprived of the realization of the narcissistic wish for physical 

The altruistic, object-loving component of motherliness, 
the tender joy in the child’s growth, all the emotional threads 
that are woven between mother and child and father and child 
during the whole period of childhood, can be fully realized by 
adoptive parents. 

If the narcissistic wish for a child as the product of one’s 
own body is predominant, and if the importance of the child as 
object recedes, adoption will bring only disappointments. I 
observed one young woman who, prevented from conceiving 
by an organic illness, adopted a child and was an excellent, 
loving, and dutiful mother to him. But every time she saw a 



pregnant woman, or was informed that one of her friends was 
expecting a child, she reacted with even greater despair than 
in the period before the adoption. Her maternal emotions 
toward the little boy, whose illnesses and development gave 
her all the motherly cares and joys that she reveled in, could 
not compensate her for the inability to experience woman’s 
natural pride in the fruit of her own body. 

It is well known that the gratification of one psychic need 
often causes increased tension regarding another, which disturbs 
the gratification. Behind the emotion “He is a lovely child, 
I love him as my own,” the disappointment “But he is not 
mine” may become more intense and disturb the joy. In 
several cases I have observed more or less stubborn depressions, 
temporary rejections of the adopted child, and feelings of 
hatred — “He is not mine” — directed against the child, despite 
the adoptive mother’s tender maternal love for him. 

We have also seen that the motives for adoption can be very 
different, and that the emotional reactions of the adoptive 
mother depend upon the structure of her personality and are 
determined by earlier events. The important facts of woman’s 
earlier life history are usually revealed to us only by psycho- 
-analysis. But as in other aspects of life, we can here likewise 
often discover the past from its repetition in the present. With 
sufficient insight, we can reconstruct past experiences from 
present behavior, although when the problems of motherhood 
are involved we must keep two things in mind — the woman’s 
deep biologically and psychologically determined need to be 
a mother, and the demand of reality, which often drives her into 
motherhood even when her unconscious is opposed to it. 

In addition to her many frustrations, the adoptive mother 
is faced with a particularly difficult task: she must explain 
to the adopted child that she is not his real mother, she must 
revive the ghosts that she tries painfully to chase away from 
her own psychic life, unleash again the pain and estrangement 
that she mastered or still must master. She fears the burden 
that she must impose upon the child, his disappointment, 
his subsequent questions and explorations. Usually this 



obligation is imposed upon the mother from outside; she is 
told that it is practically inevitable that the child will eventually 
learn the truth from others, that it is difficult to keep a secret 
known by other people, and that under any circumstance it 
is preferable to protect the child from an almost certain sur- 
prise revelation by telling him the truth. 

The mother herself often has the greatest difficulty in ac- 
cepting this necessity. Why should she tell the child? How 
will she do it? Her love for the child is the same as that of 
a natural mother and is valuable to her because of this very 
identity. She is naturally unwilling to expose this relationship 
to danger. 

Usually she cannot find a suitable opportunity, postpones 
the ordeal, burdens herself with an unfulfilled task, and by this 
postponement releases an ever growing resistance to a sacri- 
ficial duty that she does not fully recognize. Something in 
this resistance is reminiscent of the task, so hard for many 
women, of enlightening their children sexually. How and 
when to tell the facts to the child, is a burning question that 
often continues to seem insurmountable. 

We have learned a great deal from the experience of psycho- 
analytically trained teachers on the question of sexual en^ 
lightenment; it is now generally recognized that the child 
should be guided gradually, and that at each stage the expla- 
nations should be adjusted to his intellectual capacity. In 
addition we know that only persons who can feel with the child 
will find the right wa