The child is born, long before the birth, in the mind and heart of his parents. For nine months, the future mother and her partner imagine the baby who will be born, fantasies that allow not only to give “shape” to their child, but also to “take stock” of their lives.
As perinatal psychologists explain, the thoughts of the future mother are characterized by an interweaving of past, present and future. “The images of the child and adult selves, of the child that we had and the child that we will have, of the mother that we had and of the mother that we will become merge so that the woman lives a double identification with those who care for and those who are cared for, that is, with their mother and the child on their lap,” explains Alessandra Bortolotti, perinatal psychologist in Florence.
“This leads to a significant increase in mental activity conscious and fantastic, but not only. The imagination of the expectant woman mixes with the dreamlike activity during pregnancy, intensifies and often focuses precisely on the baby. This is a period of intense reflection, evaluation of the past and plans for the future, a valuable experience also to rework experiences of their childhood.
“In this phase”, comments Cristina Fiore, the future mother and her partner often question their relationships with their parents to deviate from certain attitudes (“I will never do like them”) or, on the contrary, to assume positive models from them. And from the past, fantasies move towards the future, and one wonders what kind of parents one will become”.
The three phases of dreams
With the passing of months and the approaching moment of childbirth, the object of the “daydreams” of the future mother changes. “The woman’s imagination follows three distinct moments that correspond to the three quarters of the waiting period”, Alessandra Bortolotti resumes.
The first stage is characterized by the need to accept what is happening. The future mother still has to “realize” that she is expecting a child. Usually, an important moment is represented by the first ultrasound: the beat of that little heart seems to say that it is “all true”…
The second quarter, with the appearance of the first five-a-side football, allows the woman to start communicating with her baby and, based on her movements, get an idea of her temperament. It is during this period that the future mother begins to interpret the child’s signals, just as she will have to do to meet her needs after birth.
In the last trimester, the attention shifts from the baby to labor and the fantasies focus on what will happen in the delivery room.
And how does he feel?
As in all other situations in life, men and women have a different way of experiencing emotions and fantasies. And so, the child imagined by the future mother does not coincide with that of daddy. While the woman tends to think about the baby immediately after the birth, her partner’s fantasies are concentrated on a later period”, explains Stefano Pozzi, psychologist in Milan. “In fact, man’s fantasy is not so much about caring for the baby as about interacting with it. For this reason, generally, the dreamed son is already 3-4 years old, he is able to walk and be understood, to play and relate”.
Moreover, being excluded from the physical bond with the baby, the future father needs more time to feel involved,” considers Cristina Fiore. “Seeing the belly growing, being able to feel the baby kicking allows him to enter into a relationship with the child. In this sense, ultrasound can also be of great help, an examination that in the three quarters is experienced differently by men and women: generally, for the father is a way to “realize” that the child is really there, while the mother serves above all to reassure about the health of the child.
“The future father’s characteristic is, moreover, the strong emotional burden of responsibility, towards the baby that will be born and the companion that carries him in her lap, which begins to feel already in anticipation,” says Stefano Pozzi.
Boy or girl?
This is, of course, one of the first questions on which the curiosity and expectations of future parents are focused. “Fantasies about the sex of the baby are often linked to the socio-cultural substratum of the family,” says Cristina Fiore. “In many countries there is still the expectation of a male child, but if it is the second-born, there is usually the desire to ‘be a couple’ and those who already have a boy hope for a girl and vice versa.
Today, in most cases, curiosity about the sex of the unborn child is soon satisfied thanks to ultrasound or prenatal diagnostic tests. But technology does not erase the mysterious ability of future mothers to ‘feel’ if the male in the belly is male or female…
“As far as the future father is concerned, however, there is a tendency to imagine a boy, especially for the firstborn: if the newborn is a boy, it is easier for the father to identify himself and this has a reassuring effect,” explains Stefano Pozzi. “This does not mean that, of course, once in the delivery room, the father does not immediately fall in love with his baby…”.
A time to get to know each other
But fantasies are also the preferred way to start meeting your child. “Spending time listening to the baby’s movements in the bump, imagining what he’s doing, how he moves, what kind of mood he’s in, doesn’t just mean fantasizing, but it’s a way to relate to your baby,” says Cristina Fiore. “Various studies have shown the importance of this knowledge for the future mother-child relationship and also for fetal well-being”. Communication in the nine months, imagination and listening make the transition from the imagined child to the real child less abrupt at the time of delivery. If there was already a relationship between the mother and her baby, if the woman has used the time of waiting to meet her baby, birth is not a first meeting but a reencounter, a meeting, supported by a possibility of new knowledge, that offered by sight.
“With childbirth there is a reversal of the trend in the relationship between fantasy and reality,” continues Alessandra Bortolotti. “It is at the moment of birth that the reality of a child, who can be touched and with whom you can enter into a direct relationship, makes its way deeply compared to the fantasies that, until then, had been dominant. The birth thus represents a metaphorical passage between inside and outside and for this very reason it is a mimento to be valued to the maximum, as an opportunity to raise awareness and even the birth of a maternal identity that, from that point, is real to all intents and purposes.
More rational with the second pregnancy
In most cases, the accentuated fantastic component that characterizes the first gestation tends to be reduced in the following expectations: the mother has less time to devote to fantasies during her second pregnancy, therefore marked by less introspection.
As far as the woman’s imagination is concerned, there are fewer fantasies linked to her maternal role (and therefore fears about her ability to “do” the mother) and the woman’s thought is more concentrated on childbirth, with more or less positive anxieties or expectations depending on how the first experience was.