The Neurobiology of Motherhood: Maternal Subjectivities and Embodied Experiences

Author(s) : Linda Burnett

The Neurobiology of Motherhood: Maternal Subjectivities and Embodied Experiences

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In motherhood, many women experience feelings of great intensity, a strong and passionate bond with their child, and a sense of personal transformation. For these women the experiences of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and embodied care are felt as central to the construction of their sense of self as a mother. By and large, however, feminist theory and scholarship has placed more emphasis on the social and discursive structuring of maternal experiences, and given limited attention to the effects of these embodied experiences on subjectivity. Within this literature, the material maternal body has a minimal presence. In Thinking Through Motherhood, Linda Burnett revisits the significance of women's embodied experiences of motherhood and suggests that the understanding of maternal subjectivities is enhanced by these biological perspectives, whose salience has too often been underplayed or dismissed.

In investigating how maternal subjectivities are constructed in the embodied mother-child relationship, and its myriad of invisible connections and countless tiny encounters every day, Burnett's approach sees the biological, psychological, social and relational as mutually constitutive. Her interdisciplinary study draws on the neurosciences, infant research, and psychoanalysis, as well as women's subjective accounts, provided in unstructured interviews. This allows a complex picture of maternal subjectivities to emerge, one congruent with the intense and powerful emotions and experiences described by many women. The inclusion of biological perspectives illuminates questions usually disregarded and has the potential to reframe feminist and other critical analyses of maternal subjectivities. Thinking Through Motherhood will be important reading for students and researchers working in motherhood, women and gender studies, psychology, psychoanalysis, feminist studies, and sociology. It will also be extremely useful for professional psychotherapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists, particularly those working with mothers and families.

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