Maternal ambivalence occurs during all phases of mothering. Today I want to focus on the beginning--ambivalence about having children in the first place. For many years, in my career as an analyst, I assumed that deep down all women wanted children. During the last 15-20 years I have seen a number of women who were deeply uncertain about whether or not to have children, women who consulted me late enough in their lives that successful pregnancy and childbirth would have been difficult, or impossible, to achieve. Although their psychological profiles differed greatly, there were striking issues in common. Most of them liked the children of their sibs and close friends, but feared they would not like their own. Others had husbands who didn't want children, but this never turned out to be the real reason.
What I think of as the "real reasons" women are ambivalent about having children relate to several fears dating from early life. Women who struggle with a lot of unresolved aggression in themselves, fear that their child will become an angry reflection of the "monster within" them, or within their closest relatives-parents, siblings, spouses. Others, who for a variety of reasons are ashamed of their female anatomy and gender may avoid pregnancy and childbirth, the sine qua non of womanhood. A third reason for avoiding having children goes back to the early childhood of many women who were overly attached to their fathers. In their unconscious fantasy life, stemming from childhood, the baby is an Oedipal baby, father's baby, an illegitimate child who will bring punishment in its wake.