This paper explores the effects of exile on the subjectivity of pregnant migrant women through the lens of the processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. Having escaped the gaze of the parental superego, the subject’s encounter with sexuality becomes possible. However, in addition to the emancipatory aspects of migration, we observe particular somatic-psychical effects on reproductive ability. These “exile” pregnancies are generally experienced as difficult and painful, laying bare a symptomatology that is as much psychical as somatic, and which highlights the cost of a desire for independence. In this context, where perinatal risks must be evaluated and treated through an interdisciplinary approach, a clinical accompaniment proves to be indispensable for the maternity to progress smoothly on foreign soil.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
This research was conducted in Buenos Aires in 2009, in close collaboration with the mental health staff of the Ramón Sardá Maternity Hospital (Dr. E. Andina, Dr. S. Naddeo) and the University of Buenos Aires School of Psychology (UBA—Master “Politicas de Migraciones Internacionales”).
These neologisms, coined by Gilles and Guattari (1972) in Anti-Oedipus, denote the way in which these two movements, locked in a permanent dialectical relationship, follow and respond to each other while producing various changes, especially at the level of meaning and of subjectivity more generally. To become deterritorialized is a way of escaping a sedentary position; it is a way “by which ‘one’ leaves the territory” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980, p. 559). Reterritorialization, on the other hand, means “re-creating territory” on something “of a different nature” from what one has left behind (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994, p. 67.) Both processes, therefore, require creativity and novelty.
The largest maternity hospital in Argentina, located in the south of the capital. Accredited by UNICEF and the Argentinian Ministry of Health, it registers approximately 7000 deliveries per year.
The Greek kliné, from the verb klinein (“slope, lean or recline”) means “at the bedside.”
Half of the interviewees were hospitalized locally for high-risk pregnancies; the other half were patients awaiting a consultation in the hospital waiting room.
We should specify that this was psychotherapeutic treatment that allowed for in-depth exploration, thanks to the unfolding of a transferential bond, of the clinical signs that were laid out and the effects of the migration process at the level of the pregnancy process.
Drawing on Berman (1984)’s formula: the “drive to translate” (p. 21).
Our clinical study is a qualitative one, with statistical data presented for information purposes only. Even so, we may mention that we were struck above all by the absence of any formulated wish to get pregnant and the contrasting advent of these pregnancies “in the wake of the migration”. The figures themselves are remarkable: of the 40 women interviewed, 78% became pregnant during the first 2 years after moving to Argentina. Although, all the women were still of reproductive age, it is noteworthy that 42% became pregnant during the first year of their presence on Argentine soil.
In reference to the Spanish word for “pregnant”—embarazada. This term, which otherwise translates as “ill at ease” or “in a bind,” refers to an expression, in the past also commonly used in French, denoting a woman who became pregnant outside marriage.
We may add that at least four cases have been identified as presenting this same symptom (statistics for information purposes only).
The patient explained: “My womb was too small.” According to the medical file, tests had concluded uterine hypoplasia. Nevertheless, the file provided little detail.
The announcement—which in any case is always “mortifying”—revives ancient repressed material. As Benslama (2005) puts it, “regardless of the content of the announcement—the arrival of a child, a text, a sacrifice, a new era, and so on—it appears essentially as a revelation of one’s overwhelming responsibility before the other, where the very fact of giving life also inherently ‘brings death’ ” (pp. 67–72).
This path has also been developed on the basis of my clinical observations on maternity, in particular during my limited participation in a weekly talk group for teenagers.
The impact of migration on women’s sexuality has been the object of several articles, notably in gender studies linked to migration studies, but also in the sociological field and even the psychological field. See Espín (1997).
Raphael-Leff (1996), speaks about “psychological immunity.” (pp. 373–399) I prefer to use the expression psychical immunity.
See Bydlowski (1997)’s work on the double aspect of the child’s pre-Oedipal and Oedipal desire and the process of motherhood.
Agamben, G. (2009). A critical introduction p. 218. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Akhtar, S. (1995). A third individuation: Immigration, identity, and the psychoanalytic process. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 43 (4), 1051–1084.
Akhtar, S. (Ed.) (2004). Immigration and the lifecycle special issue. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 64 (2), 127–128.
Assoun, P. L. (1999). Le préjudice et l’idéal. Pour une clinique sociale du trauma. Paris: anthropos/economica.
Battaglini, A., Gravel, S., Boucheron, L., Fournier, M., Brodeur, J-M., Poulin, C., DeBlois, S., Durand, D., Lefèbvre, C. & Heneman, B. (2002). Quand migration et maternité se croisent: perspectives des intervenantes et des mères immigrantes. Service Social, 49 (1), 35–69.
Benslama, F. (2005). De la responsabilité de l’annonce. In D. Brun (Ed.) Violence de l’annonce, violence du dire. VIIème Colloque de Médecine et Psychanalyse. Paris: Etudes freudiennes.
Berman, A. (1984). L’épreuve de l’étranger. Paris: Tel Gallimard.
Bion, W. R. (1962). The psycho-analytic study of thinking. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 43, 306–310.
Boukobza, C. (2003). La clinique du holding. Ilustration de D. W. Winnicott.”, Le Coq-Héron, 173 (2), 64–71.
Bydlowski, M. (1997). La dette de vie, itinéraire psychanaytique de la maternité. Paris: PUF.
Bydlowski, M. (2000). La première maternité. Adolescence, 18 (2), 605–620.
Davoudian, C. (2007). Maternité d’exil. La clinique lacanienne, 1 (12), 69–73.
Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1972). Anti-Oedipus. London: Continuum.
Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1980). A thousand plateaus. London: Continuum.
Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1994). What is philosophy? Transl. by Graham Burcell & Hugh Tomlinson. London: Verso.
Douville, O. & Galap, J. (1999). Santé mentale des migrants et réfugiés en France. Encyclopédie médico-chirurgicale p. 880-A-10. Paris: Elsevier.
Espín, O. (1997). Latina realities. Essays on healing, migration and sexuality. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Falk, A. (1974). Border symbolism. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 43, 650–660.
Freud, S. (1920). Beyond the pleasure principle. S. E. 18 (pp. 7–64). London: Hogarth Press.
Grinberg, L. & Grinberg, R. (1989). Psychoanalytic perspectives on migration and exile. N. Festinger (Trans.) New Haven: Yale University Press.
Greil, A. L. (1997). Infertility and psychological distress: A critical review of the literature. Social Science & Medicine, 45 (11), 1679–1704.
Horney, K. (1937). Neurotic personality of our time. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Kelman, H. (1969). Kairos: The auspicious moment. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 29 (1), 59–83.
Kulu, H. (2005). Migration and fertility: Competing hypotheses re-examined. European Journal of Population, 21 (1), 51–87.
Neumayer, E. (2006). An empirical test of a neo-Malthusian theory of fertility change. Population and Environment, 27 (4), 327–336.
Pedinielli, J. L. & Rouan, G. (1998). In C. Cyssau (Ed.) L’entretien de recherche. L’entretien en clinique. Collection Psycho (pp. 99–106). Paris: In Press.
Pestre, E. (2010). La vie psychique des réfugiés. Paris: Payot.
Pestre, E. & Benslama, F. (2011). Translation and Trauma, Journal of Psychoanalytic Studies, 1(11), 18a–28a.
Pragier, G. & Faure-Pragier, S. (1993). Une fille est analysée: Anna Freud. Revue Française de Psychanalyse, 57 (2), 447–457.
Raphael-Leff, J. (1996). Pregnancy-procreative process, the ‘placental paradigm’ and perinatal therapy. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 44 (S), 373–39.
Sasso, R. & Villani, A. (2003). Le vocabulaire de Deleuze Les cahiers de noesis, vocabulaire de la philosophie contemporaine de langue française 86 (Cahier no. 3) Paris: Éditions Vrin, C.N.R.S.
Schaeffer, J. (1997). Le refus du féminin, la sphinge et son âme en peine. Paris: PUF, Quadrige.
Singley, S. G. & Landale, N. S. (1998). Incorporating origin and process in migration fertility frameworks: The case of Puerto Rican women. Social Forces, 76 (4), 1437–1464.
Stoléru, S., Teglas, J. P., Spira, A., Magnin, F. & Fermanian, J. (1996). Psychological characteristics of infertile patients: Discriminating etiological factors from reactive changes. Journal of Psychosom Obstetrics & Gynecology, 17 (2), 103–118.
Winnicott, D. W. (1958). The capacity to be alone. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 39, 416–420.
Winnicott, D. W. (1974). Fear of breakdown. International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 1, 103–107.
Zelkowitz, P., Schinazi, J., Katofsky, L., Saucier, J.-F., Valenzuela, M., Westreich, R. & Dayan, J. (2004). Factors associated with depression in pregnant immigrant women. Transcultural Psychiatry, 41 (4), 445–464.
*Dr. Elise Pestre is Associate Professor at Paris Diderot University at Sorbonne Paris Cité, member of the Center for Research in Psychoanalysis, Medicine and Society, EAD-3522.
About this article
Cite this article
Pestre, E. Giving birth in exile: motherhood as reterritorialization. Am J Psychoanal 75, 304–319 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/ajp.2015.28
- clinical approach