Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Giving Birth to Death

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Giving Birth to Death

Article excerpt

"Very truly I tell you,

unless a kernel of wheat falls to the

ground and dies,

it remains only a single seed.

But if it dies,

it produces many seeds."

The Gospel of John, 12:24, New International


"We remember the old saying:

Si vis pacem, para bellum.

If you wish peace, prepare for war.

The times call for a paraphrase:

Si vis vitam, para mortem.

If you wish life, prepare for death."

Sigmund Freud (1918), Reflections on

War and Death (p.11-12)

Giving Birth to Death

In January of 2012, filled with excitement, my wife and I prepared to learn the sex of our second child (due in 2012) during a long-anticipated ultrasound appointment. Oversized black and white photos of naked infants resting comfortably in the hands of their mothers and fathers adorned the walls of the waiting room. When the nurse beckoned us with a tender, welcoming smile, we rose and walked eagerly to the examination room.

As we watched the monitor closely, looking for movement and shape while enjoying the voyeuristic pleasure of peeking in on our unsuspecting child, the ultrasound technician's affect abruptly changed. She adjusted the light settings and contrast, but the look on her face remained unchanged. Our euthymic suspense quickly turned to dread as she stood up from her stool and muttered something I cannot remember while walking out of the room.

Minutes later, she returned with a senior technician whose solemn look heightened my feeling of horror. Tears began running down my wife's cheek, as she lay there helpless. We both realized that something had clearly gone awry as the technician dimmed the lights and said nothing. An eternity passed. For at least 10 minutes, only the cold cadence of repetitive mouse clicks and the punching of keys broke the silence. Unable to bear the silence any longer, I spoke. "Is something wrong?" Any remaining hope I had found a temporary home in that one, desperate question.

The technician said he was having difficulty seeing the fetus due to a substantial lack of amniotic fluid. When the technician ignored my second question, horror turned to rage. Panicked and unsatisfied, I asked more questions. Answers-regardless of how unfriendly they may have been-felt far better than enduring the silence any longer. My questions ceased when, after having been badgered long enough, he explained that the obstetrician on-call would be available shortly to answer our questions and that his role, conveniently, was merely to document, not diagnose. After 30 minutes passed, the technician rose from the stool and said he would return shortly with the physician.

On that day, we found out that the life of Berlin, our son who we named after the city where his mother and I fell in love, would be tragically short. For reasons still unknown, Berlin suffered from renal agenesis, a condition where undeveloped kidneys and a lack of amniotic fluid prevent uterine lung development. Without the ability to ingest amniotic fluid, the musculature of the lungs cannot develop adequately, making breathing oxygen an impossible task. With no treatment or cure, my wife and I realized we faced the intolerable task of giving birth to death.

Evolutions in relational psychoanalysis have included reflection on how the therapist's trauma may impact the psychotherapy process. Through this personal and clinical reflection, my intention is to depart from the traditional, monadic understandings of the human mind in order to make space for how the therapeutic process is, as Jessica Benjamin (1995) suggests, "occurring between subjects rather than within the individual" (p. 27, emphasis in the original). This shiftaway from a one-person psychology has included a new epistemology where the therapist is encouraged to think about the psyche as unequivocally intersubjective and trauma as interpersonal-relational (Howell & Itzkowitz, 2016). …

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