Life Style

Conscious or unconscious, what is behind the desire for a child

Why do we have children? Because it is obvious! Are we so sure? If you ask this question to several people on the street, many are not sure what to answer. We do not always clearly know the motivations behind this desire. For Raphaëlle Simon, author of a little book on motherhood (1), and mother of three children, “It is the desire to continue and to find the beloved face, the desire to pluck the fruit of love, to love even more and to be loved. “ While recognizing the part of the irrational contained in this desire. “There is a force which exceeds us, a power of life which escapes us”, she marvels.

→ READ. Joint projects, a barometer of the couple

François and Magdeleine, parents of several children, have experienced it. “For the first one, we were ultra-in love and we wanted to see what the mixture of our two DNAs would look like. “ After their fourth child, Magdeleine wanted to stop there, despite her husband’s dream of forming an even larger family. “I was trapped in a performance before I finally realized the extraordinary gift of having four children. I was then able to mourn a new birth. I was also starting to think I was a bit old ”, says François. Yet nine years after the last-born, another child has announced, against all odds. “After a while, the sexual act is no longer enough, the child arrives as an outcome”, confides Magdeleine, who admits to having thought that it was ” a madness “ to start all over again.

→ MAINTENANCE. “Each birth benefits the whole of society”

Pregnancy, birth, childbirth … “We were turned around like pancakes. In any case, we cannot program everything ”, confesses today this fulfilled mother. This common sense remark may be surprising, precisely in the area of ​​procreation, which seems to be better and better controlled. “Even today, there are children that we program, and others that we do not program and who slip through the cracks”, observes Myriam Szejer, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst.

“Generalized standard of personal achievement”

In the past, we did not ask ourselves the question, children came into the world naturally. It was in the order of things, they said. “We were more or less constrained by the group, recalls the sociologist Gérard Neyrand. Getting married was the passport to entering sex life. The arrival of a baby was almost automatic. Children, at least those who survived high infant mortality, had to provide for the needs of aging parents. “

After the Revolution, it is no longer the family but the individual who constitutes the basic unit. In XXe century, self-realization passes through the relationship with the spouse and the relationship with the child, which cannot be questioned from a legal point of view. “The child has become a mandatory and generalized standard of personal fulfillment. Motherhood is lived as an irreplaceable experience, with a very strong narcissistic dimension, sometimes unconscious, of the extension of oneself, through the child. In this context of strong social valuation, we need good reasons not to want to generate ”, adds the sociologist.

Contraception, a “major change”

In fact, from the 1970s, “The advent of contraception forces everyone to ask themselves the question of their desire for a child, a major change”, notes psychoanalyst Joëlle Desjardins. Long considered a taboo, the refusal to procreate became a social demand associated with a new activism. The reverse of our biological condition. Are we not programmed to give life?

→ TESTIMONIALS. Why they decided to become parents

“As mammals, we are genetically programmed for the survival of the species, confirms Myriam Szejer. But we are mammals reviewed by speech, the unconscious, education, family and personal history of each, nuance this specialist of the birth. And our history disturbs our instinct, our certainty of reproduction. ” In short, parenthood is part of a model that is difficult to escape, even if there are now different ways of achieving it.

Parental project and unconscious desires

The desire to form a family, to take root over several generations, to be part of a lineage is subject to considerable uncertainties. You may want a child, but sometimes the body says no. In this case, becoming aware of your fears with the help of a third party can help to unblock a situation.

“The will to give birth is infiltrated with meanings and unconscious desires which stand out from the official program”, confirms Joëlle Desjardins. According to the psychoanalyst, the child who comes into the world is “The fruit of an imperfect DIY” between, on the one hand, the rational wish of a couple, registered in a parental project, a conscious and programmed process, and on the other hand, unconscious desires difficult to name, which are articulated in the question of a lack, a need to be filled. We can thus want to recreate the child that we were, for better or for worse. For example, repairing an emotional deprivation or paying off a life debt to one’s own mother.

“To have a child is to bet on the future”

“Before each birth, there would be a novel to tell about this imaginary child who is the fruit of his parents’ desire”, exclaims Monique Bydlowski. This psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, specialist in maternity, evokes this “Movement of interior impulse which pushes the woman to live this experience”. While warning couples: “As much in love as one is, conceiving a child is betting on the future. The conjugal and the parental are two different poles. There is no reason for the two to team up. If it works, it’s luck. “

To have a child, considers the psychiatrist, you have to be “In denial of the outside world”. “The real child, the one who will face the end of the XXIe century is sometimes the last person you think of. “ And it is better not to listen too much to those who advise you to postpone your project, on the pretext that all the conditions are not met. “In the current context, having a child can be seen as a transgression”, says Myriam Szejer, concluding that “Every birth is a miracle”.


The birth rate in France

In 2019, 753,000 babies were born in France, i.e. 6,000 fewer births than in 2018 (0.7%). The number of births has been falling every year for the past five years.

The number of women aged 20 to 40, the ages at which they are most fertile, has been declining since the mid-1990s. Their fertility is also declining and remains, in 2019, the main factor explaining the decrease in the number of births.

In 2019, the total fertility rate (TFR) stood at 1.87 children per woman. Between 2006 and 2014, the ICF hovered around 2 children per woman.

The most fertile women are those between 25 and 34 years old. However, the fertility rate of women under 30 has been declining since the 2000s.

In 2017, France remained the country in the European Union with the highest fertility. Source: Insee, 2020


To read

Become a mother, by Monique Bydlowski, 2020, Odile Jacob, 258 p., € 22.90. Become a mother. In the shadow of unconscious memory. It all lies in the subtitle on the front page of this book which deals with the deep issues of motherhood. Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, the author, pioneer of the psychic approach to motherhood, sheds light on her knowledge and her long experience on this crucial stage in the life of women, from pregnancy to the first links, the misfortunes that can arise after pregnancy. birth, as well as the issue of infertility.

Intimacy, by Alice Ferney, 2020, Actes Sud. 368 p., € 22. Through the story of Sandra, forty years old and feminist, who claims her choice to live single and without children, the novelist explores the relationship that women have with motherhood in all its forms, from the risk of childbirth to assisted reproduction and childbearing. GPA.

And also

Unconscious Locks to Fertility, by Joëlle Desjardins-Simon and Sylvie Debras, 2010, Albin Michel, € 16.20.

The Mother is not everything!, by Gérard Neyrand, 2019, Érès, 10 €.

Those nine months. A psychoanalytic approach to pregnancy and childbirth, by Myriam Szejer and Richard Stewart, 2002, Laffont, € 21.

Couples evenings: due to confinement, the Cana mission of the Chemin-Neuf community organizes online evenings for couples and families every week. Site:


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