Pregnancy, Fantasy of

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An infantile fantasy in which the subject, whether masculine or feminine, has the unconscious wish to bear a child, the fantasy of pregnancy, which Sigmund Freud links to the enigma of the origin of children and to the fantasy of the primal scene, leads the child to elaborate sexual theories that stage it. In the work of Melanie Klein, this development relates to the creation of an internal object (good or bad). Over the course of psychosexual history, this fantasy has taken on different forms and different meanings.

Freud discusses this unconscious fantasy in connection with dreams in "On Dreams" (1901a); that of pregnancy and the wish for a child in connection with the earliest theories of infantile sexuality in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d) and with the Schreber case, in "Psycho-analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)" (1911c [1910]).

In girls, this fantasy develops in relation either to orality with incorporation, or to anality, where the child-feces becomes a gift given to the mother (between omnipotence and toxicity). The enigma of sexual difference and penis envy, at the genital turning point (penis = infant), feeding on identification with, and hatred of, the mother, cause her to address this fantasy to both parents. Freud situates it as coming second after the onset of penis envy, whereas in Klein's view the girl, through mental bisexuality, wishes to receive a penis from the father; the girl believes she contains children (image of a hollow interior), but may doubt her capacity to bear them. In the girl's oedipal phase, she turns away from her mother and toward the mother's object of desire, the father. The girl demands from him the infant-penis that would make her a mother and worthy of his love; he is supposed to give her what her mother has refused to give her. There is thus a movement from having to receiving, via passivity, and an external demand toward something internal.

Often confused or conflated in the adult woman, the fantasy of pregnancy and the desire for a child situate her within bisexuality: By means of this infant-penis, without renouncing masculinity, she is inscribed within the feminine position, according to Julia Kristeva in The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt. In feminine homosexuality, this fantasy can aim to neutralize the father, making him a mere progenitor. In boys, this fantasy, often activated by visual contact with the mother or a pregnant woman, is colored by a feminine attitude toward the father, as attested by some frequent themes: bearing embryos after swallowing fruit pits or seeds; escaping from sexual difference by equating feces with a child (a part of the self that must be renounced); aiming to achieve narcissistic completeness in the ambivalence between feminine and masculine, through an identification that passes from creative power to passivity and masochism. Persistence of these infantile traces is found in the traits of homosexuality; in hypochondria; in the fear of having been poisoned and carrying toxic material within oneself; in the notion of being chosen by the gods and impregnated, as in the case of President Schreber, to bring a new humanity into the world; or in the fantasy of self-engenderment (sui generis).

Occidental mythology includes various representations of this fantasy: Minerva springing from the head of Jupiter, or Eve being born from Adam's rib. It can happen that the companion of a pregnant woman may experience physical or mental malaise around the time of delivery. The couvade (a custom in which the father of a newly born infant engages in certain rites such as being in bed as if he has borne the child himself) is a variation linked to envy of women's creative functions.

Marie-Claire LanctÔt BÉlanger

See also: Fantasy.


Eisler, Michael Joseph. (1921). Womb and birth saving phantasies in dreams. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 2, 1, 65-67.

Freud, Sigmund. (1901a). On dreams. SE, 5: 629-685.

. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 130-243.

. (1911). Psycho-analytic notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (dementia paranoides). SE, 12: 9-82.

Kristeva, Julia. (2000). The sense and non-sense of revolt (Jeanine Herman, Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press. (Original work published 1996)