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1st Edition

The Shadow of the Second Mother Nurses and nannies in theories of infant development

By Prophecy Coles Copyright 2015
    ISBN 9780415637237
    148 Pages
    Published March 3, 2015 by Routledge

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    ISBN 9780415637213
    148 Pages
    Published February 25, 2015 by Routledge

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    The Shadow of the "Second Mother" explores why has there been such little interest, in psychology, social history and biography, in the important contribution that ‘second mothers’, such as wet nurses and nannies, have had upon the emotional life of the children they have nursed.  For the last three thousand years and throughout most civilisations they have nurtured the children of the privileged, and kept alive the abandoned and unwanted child, and yet there has been a profound silence surrounding the influence they may have had.

    The author explores the lives of several well-known people who have been wet nursed, such as Michelangelo, Rousseau, Jack London, Nabokov and Klein. She speculates that they all were affected emotionally by their ‘second mother’, and concludes that a universal feature of such delegated mothering seems to be that the bond between mother and child is broken, and the child may be left with a life-long distrust of close relationships. In The Shadow of the "Second Mother", Coles combines an exploration of attachment theory with neurology, making it possible to give an explanation as to why these important figures have lain unnamed and ignored in our social and psychological consciousness.

    This intriguing new approach to an ancient practice will be fascinating reading for psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, sociologist and students of social history.

    Dedication. Acknowledgements. Introduction. A Brief History of the Wet Nurse of the Privileged.The Foundling and the Wet Nurse. The Second Mother. The Wet Nurse in Literature and Biography. Freud and Klein. The Nanny. Trauma, Attachment and Melancholia, Natural Bonds.


    Prophecy Coles trained at the Lincoln Centre for Psychotherapy, UK, and has had a long association with the London Centre for Psychotherapy. She has worked as a psychotherapist for 30 years and has published widely on the sibling relationship, femininity and transgenerational conflict.

    "Through rescuing the second mother from near oblivion and by pointing to the potential double rupture of attachment and subsequent devastating emotional harm, Coles has done a great service to all those promoting good enough parenting." – Simon Partridge, Attachment New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis Journal

    "A fascinating illustration of traumatogenic processes including the protective defenses of encapsulation and social-psychic retreat, this subtle, intelligent and highly accessible study of the wet nurse, the nanny and the maid helps us understand the hidden foundling within each of us, especially mental health professionals in general and perhaps old-fashioned psychoanalysts in particular. Through tracing the emergence of the relational perspective from the fecund field of attachment which was originally a matter of dissident and dissonant voices within psychoanalysis, group analysis and sociology, the social unconscious is shown to be entirely relevant to our understanding of loss and melancholia in the deepest layers and kernels of our unconscious life." Earl Hopper Ph.D

    "Prophecy Coles brings ‘delegated’ or substitute parents out from obscurity into the limelight. She explores the many contradictions of this role, asking questions such as: Can love really be bought? What is the impact on children of losing an early attachment figure? What does it mean for a child to love someone in a socially devalued position? What is the cost for the substitute parent herself? I found this a fascinating and subtly argued book; it deserves to be widely discussed." – Sue Gerhardt, author of Why Love Matters

    "The Shadow of the Second Mother explores a topic strangely neglected in psychoanalytical writing. Why have wet nurses and nannies been largely removed from history, Prophecy Coles asks, even though it is clear from the autobiographical and fictional writing that their role has been of immense emotional importance to the infants they have cared for. In her original and wide-ranging study, the author explores the reasons for this neglect, and on the significance in both past and present of surrogate forms of maternal care." – Michael Rustin

    "It has been a great pleasure to read this important contribution to the psychoanalytic literature on an unfairly neglected theme: the significance and importance of the nurse and the nanny in infantile early development as well as in childhood in general. Written with remarkable clarity and concision, the authoress draws upon a lifetime of clinical and personal experience and interest in the subject, and in a series of most elegant chapters that combine literary, social and psychoanalytic insights, she shares with us her thoughts on the subject. Many are the ideas and questions this fascinating book presents us with, readily taken by the authoress with care, understanding, great intelligence and sensitivity. The book effortlessly succeeds in transforming "The Shadow of the Second Mother" in a touching and impressive presence. This is a most welcome addition to the libraries of everyone with an interest in children and, as the great Paula Heimann would have said, in "children-no-longer."  Dr. Luis Rodríguez de la Sierra Training and Supervising Adult and child and Adolescent Psychoanalyst of the British Psychoanalytical Society




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