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Observation at just seven months (25)

When I got to the front door his mother was just opening it. I heard Daniel giving a cry from the kitchen and his mother went straight in to him saying, "What's the matter, I'm here."

When I joined them I could see that Daniel in his high chair was not his usual smiley self and I moved past him to a chair, and looked to see how he would react. He turned his face away from his mother's proffered spoonful of apple and strawberry puree and looked at me with a slight grizzle in his voice. His mother continued to feed him and when he stopped and looked at me she said, "Who's that?" and "That's Jane!" He continued to gaze at me on and off and then gradually he began to grin. Apparently, his mother told me, Daniel has been a bit grizzly today and since last Thursday when he was sick through the day he has been a bit off and shouty.

His mother tried a couple of times to sit Daniel up in his highchair. She stopped trying to feed when he refused to open his mouth. Then she wiped his mouth and started again.

He took the next two spoonfuls. At one point when she was offering food he took both his mother's arms in each hand and very fiercely shook them. Then he held them very tightly and made growly noises. His mother says, "Have you had enough?” On another occasion when he refused to open his mouth he again held her hands and this time his mother said, "Do you want to help me?” and helped him help himself with the spoon. He had another couple of spoonfuls. When offering the cup she also helped him hold the handles himself. When he refused the drink and began to sound grizzly again she wiped his mouth and picked him up out of the chair and sat him on her lap. He looked very cosy there and made a grab for his spoon on the table in front of him. His mother held the spoon so he could also hold it and he put it in his mouth. She did not give it to him but carefully removed it and replaced it in the now empty bowl of vegetable casserole.

Daniel has vomited during the week and been quite unwell. He is slumping in his chair and grizzly. He refuses food by firmly closing his mouth and even grasping his mother's arms to stop her. He growls at her like a bear. His mother tells me that Daniel is still not right after vomiting. Is there a link in his mind between food going in and something frightening coming out? Can he keep this fear at bay by, in phantasy, projecting the bad feelings into his mother? (Bion, 1962). I am reminded of the lunging monster when Daniel was fifteen weeks. Then she helped him firmly to the breast and some of the bad was taken away. Now she cannot take his fear away. When she offers more food it adds to his anxiety. His persistent refusals remind me of the weaning process when he lost the comfort of his mother's breast and was rejecting the bottle. Later he does accept a little more food when he holds the spoon with his mother. I wonder what this spoon represents to Daniel in his mind. It seems that there is something containing for him in the joint holding. Perhaps it is one step removed from the breast/bottle conflict, and therefore less threatening.

During my next observation I learn that Daniel has had very bad diarrhoea during the week and since then he has done a lot of arching his back, "which is maddening when I try to feed him”, his mother tells me. I remember he first arched his back when his mother was trying so hard to feed him the bottle during the weaning process. I have seen Daniel arch his back where he pushes his whole body away and there is little physical contact. This is a strong statement from a little boy who is constantly handled and normally adores being touched and kissed by both parents. The recent illnesses have been focussed on the alimentary canal which is so crucial to feeding, both in the physical and emotional sense (Bion, 1962). It is only a short couple of months since Daniel was weaned from the breast and I wonder whether there may be the beginnings of a cyclical pattern emerging linking anxiety, illness, and feeding.

 
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