Home Sociology Infant Observation: Creating Transformative Relationships
It was into the hot nursery that I came to observe Daniel. He was lying on his platform naked, on his back, his ventilator strapped to his mouth, his head turned to the right. His skin was very red and parchment thin. He seemed so tiny and vulnerable, and I learned afterwards that he weighed 600 grams. The ultra-violet lamp was shining down on him. He had goggles made of material over his eyes to protect them from the light. He had leads and heavy tubes strapped to his arms and legs. Heavy breathing rippled through his diaphragm. I watched him for twenty- five minutes as he flexed, stretched, jerked, mouthed and sucked the ventilator. Then I went to the next platform to see his sister Lucy.
I observed the following:
Lucy has a less hot bright lamp and her goggles have slipped down from her eyes. There is pressure on her nose and a tube in her mouth. Her hands are free. She has a lead which is not heavy stuck to her arm, and leads to her legs, but her toes are free. Like her brother she is very tiny and her skin looks very dry and thin. Her right arm lies down her side; her fingers curl and then splay open, touching the lead. Her left arm goes up, her hand slightly curls over. Her legs bend up. Her right leg slews across her body to the left. I am filled with awe as I watch her.
She is very still, seems to be in a deep sleep. Her left toes wriggle slightly. Again she is very still and there is an atmosphere of great concentration. Her mouth closes and opens, then she keeps it open. Her right hand moves slowly far out to the right. It is a gentle graceful movement. Then her left knee moves up so that it is very bent. The nurse comes to check the tubes.
Lucy hardly moves. Then her left arm stretches out to the left, very gracefully. Both arms are stretched out at shoulder level. She looks so abandoned.
I was surprised to see her so lacking in anxiety and enjoying her own body. What amazed me was the beauty of her movements—the grace and delicacy. She was so abandoned and at peace; the vulnerability was almost unbearable. As she stretched out with such delicious pleasure I remembered her mother telling me that the twins came early because there was no more room inside her: they were too cramped.
At this point the nurse put an antibiotic through a tube in Lucy's foot:
Lucy squirms rather and grimaces. It feels like a mild protest. The nurse says that she is a bad colour like a black baby. Suddenly Lucy gives a little cry. The nurse rather roughly pulls the goggles over her eyes. She squirms a bit and then is still, but not peaceful as she was.
The charm was broken. I think there was something here that the nurse could not bear to see. She made her provocative remark and pulled the goggles over Lucy's eyes.
Then a doctor came and turned the lamp off. She had to take blood from Lucy to test her oxygen levels, a thing that has to be done several times a day and which the babies soon learn to expect.
Lucy is squirming, her left leg is thrashing up, and she arches her neck. The doctor puts a different light on to see what she is doing. She is standing beside Lucy putting her gloves on. The doctor says that at any moment she can be called to the labour ward. She feels like a mother with ten children, she can be called at any time and is always interruptable. She remembers one job where someone followed her into the toilet and went on talking to her while she was in there. Lucy is crying and squirming, but is not desperate. The doctor's bleep goes off and she goes away. Lucy is still. She squirms and cries a little in a rather pathetic way, moving her shoulders and squirming her trunk. She arches her back and goes red all over. Her left arm stretches high up. The nurse comes back and asks rather crossly where the doctor is and I say that I think she has gone to the labour ward. She turns the light off and the lamp back on. Lucy stretches her arms and legs very wide, she yawns and whimpers. Her right hand goes down and touches her right knee and she is quiet. She opens her mouth but I cannot hear a cry. She dribbles a lot of bubbles and then stretches. She arches her back off the bed and cries. Her left leg stretches far out and then up, and she is crying.
The space which had seemed so deliciously spacious then felt like a nightmarish vacuum. The doctor was feeling persecuted, unable to attend to any job without the risk of interruption, low on resources and with no privacy to deal with any of her bad experiences. Lucy was in rather a similar position. She too was vulnerable to any interruption. She seemed to try to scrape the bad experience off her and in going red and straining perhaps she was trying to evacuate it. Her arching and squirming also seemed to be attempts to avoid something persecuting. Perhaps she was trying to "bubble" this persecutor out of her. Her capacity to express herself was remarkable. As I noticed how strong my reactions to her were, I thought that her ability to evoke interest and admiration, and her sense of agency, augured well for her. But at this point she had to bear the brunt of the nurse's bad temper, then was dismayed by the approach of the doctor, knowing already that this might involve pain—but the pain did not come because the doctor was called away. How could she begin to make sense of this unpredictable world? She touched her right knee with her right hand: a little comfort, a little connection. But she could not hold this for long and seemed to succumb to feelings of persecution.
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