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The fifth week

When I saw the Smiths on day thirty-one, Mr Smith, arriving a few minutes after his wife, said that Daniel had just had a bradycardia when I walked in and that this had happened the week before as well. He repeated this several times. I wondered if I was supposed to be the repository of a whole range of feelings: blame that I had caused the bradycardia, guilt that I had walked into the nursery and caused such a thing to occur, anger that I should be accused of such a thing and mindlessness that a world of such primitive superstition should rule. Lucy's heart had been examined by a heart specialist from the Brompton Hospital that day. Mrs Smith had not told her husband that it was happening because he "might have had a heart attack." Mother said quite gaily that it was all right except that the specialist had had cold hands and Lucy had not liked this. It seemed to me that there were lethal amounts of anxiety around, and there was a serious question about who could bear it. Father went on to express his tremendous sense of guilt: guilt about his work, guilt about the twins. They talked about the impact of twins—always having to choose one, always having to make one wait. Whenever you are with one you are not with the other. Father talked about how much he liked the unit, it felt like home. They even had a good laugh with the unit staff in the evenings. It seemed that the unit provided some kind of holding situation for him. When I asked mother about herself she said, "Today as I was driving in, I suddenly had a lump in my throat." She thought there were a lot of feelings there. She seemed to have stifled them, and this was perhaps the only way that she could function in a situation that was so cruel to her maternal feelings. I thought perhaps she had some understanding of the cold hands of the surgeon—how could he do what he had to do if his feelings were not kept cold and detached?

Mother's defensive attitude began to have repercussions on the unit. The nurses felt that she was not very maternal. In fact she was a very faithful and involved mother, which can sometimes make the nurses feel unnecessary or jealous, or feel guilty that they cannot do more. This mother also kept very close control of her feelings, not presenting herself as needy. It is possible, too, that the nurses were responding to the difference in her relation to her son and daughter. She poured tenderness on to Daniel whom she felt was needier and seemed to feel that Lucy could manage on her own more. It is possible that Lucy with her powerful capacity to feel, express, and evoke feelings was quite difficult for her mother when she was finding it so necessary to suppress her own feelings.

 
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