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The impact of observer on parents, baby, and unit

This brings me to my second question: what effect, if any, does the role of the observer have on the baby and on the parents? Perhaps the effort of the observer to reach out imaginatively to the baby, and to bear what is going on, in combination with the parents' efforts, helps the baby to begin to have some notion of his experience being processed. Nurses have commented to me that the babies like me observing them; and babies make it very clear that they are aware when their parents arrive and start watching and talking to them. In a connected way, I think that the observer can be helpful to parents. The determination of the observer to observe can give the parents more confidence to trust what they see for themselves, to feel more articulate and to be more powerful in becoming spokespersons for their babies. I think also that being a parent on the unit can be a very lonely experience and some parents like to talk to someone who is prepared to listen to their fantasies about their babies. In a similar way, I think that the presence of an observer can be beneficial to the staff—once they see someone else watching the babies so carefully they allow themselves to articulate all kinds of ideas about the babies, to talk to them more, and to be more confident in speaking up for them at unit meetings.

At its best the presence of a child psychotherapist who observes the babies, tries to imagine how the babies are feeling, and is prepared to risk articulating this to the parents and to the staff, can improve the atmosphere of a neonatal unit so that there is not so much defence against the raw and painful experience of the baby. The unit can offer some of the mediating work which the babies need and can also support the parents in taking on their essential interpretative function for their babies.


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