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Limitations and strengths of the study

Limitations to the study involved all three mothers varying in their responsiveness during the interview. I thought this was influenced by their varying capacities to access particular emotional states during the interview, arising from their personal histories, capacity for insight, and their overall experience of the observation.

At a different level, there were limitations on interpretation of the findings relating to the ending of the observation. Although Sandra and Fiona had not had any contact with the observer for over two years, Mary had only recently concluded the observation with her observer, and was still planning follow up contact.

Nevertheless the richness of the interview material reflected a broad range of emergent themes, some for individual participants, and others being revealed by two or all three of the mothers interviewed, allowing certain conclusions about their experience to be drawn.

The findings of the study Researcher's reflections on the interviews

I experienced and recorded a number of non-verbal, affective communications from the mothers over the course of the interviews. However, overwhelmingly, the reflections recorded revolved mainly around the mothers' responses to the ending of the infant observation visits.

In addition, yet somewhat related to the ending, I noticed that for two of the three mothers I seemed to represent their observer. This was apparent in the initial greeting from Sandra's observed child who, with her mother's encouragement, ran over to me for a cuddle, and the apparent reluctance of Fiona to introduce me to her observed child. In the interview, Fiona had expressed similar reluctance about interaction between her observer and her infant during the observation itself due to the prospect of the observer's inevitable departure after twelve months.

I also noted that the ending of the observation was raised very early in the interview process. One mother, Fiona, raised it prior to the interview beginning, and another, Sandra, raised it very early in the interview, despite being asked at the time about her pre-observational experience. From this I had the sense that the ending of the observation and observer's departure had highly significant meanings for the mothers. This was further heightened during the interview when I asked the mothers directly about their experiences of the observation coming to an end. Two of the three mothers acknowledged the observer's "task" in observing infant development as part of training, but nevertheless expressed some confusion about the level of interest the observer displayed in the infant and mother, or about the intimacy involved in the experience of observation.

In addition, my personal reflections on the research interview process corresponded with aspects of the mothers' experiences of loss at ending. At the end of the interviews I experienced difficulty in leaving for several reasons. The mothers prolonged the interview by continuing to "chat" with me, for example seeking out my own observational experience as observer, with particular emphasis on ending. I also felt that I was actually abandoning mothers after the interview material was collected. They had asked about my own experience in ending an infant observation, and expressed curiosity about whether I found it difficult to end the observation and my contact with mother and baby, and whether any other observers continued contact with the mothers and infants whom they observed.

For all three, two further themes emerged strongly. One revolved around the ending of the observation and relationship with the observer, and second, the unknown outcome of the observation, which I thought seemed to be mostly about whether the observer had continued to think about mother and infant. I became aware of my own need to reassure the mothers that the experience of infant observation is significant and valued by the observer, and most often unforgettable.

My own recorded experience after the interviews also validated mothers' impressions of the post observation relationship with the observer. I recalled a sense of abandoning the mothers and sadness at the end of the interviews, particularly with two of the three mothers, after they had shared their intimate thoughts and feelings with me. For both of these mothers, the observations ended two years previously, with no follow up contact from the observer. In one interview, I recorded feelings of having intruded and violated the personal space of the mother on ending the contact of the interview.

 
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