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Eight to ten months: trying to contain the almost unbearable

When Ben was seven and a half months old she cancelled the next two observations because of his operation. When I saw him he smiled quite quickly at me and I was shocked because the bandages on his splints were bloodstained, and he looked like he had stumps. He had casts on his arms above his elbows and on his legs up to his groin. The surgeon had taken skin from his groin to graft on his fingers. Ben's mouth soon started turning down like a tic, as if he was stifling a cry, which I thought was his sadness about what had happened. I felt that his mother was silently accusing me that I did not actually work at the hospital, which I had told her I did. I wondered if in the observer role it felt that I did not care.

Ben derived virtually no enjoyment with Dave, and could only look at him for a second before his eyes skittered off. He would give me an occasional intent look before I seemed re-established in his mind. His face puckered once or twice, his eyes closed and a sound emerged, as though expressing something, perhaps remembering having lost his mother with the operation. When he sat on her lap he looked at me with a very slightly down-turned look, and I slowly began a gentle smile, as if to say, "I'm here with you." I then felt that I was not attuning with him and I let the corners of my mouth drop gently down, and he smiled briefly and looked away. Once he went into a kind of trance when looking at me, and then snapped out of it. He lay against his mother with a sad, distant look on his face, and this was when I most clearly thought he was depressed about what had happened to him. He seemed almost deliberately to be falling over on the couch. The following week he smiled at me relatively quickly and stuck his tongue out a few times, and his mother looked warm and more relaxed.

She tried to wean him at this point. He hated all food and spat out everything except breast milk. The next five observations felt like a nightmare. His smile at me had very little depth, and once he smiled at his mother this way. She had found Dave hitting Ben's face, which had bruises, and this went on for several days until she stopped Dave. When Dave became extremely distressed about my visiting, for the first time she left him crying, and bundled me out the door. She was distressed and I wondered if she would end the observation.

The following week I had to ring the doorbell twice. Ben's mother said that he had been quite ill and it had been an awful week. His fingers were still swollen when the bandages were removed and the following day he had a painful chest infection bringing up blood, and needed antibiotics and bed rest for five days. He was x-rayed to see if he had pneumonia. When she put him to the breast he could barely move his feet. His cough was very rasping. He was totally fixated on her, as though he had re-discovered her. He hardly smiled at all. She felt the weaning had gone backwards but was still trying to wean him. Ben only wanted one thing in his mouth, the nipple. She said so much had happened to him lately that he had fallen in a heap. I thought that this was not the best time to wean an infant who was so overwhelmed. His mother said that he would only feed for about two minutes and if she did not pick him up, he would just lie there for hours. At times he looked at me very intently. The following week she opened the door saying, "What a life!" She said that Ben's whining had been terrible and he had coughed up some old blood. He had also refused the bottle for four days and she had been desperately trying to be admitted to a mother-baby unit. One unit could not admit her for twelve weeks, and the nurses of another unit were too busy to talk to her for ten days. I did not want to dwell on how awful the observation was.

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