Home Sociology Infant Observation: Creating Transformative Relationships
The early months
The first visit when the baby is twenty-two days old shows how this family have a shared image of supporting the mother and baby relationship. The mother feels harassed and burdened, and needs to attend to her own physical and emotional needs. The observer is made to wait while the mother feeds herself. The baby is cranky and protesting and dissatisfied. The mother's experience of feeding her baby is draining and depressing as she feels that she must constantly feed him because she feels that he is continually empty. The sense of being responsible for the baby, his older brother and her other chores seem to have made her feel persecuted and intruded upon. She is relieved to be able to give her baby to the grandmother and grateful to her for soothing him. However does this sharing help her to feel reassured that she is a good mother or does it lessen her belief in herself and her relationship with her baby?
After some visits it becomes evident that the mother wants the baby's feeding to be a private affair where she can be alone with him. The feeds seem brief to the observer as the mother quickly puts the baby down after the feed and goes to attend to her chores as well as her older child. When she distances herself quickly from the baby she seems to have difficulty staying with his need to be attended to emotionally rather than physically placated. She seems to rely on others to provide for him emotionally and likes this sense of sharing the care. The grandmother is there to support her and takes a pride in her capacity to care for her grandchild. The mother by giving her child to be cared for by her female family members shares the experience of caring and encourages a bonding with them. This sharing gives her pleasure and seems to lessen her sense of terror of the baby being exclusively dependent on her personal resources.
Later the picture develops of a mother who clearly has taken a role as providing certain functions for her baby—preparing food, feeding and cleaning him, washing his clothes, and after this she turns to feeding his brother, attending to his studies. She seems to have unresolved difficulties with her older child making it difficult to make space for her second child and to cope with her older child's upsets. What we observe is a baby who is searching for his mother who is difficult to reach, at times absent. However he has a good-enough experience, and through his own innate capacities is able to grip on to who is available whether it is his grandmother who soothes him, his aunt or the observer.
There is a sense of a communal attunement to the baby's needs but the mother continues to have a feeling of emptiness. She has numerous tasks to attend to which contribute to her unsettled state and mother and baby remain dissatisfied in this disjointed experience, which contributes to her depleted state. In this harassed and fragile state she is unable to stay with him and provide her own containment in a more sustained way. It becomes a cycle of deprivation. At times she experiences her situation with her demanding children and her chores as a dark well where her own needs are not reached emotionally. The paternal grandmother and aunt try to provide her with support and to help her find an answer to the baby's unsettled state and work through the difficulties. The family turned to the observer as a potential expert for answers to alleviate their persecuted state. The cycle is broken and the mother seems more able to provide this containment when she returns for Diwali to her mother and her family home.
At three months she reports that the baby is able to hold people in mind and she too seems more able to hold him in mind in a containing way. She begins to play with him. However this is not sustained in the observations and she continues to depend on the grandmother, the aunt or the observer to play with him as she needs to distance herself from him. She communicates her ambivalent feelings to the observer. She feels left out by the restriction not to take the baby out until he is seven months but despite this she expresses her fulfilment, attachment to her children and sense of joy in her son. This "no exit" for seven months from what she sees as routine means in effect "no entry" into her personal life. She turns to her husband for help but the observer is left with the difficult feelings of vulnerability, frustration, and persecution that both the mother and her baby face.
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