Home Sociology Infant Observation: Creating Transformative Relationships
At the end of the first year a predominant shared internal image for the mother and the female caregivers was a strong wish for the baby to grow up quickly. Each wanted to be free of the demand of the role of provider and to have an alternative experience free of the restriction of the home. However they seemed bound by the shared internal image that their place remained the home and they could not envisage going outside. The grandmother and mother use the children as a receptacle for their frustration. They are encouraged internally to project their anger and frustration on to the baby and his brother by encouraging him to hit his brother, although this is presented as a teasing game. Both brothers express their frustration in a passive- aggressive way in refusing to drink their milk and with the older brother it extends to refusing to study. Are they simply developing independence or is this their way of expressing some upset by blocking the feeding?
It was a perplexing experience for the observer when at one year when she was consistently confronted with the request to the baby and her, "Didi will take you out." Did this statement indicate their wish for the observer to share in the baby's care, or a wish for them to have some fun together? The feeling was that the communication was more complex. It seemed that for the family the observer belonged to the "outside world" and they had an underlying hope that by taking the baby into this world he would separate from them and be part of it while they would remain at home in their roles of mothers and homemakers.
Bick showed with convincing detail how a new mother can feel totally responsible for her baby, so much so that she has a feeling of imprisonment. She has lost her identity and no longer feels competent. She used to be someone in her job, in her marriage, in her social life. She feels therefore very uncertain and in this sense is in the same position as her baby, who has not yet found his sense of identity. This crisis of identity is present with the arrival of each new child to some extent depending on how the mother has been able to negotiate her role as a mother. There is an experience of loss of the old self and a general experience of loss, helplessness, and depression. Her depression manifests itself in a partial withdrawal from her baby. She gives the breast to feed from but withholds herself. She may hold the baby in her arms and on her lap but not hold him in mind. The depression in the mother is universal. Glimpses of this depressive state were evident in this account. Many mothers receive considerable support with the first child with the traditional forty days, which is supportive for a new mother at this time. The degree of support that a mother receives with the second child is not commensurate with the previous experience. It seems as if this may have been an issue for this mother and baby. However she did receive on-going support from the multiple mothering around her and their shared internal image of caring to help her and her baby negotiate the early days, the weaning from the nipple-in-the-mouth holding to movement towards independence. She maintained an image that help was always available whether with the grandmother, aunt, husband, and her family. All the family had the shared internal phantasy that Nikhil had the capacity to grip on to his objects and to life.
In the course of this year's infant observation experience, the observer developed a complex picture of this baby growing up in a joint family. The method of psychoanalytic baby observation provided the equipment for highlighting the complexity of the development of the baby through its predominantly narrative case study approach.
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Collected Papers of Martha Harris and Esther Bick (pp. 240-256), 1987. Perth: Clunie Press.
Briggs, S. (1997). Observing when infants are at potential risk. In: S. Reid (Ed), Developments in Infant Observation: The Tavistock Model (pp. 207-227). London: Routledge.
Grier, F. (2000). Some Factors Affecting Feeding Difficulties in Two Asian Children. M. A. dissertation. Kakar, S. (1978). The Inner World. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Kurtz, S. M. (1992). All the Mothers are One. Hindu India and the Cultural Reshaping of Psychoanalysis. New York: Columbia University Press.
Magagna, J. (1997). Shared unconscious and conscious perceptions in the nanny-parent interaction which affect the emotional development of the infant. In: S. Reid (Ed), Developments in Infant Observation: The Tavistock Model (pp.). London: Routledge.
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