Home Sociology Infant Observation: Creating Transformative Relationships
I. Phase one (birth to three months): anxiety about who is Laura's mother
For David and those around him, the anxiety inherent in all pregnancies (Rustin, M. E., 1989), centred on confusion about who Laura's mother would be; the idea that Laura might be motherless caused great apprehension as did the idea that there were several mothers. I felt moved and impressed by David's courage and resolve to have a child despite psychological, social, and legal hurdles, and also grateful to be accepted into this intimate sphere. Also, I was troubled by David's negative characterisation of surrogates, and by his minimisation of the woman's role in making and having a baby. I wondered what this might mean about his view of the various women in his life, his mother, the baby girl he was about to have, and about his insecurities about the baby's potential attachment to him. I was concerned that his logical, matter-of-fact approach might indicate disconnection from the usual intense wishes, anxieties, and frustrations that accompany having a baby.
Psychological research overwhelmingly reports that children of gay parents do as well as children of heterosexual parents (Barret & Robinson, 2000; Golombok & Tasker, 1994; Miller, 1979; Patterson, 2009), but these are not psychoanalytic studies and most concern lesbian mothers, not gay fathers. Psychoanalytic studies of children of primary caregiving fathers (Chused, 1986; Pruett, 1983, 1992) suggest the children did well, but these children had mothers who worked outside the home. I wondered with my colleagues in our Observation Group whether a baby needs or expects a mother in the form of a woman's body (Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1994) and, if so, whether Laura would sense this was missing. We wondered how she would experience the loss of the surrogate's body and whether David and his male body would be able to provide "good enough mothering." What would the autistic and symbiotic phases be like when the baby's organising partner was a man? Other anxieties centred on the nanny, Ellie, and how important she and her body would be to Laura and whether or not she'd overshadow David. How would I be viewed by David and eventually Laura? How would David think of and explain Laura's origins to her when the time came? Representations of important mothers permeated David's and others' thoughts during this first phase. The idea of a missing mother was on everyone's minds and it was difficult to imagine that this new baby would not miss or crave a "mother."
In his discussion of contemporary directions in infant observation, Michael Rustin (1989, 2006) describes psychoanalysts stretching the containing effects of observation to somewhat more active therapeutic interventions. My consistent weekly presence, listening and watching attentively with pleasure and interest helped abate some of the anxiety, helped sustain David's focus on Laura's experience, and helped him embrace his position as Laura's primary object, relying less on baby care books and more on his reading of Laura's communications and states. The continued processing of the observations with my colleagues very importantly helped distinguish Laura's actual situation and experience from our own expectations and representations of maternal disappointments, deprivations, and loss.
The various mothers in David's and others' minds fluctuated in importance during this fragile early period of primary maternal preoccupation, giving way, finally, to a sense that David and Laura had established a strong symbiotic unity which did not include or seem to need anyone else. Following are some depictions and vignettes of these figures from that time:
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