Setting the scene

All I had learned from previous clinical training was needed for containing very difficult feelings in doing this infant observation. I am grateful for being allowed to participate in the most intimate way in the life of Ben and his family and hope that my attempt to understand their experience honours the difficulties that he and his family faced in his first year. Parents, however much they try to do the best they can, may struggle with difficulties partly due to lack of support and environmental impingement, and partly also with an internal legacy of their own parents' difficulties, intergenerational transmission (Bowlby, 1988; Fraiberg, Adelson & Shapiro, 1975). I have tried to convey what I felt, thought and responded to as accurately as I could. What I describe is as part of trying to find out how one person comes to know another, particularly one who is pre-verbal. I have not omitted initially unfavourable impressions, in the interest of trying to understand better the interplay of the processes of observing and intuitive knowing.

Having taught infant observation for a number of years, I thought that it would be helpful to undertake another one. A nurse who had previously carried out an infant observation suggested a professional couple, who had an eighteen-month boy, Dave, and were shortly expecting their second child, as she thought that I would be likely to observe good enough development. The mother was warm and interested in my observing but at times of repose I thought she had a look of anxiety.

She arranged the first visit when Ben was two weeks old. She said that the birth had gone well but that he would need two operations because some of his fingers and toes were joined. She said that Dave had had a similar operation successfully and asked if it would still be all right for me to observe. Ben was asleep most of the first two visits but very alert in the third visit, when he was just over a month, looked at me for half a minute and smiled. He craned backwards as if trying to see his mother and after feeding he held onto her neckline strongly. Whereas I had had a feeling of anxiety about my first two visits I did not have it the third time.

Ben's mother cancelled two visits because of his operation, followed by a "gastro" upset, and then the removal of his splints. The next visit was the last before the summer break. When I arrived I rang the bell twice. Ben's mother said it sometimes did not work. (The bell not working was a theme throughout the visits, creating anxiety in me, and sometimes a feeling of being punished.) Ben was about seven weeks old and had eyes only for his mother. He was very alert and processing what was happening, and he looked at me unblinking for thirty seconds as if drinking me in and trying to discriminate me. As the operation to separate two fingers on each hand had lasted three and a half hours, his toes and other fingers would be operated on later. The surgeon said that it would not delay his development much, and this visit Ben moved his bandaged hands freely. In the middle of this his mother volunteered, rather starkly, that Dave had a developmental delay and was not walking properly or saying much. I had the thought that Ben seemed more regulated than Dave did. I wondered if one reason that she had consented to the observation (and publication) was to prevent her anxiety and depression having an effect on Ben.

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