Medium 9781855753075

Backwards in Time

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This compact classic describes Alessandra Piontelli's experience of observing two babies over several years. These children came from diverse social, economic and familial backgrounds but a number of interesting similarities arose to make them a good choice for comparison out of the many babies observed by Dr Piontelli throughout her career. This book is required reading for all students and professionals involved in the important field of infant observation.

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I - Martin

ePub

I

Martin

[I observed Martin regularly for about two and a half years. Then my visits continued on a more or less yearly basis. Martin is now eleven years old.]

Mrs T 1

I first met Mrs T in November, 1971. She was introduced to me by Dr S who was my gynaecologist at the time. I was looking for a mother to observe and I asked him whether he could help me to find a suitable one among his patients. He phoned a few days later to say that Mrs T had immediately accepted the idea of an observer coming regularly to visit her and that the baby was due in about a fortnight. He told me that she was very wealthy, living in Belgravia and he described her as an intelligent woman, modern, full of life and with wide interests, although he also added that she was living a rather confused life, probably not what one would expect to be an ideal mother to observe but certainly an interesting person. He also told me that she was in her late thirties, married to a French nobleman who had just recently settled in England. She already had a daughter of two from a previous marriage or perhaps a former boy friend. Dr S did not know what her profession was, but he thought that she was involved in some kind of artistic activity; nor did he know what her husband's profession was, but since he was wealthy, he probably lived on his family fortune. He did know that he was mad about sailing, gambling and polo.

 

II - Jack

ePub

II

Jack

[I observed Jack regularly for about one year. Then, as the family moved to an even more remote district, I kept in contact with them on a once-a-term basis until Jack was four years old.]

The background of Mrs G and her family could hardly have been more different from that of Mrs T for they lived on the outskirts of London – a poor, gloomy, working-class area, densely populated by Irish immigrants – in a small, overcrowded, poorly lit, semi-detached brick house. Mrs G had been a maid before setting up her large family. The flat was extremely sparsely furnished. For friends Mrs G relied on her neighbours, a crowd of chattering Irish women who would drop in to compare notes on the latest price of cabbages, sprouts, turnips, carrots and so on. This observation was accordingly far less colourful and eventful than the first one. But the monotony and drabness were not just due to the setting, for they were in fact characteristics, and important ones, of this particular family, as I hope will emerge from my account.

 

III - Review

ePub

III

Review

Backwards in time

Since I did not observe these two babies from birth I shall never know how they were right from the start. Martin was already fifteen days old when I saw him properly for the first time, and my first observation of Jack took place around the time when he should have been born had he not been premature; he was then one month old. A fortnight – and even more, a month – is a long time for a baby. Neither had I any means of knowing anything about the nine crucial months of pregnancy. One can only speculate about their life inside the womb. I was, however, in a position to observe the impact that their environment seemed to have on them from very early days and to see some of the means and mechanisms each employed to cope with the impact on them of their post-natal world. Clearly, however, I was not in any position to tell their ‘whole’ story even over the time when I knew them.

A marked retreat seemed evident in Martin from the beginning: in his closing his eyes to the world, in his obsessive and constant movements, in his resisting novelties and pushing them away with his tongue. Jack seemed to have been born more open although also very vulnerable, and in a sense probably not yet ready to be born. It is impossible to know what kind of influences and experiences they may have felt inside the womb. Yet both babies had come out of the womb at least physically fit for post-natal life and in this respect pre-natal life had proved safe for them. That stage, however, had ended suddenly, and presumably unexpectedly, as their births were traumatic: Martin was born through Caesarean section and Jack was born prematurely. The relative security and protection of the womb was then abruptly replaced by the harsh impact of other human beings and of a world in which they were bombarded by confusion, bewilderment, disappointment, and in Martin's case by humiliation, and in Jack's by absent-mindedness and emotional poverty.

 

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