During the months that I played babysitter for the circumcised baby, his mother was allowed supervised visits to breastfeed him in the evenings when she got home from work. It was a bit awkward at first. Baring her breast to feed her infant seemed the equivalent of her getting naked and I was terribly embarrassed by it. Nevertheless, we sat there watching her like it was some kind of family entertainment as she laughed and played with her son. She was a healthy mother with a healthy baby. All was well. All was always well as long as she was not left unsupervised with him.
The incidents leading up to him being taken from her were strange. Her husband came upstairs and had whispered conversations with my parents a few time. There were occasions when there were outright brawls between the two of them downstairs, and she would run up the stairs to complain to my mother first, then he would later have to defend himself against her accusations. The long and short of the matter is that she was inflicting pain on the baby. What? Yes, her husband swore it was so. She was finding little ways to hurt the baby and whenever he caught her in the act he would become enraged and strike out, and she would hit back, and things would get ugly fast, and my mother would then be called in to play Referee.
The whispered conversations had to do with her not being ‘herself’ and the probability that some evil energy was working through her. This was validated a few times when she would seem to blackout after an incident, and having revived, would enquire what had happened. She claimed to have to memory of trying to hurt her baby or husband. I do recall her husband coming home one day for lunch and finding that his key was unable to open the lock. He banged on the door, but she would not respond. He immediately felt something was afoot and went to the back of the house where he broke one of the kitchen windows so that he could reach to unlock it and climbed in. He did not find her in the bedroom. When he went to the bathroom, there she was, holding the baby down in a tub full of water. It was the day she almost went to see her Maker. It was the last straw. He loved his wife, but something had to give. There was a brawl, then silence. She was ‘herself’ again. The incident was recounted to her. She broke down in tears. It was concluded that spiritual intervention was necessary.
We all have eyes, but the lenses differ from person to person, so we see things differently. What my mother’s tenant was experiencing could easily be classified as Postnatal Depression. This lady’s hostility and indifference to both her husband and baby were in no strange to wide range of experiences brought on by this condition. It is easier to accept this kind of behavior from a first-time mother who probably did not have physical and emotional support during pregnancy from friends and family, or who had a poor relationship with her partner, or who just happened to have a very demanding baby. But this was a third-time mother, who, on a regular day was a very nice person with a supportive spouse. This phase she was going through not only affected the baby and her spouse, but also her older son. I do recall him running out of the house whenever an argument was brewing. And I have lived long enough to see the statistics proven true in his case that: children of women with Postnatal Depression tend to do less in life, both in terms of behavior and intelligence.
It might have been suggested that the mother be treated with medication or psychotherapy as they are both helpful for persons suffering with this condition, but it should also be noted that these treatments do not directly improve mother-infant interaction. Infant Massage does. This particular mother experienced a lot of guilt about not being there, though she physically was, and not getting it right, though she did on many occasions, but the loudness of the contrary behavior drowned out her positive strides, and when she could not take it anymore, she attempted suicide. But I could see from her supervised visits that she still had it in her to be a good mother. And the non-judgmental and forgiving way in which a baby looks at its mother is incentive enough to try again.
This is exactly what my mother facilitated. She prayed with her, and she encouraged her to keep trying. The bonding time increased. She was allowed to bath and pamper her baby to her satisfaction. The massage came naturally after the bath. She would sit on the chair, with him on her lap and oil him thoroughly, then stretch him, and gave him a little tickle here and there, and they laughed a lot together. These were deeply relaxing moments which allowed the neuropsychological balancing that was necessary for both of their development. So, yes, it was family entertainment, but it was also a family playing the role of a support group. In the midst of us she was not isolated and there was scope to share her feelings and be encouraged by my mother’s many experiences, and also by the cues of her own baby.