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The New Baby: Looking Forward to Baby’s Arrival 

The New Baby: Looking Forward to Baby’s Arrival
Chapter:
(p. 241) Original Broadcast Scripts
Author(s):

Donald W. Winnicott

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date: 16 December 2017

The New Baby: Looking Forward to Baby’s Arrival

An incomplete broadcast script of the second talk in the series The New Baby. BBC Home Service, I. Benzie (Producer). Wednesday, 10 October, 1945.
Winnicott also contributed the eighth talk, ‘Getting to Know Your Baby’ (1945) [CW 12:3:4b], to this series of twelve broadcast talks for expectant mothers. See [CW 12:Introduction].

Presumably if I talk about preparing for the new baby I’m talking principally to expectant mothers. I’ve known a lot of such, and I feel very doubtful whether they want to discuss their expected babies while they are carrying them. Perhaps the last thing they want to do is to sit down in front of a wireless set and think. I don’t even believe they are very good at thinking at the moment, even if at other times they like discussing problems and reading books and listening to the B.B.C.

So it seems to me that we help women who are pregnant, if we can help them at all in this way, by trying as fully as possible to understand what their position in the world is.

When I see someone who’s obviously going to have a baby I feel the same as I did in the war when I met R.A.F. pilots on leave; here we were, talking about this and that over a glass of beer, but to-night or the night after one of us would be snug in bed while the other would be fighting in the dark sky overhead or flying through flak over hostile country. A sailor told me he felt odd walking the streets of Portsmouth on a rough night, watching the people in their houses drawing the curtains and preparing for their supper and bed when he was on his way back to his destroyer and due to spend the night at the mercy of the elements. In the same way we pass a woman in the street, or stand in the same queue with her in a fish shop, and we quite rightly treat her as one of ourselves, and yet we know that she is up against it in a way that we are not, and that in a few months or weeks she and not we must go through a tremendous experience.

(p. 242) The comparison of men’s fighting with women’s child-bearing is surely quite sensible. I would say that no man has a right to put a woman in the family way (as the saying is) unless he has reached that stage in his own development which enables him to risk his own life fighting. It’s not a matter of chance that marriages increase when there’s fighting to be done and that more babies are conceived and born during war-time than in peace-time. For it’s in war especially that men discover new things about themselves including their willingness to risk life in a good cause. Without thinking things out consciously men somehow feel freed by their own bravery to give their woman the corresponding hurt which pregnancy and child-birth involve.

I can hear some people saying that these things oughtn’t to be said out loud because there is a great need for more babies, and the idea of pregnancy as a hurt will frighten girls off having babies of their own altogether. I don’t believe it. I think that girls need to be told that pregnancy is their war, their danger situation, their reality, and I believe that this will appeal to them because it’s true.

When women are with child they say they find themselves changing and we must study these changes and remember that they are entirely natural and, for the most part temporary.

Certainly as your pregnancy establishes itself you find yourself getting heavier and standing differently, and if this is the first, you notice alterations in your shape, especially in the shape of your breasts. Also you may be a bit restless, unable to lie down for more than a certain length of time. To counteract this restlessness you are making clothes and rearranging the room and generally seeing to it that you are not left without occupation.

Every now and again you may be a bit excited about what is happening, but you can’t stay excited all the time, which is perhaps a good thing.

Perhaps you yourself find yourself becoming a bit withdrawn, feeling stupid instead of your usual quick-witted self, magnificently uninterested in the coming municipal elections, in your neighbour’s coal situation, or even in the future of the atomic bomb. Of course I can’t talk to everyone at once, and you may easily be one of those who stride through your pregnancies without turning a hair. Some indeed feel this time to be one of particular peacefulness, so that they read books they’ve never had time to read and listen to music without the usual feeling that a lot of things ought to be being done. Some for the first time feel they are important, or that they’re justified in eating the best food and in expecting to be looked after. But many are quite naturally and normally restless or in some other way changed, and you may well expect it to take some time after the actual birth before you will return to what you are in the ordinary way. To carry inside you six or seven pounds of heaviness which presses up against your diaphragm and heart is no joke, in fact it might be quite enough to turn a talk on the wireless to twaddle. Towards the end it must surely be usual for mothers to become mainly interested in the physical facts: burden, discomfort, limitation of movement, interference with rest.

(p. 243) In a physical sense it’s the baby that’s confined in the mother’s body, but in another it’s the mother who’s confined in her own pregnancy, for the termination of which she can only wait, wait, wait, like a home-sick child at boarding school living with one eye on the calendar. The man who has been in the East for four years and who can’t ever be sure of the date of his demobilisation, he is in the same boat.

As a matter of fact the bodily side of pregnancy’s pretty well understood these days. In most localities there’s efficient help for you both in prevention of mishaps and in treatment of troubles. There are of course the ordinary treatments for morning sickness and indigestion, and the other common disturbances of function, and these troubles can generally be managed by your general practitioner who in the most favourable circumstances will be able to manage the birth too. You may however welcome the ante-natal clinic which you can visit periodically and where you can be examined and be reassured when all is well, or advised as to treatment [missing text] … exactly right. And it must be a great relief … [missing text] booked a nurse for the birth in your own [missing text] … promised a place in a maternity ward of a hospital, so that you know what to tell people to do when the times comes.

We know that child-bearing has its grim side, and we can’t expect women to do this job well unless we see that every one of them can count on getting all the help that can be given in the present state of our medical and surgical knowledge. A man from Burma told me: ‘… the army’s all red tape till you get into the front line, but once you’re in actual contact with the Japs you’ve only to ask for a pair of boots over the radio and they’re thrown at you next day by parachute.’ You who are bearing a child must have priority, and I think this is very largely carried out in fact. Even through the war expectant mothers have had enough food and have been able to get the best medical advice available in the district, in spite of shortage of doctors and nurses. And all this has been so not because the country wants more children to fight the next war, but because the recognition that men do brave things in fighting makes it easy to see the brave things women do in child-bearing. On the physical side many of you can say that you are well cared for, if you make full use of the facilities provided.

This very important thing, the management of the physical side of child-birth, is not all. Skillful care of bodies is not enough! I would say that every woman at this time needs a doctor whom she gets to know and to trust, and who comes to have a personal interest in her and in the baby that is expected. She will need to have such confidence in him that she will be able to lose consciousness and still feel that her cause is not neglected. This goes for the nurses too. Obviously the best thing would be for one doctor to see you through, and for one nurse to be in charge before and after the actual birth, but this state of affairs cannot often be, because there aren’t enough, nor ever will be enough doctors and nurses. If in a maternity hospital you find not only modern equipment and methods but also a kind of management (p. 244) that is personal with someone there who believes in you, you are in clover. You’ll agree that doctors and nurses are no good however much skill they practice, unless they believe in you as a whole human being. You want their care and their skill and you are quite likely to get both. You will especially need a human doctor if your husband is away and cannot even get home on compassionate leave. But wherever your husband is, home or away he too will want to know who is representing himself by looking after you. A baby’s a matter of joint responsibility from the word ‘go’, and it’s maddening for him not to be able to play his part at such an important moment of his life as the birth of his child.

For many of you, I know, the personal and wise management of your case by the doctor you know is enough to allay the anxieties that might otherwise be complicating your nine months’ vigil, but you should not think it strange if you find the strain to be on the mind as well as on the body. Irrational fears and depressions may come along, and if you know they may come you’ll better be able to wait for them to go, instead of adding panic to the rest of the discomfort. They tend to go when the baby is born. I know a mother who for a short time in her pregnancy had a wish to eat all sorts of things she would have scorned to eat normally. This passed. Another I spoke about just now felt convinced the world would end, but it didn’t, and she now walks about with a healthy boy, and both are very much part of the world. Another was full of the fear that she would fail when it came to breast-feeding, but in the end she found this came to her easily. Another was alarmed at the degree to which she was becoming withdrawn into herself. She felt she would lose touch with reality altogether. She felt the world to be a hostile place, in which she would never be able to walk freely again. But the birth of the child enabled her to return to external reality as surely as the baby was then outside instead of inside her body. These things need not alarm if it is known that pregnancy can in some cases be a severe strain on the mind as well as on the body.

In the vast majority of cases the birth of a healthy human baby brings true relief. The physical relief is unspeakable, and if there is mental stress and strain this too is relieved, when the inside lump turns into an outside baby. Don’t be surprised, though, if it takes time for relief to be complete.

So in this series of talks we come to the birth of the baby, and with it a change in the mother which I think makes her more likely than before to want to listen to discussions on infant and child care. I hope you have been able to feel from this talk that we do know you are going through it, or that you have gone through it and are by now rapidly forgetting what a strain it was. You have won our respect and we would like to help you by telling you the things we have learned by talking to mothers who have been through the experience of caring for their own children as they grow and grow up.