Let’s try to see life through the eyes of a baby.
At this stage of development, an infant is totally, 100%, dependent on his mother. He believes (or rather – he just knows – he is not yet old enough to form a “belief”) that if she leaves, he will die. He is utterly dependent on others for survival.
So, he has his survival mechanisms. If he is left alone for too long he becomes scared and cries. The cry of her baby is usually almost unbearable to a mother – she is compelled to pick him or her up, to comfort, to feed, to do whatever is necessary.
If the initial cry is not successful, the protests will become more determined. Cries will become bawls and then screams of anger. Anger will become rage – he wants her, he needs her, and nobody but her will do! Anyone who has had to deal with an infant like this knows that that tiny unit can make a lot of sound. Once mum comes back though – all is quickly forgiven.
This baby really is crying for his life. At this age – he is not even aware that he and his mother are different people. Hers are the only eyes that he recognises. His emotions at this point are a mixture of rage, and a very real, primal fear. He knows, instinctively, that he needs her to feed him and protect him. It is through her touch that he will come to know even about the existence of his own body.
But – what if he really has been abandoned? Bruce Chatwin says, in his book “The Songlines” (p. 231):
“Visitors to a baby ward in hospital are often surprised by the silence. Yet, if a mother really has abandoned her child, its only chance of survival is to shut its mouth.”
At some stage, a kind of shock sets in. He waits and hopes for her return. There is no real asking why, or reasoning about it – his mind is not yet capable of that. That will come later. All there is, is longing and waiting – deep, aching and silent.
Now, if you were abandoned by your mother, clearly someone did at some point take care of you. Otherwise, you would not be here. How soon that happened depends on your exact circumstances – most likely your carers or others will tell you what actually happened. In my case, I know that my father was initially left with myself and my sister (who was around 2 or 3), that a family friend looked after us for a few weeks or months, after which my wonderful foster family stepped in. My earliest conscious memories stem from the time when I lived with them. (I saw my dad and sister weekly.)
I am also pretty sure, both from things my father told me, and from the dreams and the dramas of my adult life, that the process I went through was pretty much as I have described it above.
To return to the “car” analogy – we can try to “recreate the scene of the accident”. What does this do, and how does it help? It helps me to understand the specific traumas that I suffered, and to identify the patterns they created in my adult life.
Once again – what does it feel like not to have a mother?