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  • what is a baby?

    One of the best known, and arguably, most important statements by a therapeutic figure about babies is this, from D. W. Winnicott: 

    There is no such thing as a baby... If you set out to describe a baby, you will find you are describing a baby and someone. 

    People sometimes take this statement to mean that babies cannot survive without the nurturance of another person, who commits themselves to the baby's care. And that it is accurate. In babyhood, we are profoundly dependent on another person to ensure our physical security and wellbeing.

    But Winnicott is saying something more than this here. He is suggesting that the very personhood of the baby is dependent on the ongoing relationship between the baby and person who loves her/him. That without that loving attention, the baby cannot become a person in the truest sense of the word. That to develop a self, and a sense of self, a baby must see her/himself reflected in someone's face, someone who mirrors back to the baby what it is that the baby is experiencing--and who in doing so demonstrates that the experience is bearable, that it is meaningful, that there are ways of talking and thinking and feeling about it, that it can therefore be shared, and that it belongs to the baby--that the baby is its own distinct person. Without that mirroring presence, the baby is lost in a morass of sensation that has no proportion and no meaning; without it, the baby cannot make sense of her/himself, or of the world.

    This, Winnicott suggests, is the way in which the develpment of the person unfolds, in the awareness of another who lends their presence to the developing person we call "baby," who helps the baby to be with their own experience by being with the baby, and who in doing so helps the baby to become a person. That person is what Winnicott calls--writing in the 1940s--"the ordinary devoted mother," the subject of a future post.