26 Feb

Case Study: Ghosts in the Nursery

“In every nursery there are ghosts.

They are the visitors from the unremembered past of the parents, the uninvited guests at the christening…”

Parent-infant psychotherapist Yvonne Osafo works for WLAC. She presented this case study to the Trustees in February. It illustrates how she is helping one of WLAC’s clients to ‘evict’ ghosts from her nursery.

Collette (not her real name) was plagued by many ghosts from her past. Her own parents had suffered trauma before she was even conceived and Collette and her siblings were all taken into foster care. Whilst in care, Collette ran away many times and engaged in promiscuity. As an adult she was a victim of domestic violence and both of her own children were taken into care.

Collette was referred to WLAC by a domestic violence organisation when she was about 7 months pregnant with her third child. I met with Collette and her social worker. The social worker made it clear that it was his intention to take the baby into care straight after the birth. However, Collette wanted to fight for her baby. She said she was keen to accept every possible help in order to become a good mother. She engaged eagerly and attended regular sessions of parent-infant psychotherapy.

The initial focus of our therapy was to prepare Collette to fall in love with her baby even before she was born. This involved helping her to imagine what baby would be like and to make plans for her, preparing her to greet her baby and capture the first gaze. After the baby’s birth, the aim was to focus on the bond and the parent-infant relationship.

Collette went to court soon after the birth of her baby. The social worker was still making the case that mother and baby should be separated because of what had happened in the past.

I could see enough good evidence that with the right support, Collette could care for her child. I wrote to the court about Collette’s positive engagement in therapy and suggested that mother and baby should remain together with support. In my view this was in the best interests of the baby. The judge listened and ordered that Collette and her baby should be placed in a foster home.

This did not work out. Back at court, the judge said nevertheless, there had been improvement and that mother and baby should stay together. So they were placed in a mother and baby unit. Our therapy continued. Collette also had ‘Video Interaction Guidance’ support from the Tavistock Clinic. This involves using video feedback to help parents become more sensitive and attuned to their child’s emotional needs.

Collette and her baby thrived. The ‘scaffolding’ in place gave her the support she needed to look after her baby. The unit provided structure for her days with a simple timetable of activities. She knew that she was not alone. She had people she could trust to turn to for advice and support.

Collette is now back in her flat with her baby. The support work continues. At her weekly therapy sessions I have seen her grow in confidence and learn to think independently.

But the ghosts have not yet departed

In order to evict the ghosts from Collette’s nursery it is necessary to help her to revisit her early traumatic experiences, to recognise influences from her own past and to link them to her current functioning. That is how we can facilitate new paths for growth and development for her and her child. This is now the focus of our work together.

Collette is remembering her past: the abuse, the loss, the abandonment and the loneliness. She apologises frequently as she remembers the gruesomeness of her past. She is linking this with her current experience with her baby. She is committed to being the best mother she can be.

The work continues.

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