chapter  7
25 Pages

The mother

Just as the seedling, newly ejected from its pod, enters the world in the assurance that it will contain soil, so the infant, expelled from the womb, approaches life on the assumption that it will provide a mother; for the mother is to the child what ‘mother earth’ is to the seed: without her it would perish. As we have seen, the human infant at birth is one of the most helpless of creatures, as though ‘from his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d’ a good nine months too soon. Much of the first year of human life may, therefore, be regarded as a ‘post-uterine embryonic phase’. Such a degree of helplessness renders the mother absolutely indispensable: she is the baby’s ‘life-support system’ in a dangerous, inhospitable world. As Erich Neumann has put it: ‘the mother’s existence is the absolute life-giving and life-regulating precondition of infant existence, which alone makes its development possible’ (1973, p. 17). At first the infant takes this ministering angel entirely for granted; it is only towards the end of the ‘post-uterine embryonic phase’ that he begins to perceive her as a person in her own right and a genuine relationship between them becomes possible. Nevertheless, even before a specific attachment bond can be said to have formed, a great deal of social interaction goes on during which the child develops the repertory of behaviours which he will later use to express the love and need he has for the person he recognizes as his mother.