Perhaps the mother’s recollection speaks a degree of identification with the baby clothes – a desire that she, the mother, might partake of the newborns innocence; that in giving birth she too will have been reborn, granted the gift not just of innocence but of a fresh start. More specially, the ‘immaculate’ may be read back to the baby’s very conception; as an expression of mother’s wish for us to have been her alone.
It seems, than that the mother’s love for her baby, not at least in its retrospective assertion, is far from UN-ambivalent. She tells the grown-up daughter who has left her. Loved me, that is, in my immaculate, unspoiled state: which suggests that this love had a hard time, and very likely failed, to survive the loss of innocence, to survive the baby’s growing older and the mother’s learning the hard lesson that life carries on much as before, except that now there is another mouth – and one that talks back, into the bargain – to feed.
In readings which shift back and forth across contexts – from the cultural to the familial to the individual to a specific constellation of family relations – the notion constantly re-emerges, in different shapes and forms, of infancy as spot-lessons, innocence; and of the figure, the image, of the newborn child as embodying at once a desire for return to innocence and a knowledge of the absolute impossibility of such a return.
It is also apparent, though, that the naked and ‘immaculate’ body of the newborn Annette figured for my mother as tabula rasa, an empty slate, on which her own desires could be written – in an endeavor, perhaps, to repair lacks of her own. Born fourth in a family of seven, the fourth daughter of a man who desperately wanted a son, she felt she had never been wanted, loved, or cared for enough, certainly by her father (in her account a violent man and a poor provider) who despite – or perhaps because of his absence at war figured overwhelmingly in her childhood memories.
It seems clear to me today that my mother’s love for the ‘immaculate’ baby Annette was marked very much by a quest to love the abandoned and unloved child she herself had been: in other words, that this maternal love involved a work of identification; identification then subjected to threat through that erosion of the ideal that comes with the inevitable loss of the innocence attaching to the figure for fitted a baby girl clothes.
She holds on firmly to the little girls clothes who is hers, whom she will perhaps desire to her alone. But children are a drain and a drag: they cost money and, worse, they tie you down. When I came along, unintended, her younger son was thirteen and she was finished with child rearing. Life had not been easy with the boys and their father, and now in her late thirties she was hoping, at last, for a good time.
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