Dear BBC - I listened to the interview with Paloma Faith this morning (first item on the radio programme) and found it interesting, heartwarming and rather moving. I also listened to her ‘honest thoughts’ about motherhood (3 min video clip). I thought it was great to hear her speak so candidly about her feelings about the early months of motherhood – and I am sure that many new mothers out there will be reassured that they are not alone in their experiences.
However, I was concerned that a couple of her feelings came across as ‘facts’ which, if heard as such, are misleading. For example, she began by saying that “the child can’t see – they are just looking through you – you may as well be anyone or invisible”. This is very inaccurate. From birth a baby knows their mother by her unique and familiar voice, smell and taste. They are attracted to and want to make sense of facial expressions. Within minutes of being born they show a preference for people rather than objects. They study faces intently and from birth are able to copy simple expressions or actions (see 20-second video clip from the ‘Secret life of babies'). By two or three weeks old, babies will stare intently into another person’s eyes and will soon learn to look at the same thing as someone else by following the direction of their gaze. All these things help the baby to form secure attachment relationships, help the mother to bond with her baby and are fundamental to language development.
Of course, it may feel as though your baby can’t see you, that you are invisible etc - especially when you are exhausted, or depressed. You also may miss your baby’s efforts to communicate with you if you believe that babies can’t actually see – or if you simply don’t know that they will be trying to communicate with you from the very first moment.
So, it is incredibly important to support parents to understand that babies can see (and hear) and to know why looking at their baby, talking to them, and responding to their body language is really important for their development.
This is not about being a perfect parent – far from it! It is really important to acknowledge that mothers are under all kinds of stress and that it is so helpful to be able to talk honestly about their feelings.
So, I think it is a brilliant interview for debunking the myth that everyone woman will (or should) sail through the early days of motherhood on a milky hormone-high, and to encourage women to talk about their experiences and feelings. But, as the interview is billed as ‘truths about motherhood’ (and because Paloma is such an iconic role model), I worry that new parents (or grandparents or prospective parents) might have picked up unhelpful messages which could have a negative impact on the ways that they interact with their babies.
I wouldn’t suggest changing the interview in any way – but I wondered if the messaging around the interview could be altered to make it clear that babies can see from birth, and they are likely to smile way before they are six months old?