Empty Cereal Box

Views From Inside an Adoptee

July 22, 2006

Keep Your Baby

I strongly urge any expectant mother who has been coaxed into giving her child up to an infertile couple to read the information-packed site Keep Your Baby. I also quote here from a presentation by Nancy Verrier:

"In her book, Necessary Losses, Judith Viorst tells this story:

A young boy lies in a hospital bed. He is frightened and in pain. Burns cover 40 percent of his small body. Someone has doused him with alcohol and then, unimaginably, has set him on fire.
He cries for his mother.
His mother has set him on fire.
It doesn't seem to matter what kind of mother a child has lost, or how perilous it may be to dwell in her presence. It doesn't matter whether she hurts or hugs. Separation from mother is worse than being in her arms when the bombs are exploding. Separation from mother is sometimes worse than being with her when she is the bomb.

I am not suggesting that we keep children with mothers who will set them on fire, but I am suggesting that we have to understand what it is we are doing when we take him away from her.

It is curious that in the literature there is no differentiation made between the terms mother and primary caregiver. Often it is even pointed out by the author that when using the term "mother" he is actually referring to any mother-figure who acts as the primary caregiver. In other words, it is implied that the mother could be replaced by another primary caregiver with the child's being none the wiser. It is my thesis that this is not true, and that the severing of the ties with the biological mother and replacing her with another primary caregiver does not happen without psychological consequences for both mother and child.

For these babies and their mothers, relinquishment and adoption are not concepts, they are experiences from which neither fully recovers. A child can certainly attach to another caregiver, but rather than a secure, serene feeling of oneness, the attachment in the adoptive relationship may be that which Bowlby referred to as anxious attachment. He noted that "provided there is one particular mother-figure to whom he can relate and who mothers him lovingly, he will in time take to her and treat her almost as though she were his mother." That "almost" is the feeling expressed by some adoptive mothers who feel as if they had accepted the infant as their child, but whose infant had not quite accepted them as mother.

There is reason to believe that during gestation a mother becomes uniquely sensitized to her baby. Donald Winnicott called this phenomenon "primary maternal preoccupation." He believed that toward the end of the pregnancy "the mother gradually develops a state of heightened sensitivity which provides a setting for the infant's constitution to begin to make itself evident, for the developmental tendencies to start to unfold and for the infant to experience spontaneous movement..." He stressed that the mother alone knows what the baby could be feeling and what he needs, because everyone else is outside this area of experience.

The mother's hormonal, physiological, constitutional and emotional preparation provides the child with a security which no one else can. There is a natural flow from the in-utero experience of the baby safely contained within the womb to that of the baby secure within the mother's arms, to the wanderings of the toddler who is then secure in his proximity to her. This security provides the child with a sense of rightness and wholeness of self.

The initial post-natal bonding and imprinting experiences are part of a continuum and according to Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept, are hormonally triggered and must be responded to immediately. She said:

If the imprinting is prevented from taking place, if the baby is taken away when the mother is keyed to caress it, to bring it to her breast, into her arms and into her heart....what happens? It appears that the stimulus to imprint, if not responded to by the expected meeting with the baby, gives way to a state of grief.

It appears that this state of grief is felt, not only by the mother, but also by the baby. There is a natural rhythm and sequence to events which when interrupted, as in the case of the relinquished child, leaves him with a sense of something lost, something missed. The adoptive mother might be at a disadvantage in coping with the affective behavior of the child, for she doesn't understand the depth of his grief or the limitations placed upon her as his mother. She has not been told that her baby has suffered a trauma, a profound sense of loss, and is in some stage of the grief cycle. His security has been challenged, his trust impaired and bonding made more difficult or impossible.

Perhaps this would be a good place to stress the difference between attachment and bonding as I see it, because these two terms are also often used interchangeably in the literature. I believe that it would be safe to say that most adopted children form attachments to their adoptive mothers. Their survival depends upon this. Bonding, on the other hand, may not be so easily achieved. It implies a profound connection which is experienced at all levels of human awareness. In the earliest stages of an infant's life this bond instills the child with a sense of well-being and wholeness necessary to healthy development. The bonding with the biological mother, which begins in utero, is part of a continuum which, if interrupted, has a profound effect on the child. It seems that the loss experienced by the infant is not only the loss of the mother, but a loss of part of the Self."

No adoption agency discloses this information. I propose that this sign should be posted on the wall or website of all adoption agencies.


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