The central principle of Somatic Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology (SPPP) is that we are conscious and sentient from conception onwards. I will share with you here the SPPP perspective on adoption and give you ways that you can ensure your beloved adopted child’s emotional, spiritual, and psychological health and well-being.
The developmental period from conception through post-birth is our most vulnerable, especially the first trimester. It’s common knowledge that miscarriages are more likely to happen in the first trimester, and couples often don’t like to share their pregnancy until they pass this point. In the womb we are having our own experience of our womb environment (our mother), our mother’s life and emotions, and the dynamics surrounding her in her close relationships, and her environment.
Many of the issues resulting from being an adoptee are rooted in the prenatal, birth and immediate newborn period of development. Adoptees often grow within an unwelcoming womb, not wanted by the biological mother. They may experience a short period of equilibrium in the womb, before the parents/mother discover the pregnancy. On discovery, as these pregnancies are often unplanned, there will be whole gamut of feelings and responses to her presence that can mark the beginning of a turbulent time for baby. She will be the recipient of all kinds of feelings ranging from “I don’t want you” to “I want you”, to “I want you, but I can’t keep you because ….”, to ambivalence. There is often a period of time during which the parents consider abortion as an option before deciding upon adoption, in SPPP this is called ‘abortion ideation’ and often has an affect on the child because it creates a period of potential threat to her life. Sometimes the mother will want to keep her baby but will be forced by family members, or by her partner, to give her baby away. There are many dynamics happening around adoptees in the womb, and these have a profound effect on the baby at this formative and vulnerable time. There is much that can be done to support a healthy environment for adoptees in the womb and at birth.
A mother who is going to give her baby away may be reluctant to attach with her unborn baby, or to have much of a positive relationship at all her during pregnancy. As she is not going to keep her baby, she may feel that she cannot, or does not want to, attach. In spite of that, she and her child are symbiotically connected in every way. It’s not sup rising then, that adoptee’s can have deep-seated emotional and psychological issues that go back to this period of their life. This is when our foundations for life are being laid.
If an adoptee felt threatened in the womb due to abortion ideation, hostile feelings towards her, feeling unwanted or unsafe, this can cause her to go into survival mode. When we are in survival mode we can’t thrive – it is not possible to be in survival and thrive simultaneously. We need to be aware of this as the biological parents of an adoptee, and as the adoptive parents. These kinds of imprints can be avoided, and healed, with the right information and support during pregnancy. Survival imprints can leave us with beliefs such as,” I can’t show myself because it is dangerous”, “I have to take care of everyone because then they won’t get rid of me”, “I must be quiet so no one knows I am here”, and so on. These are not cognitive decisions, we have no cognition at this time of life, they are survival imprints and must not be underestimated in the profound effect they can have.
As she approaches birth, an adoptee knows that when she comes out she will lose her mother. Just try to imagine how you would feel about your birth if you knew that once you arrived you would lose your mother. It is a devastating experience to lose your mother in this way, and often leaves the child with deep abandonment issues if not handled properly.
For healthy attachment it is most important that we are with our mother, skin to skin, for at least the first hour after birth when the oxytocin is flowing strongest. Preferably we get to do the breast crawl and be on our mother’s chest/breast area, the perfect environment for a newborn. Some adoptees are lucky enough to have their adoptive parents at their birth, ready to connect with them. It is important that we understand that an adoptee baby must have time to attach to her biological mother at birth before she is transitioned to her adoptive family, even if her adoptive family is there. This is best for the baby, although it may not be what the adoptive parents want. If baby is taken to a nursery or a care center until her new family adopts her, the separation and isolation caused by this can be very traumatic. Sometimes a baby will wait months with no attachment figure, and this has a deep and profound affect on a person’s ability to have healthy attachment in relationships. As an adoptive parent, if you want your child to fully bond with you, you will need to help her with these attachment deficits and breaches, and the trauma caused by it, any other dynamics attached to the prenatal and birth period.
When baby goes to his new family he has already been here for a year or more (9 months in the womb plus however long it took to place him with new parents) and yet his new family is most likely to treat him as if he just started his life. Adoptive parents may not understand that they need to acknowledge the journey, trauma, loss, and devastation that their adopted child has experienced before joining their family. An adopted child has been through enormous loss and trauma, often even before birth. Ideally, adoptive parents would support their new child to integrate their prior experiences. Our culture doesn’t teach us that babies are conscious, sentient beings having their own experience during their early journey into life, so their experience is often not included in adoption transactions. A well-meaning adoptive family may project their own needs onto their new baby, wanting to feel as if their baby’s life has only just begun from the time they met her. This may help adoptive parents to feel like she is their own child, but can make it harder for the baby/child to integrate her significant prior experiences.
An adoptee will grow up unable to put into words her experiences prior to her adoptive family, whilst profoundly and deeply affected by them. Consequently, these little ones end up living a strange, disconnected kind of second life over the top of their ‘first’ life, which is not considered part of their life any longer by their new family. This makes it harder for them to have a felt sense of who they really are, because their core self is not integrated or acknowledged. As adoptive parents find out as much as you can about your child’s past, her journey into life – e.g. how her mother felt, what kind of pregnancy she had, what was going on during that time, how did the bio mother feel about your child during pregnancy and birth, and about adopting, was abortion considered, etc. You can gather your child’s history as much as possible and talk to her about it, with deep empathy and understanding. Ensure that it is held as a sacred part of her journey towards you, and that you know a lot went on before you met. If you are lucky enough to be involved with the bio mother during the pregnancy, you may be able to influence her to love her baby and attach to her lovingly, and you too can build an attachment with baby during this period. You can all talk to baby in the womb and let her know what is going on, how you are feeling, how precious she is, and about what is going on with the adoption dynamics. As you come towards the birth, you can tell her about what is going to happen at the birth e.g. we will be there to meet you, your bio mother will hold you first for a while, and then we will hold you, etc. This really helps baby’s to feel safe and secure, and builds attachment.
Adoptee’s often feel they should be grateful that they were ‘chosen’ or ‘saved’ by their new family, and any unhappy, sad, hurt, or angry feelings or expressions of the earlier trauma – which can be considerable – must be suppressed and/or may be misunderstood.
Some tips for parents considering adoption:
If you are connected with the child that you are going to adopt whilst they are still in the womb:
- This is a great time to attach to her in the womb, if you don’t know how to do this, there are books about prenatal bonding/attachment, and you can get help from a Somatic Prenatal & Perinatal Therapist with this too.
- Talk to your child in her biological mother’s womb, if the mother is open to this, and empathize with her about how it might be for her to be inside a mother who can’t keep her. Tell her what is going on, and tune in to her to receive communications from her which may come in images, dreams, feeling, sensations, etc.
- Find out as much as you can about the biological parents, their family and ancestry. Collect pictures, photo’s, stories, etc that can be kept and shared when your child is old enough. This information also helps if your child needs some help with healing early imprints. What kind of relationship did they have, what do you know about the bio parents, and their parents – what is being passed down? E.g. Is there a history of unwanted children in their ancestry?
- If you were not involved with your baby from conception, find out about as much as you can about what was going on before you got involved, especially from discovery of the pregnancy, and decide if any healing is needed. E.g. if there has been: abortion ideation, lots of stress, drug or alcohol abuse, tension, violence, and trauma in the mother. It is never too early for healing to happen, I have worked with babies in the womb and I highly recommend healing your baby before birth if you know something difficult, stressful or traumatic has happened. This allows baby to return to equilibrium and a feeling of safety in the womb for the remainder of the gestation. Talk to your baby in the womb about what is going on, telling them frequently that it is not about them and there is nothing they have to do about it, and that you are dealing with it. This is very important because baby’s take on a lot in the womb, and you can prevent this by regularly making these differentiation statements.
- If the bio mother is stressed you can support her to de-stress and connect with her baby. She may be able to have a connection with her baby that includes the truth of the upcoming separation, and empathizes with how that might be for her baby. She may be able to love her baby just for this short time they will be together. Parenthood begins at conception, and she may be able to accept that she is being a mother just for this short time. Perhaps she can tell baby “I will love and want you, and cherish you, for as long as you are with me”.
- If you are able to be present at the birth of your adopted baby, talk to her before the birth and tell her what is going to happen. E.g. we are going to be there when you arrive, we are so excited and happy that you are coming. We will hold you lovingly in the transition from your bio mother into our arms understanding you may feel sad or have other feelings about it. We will love you and never forget where you came from and what you went through to get here and be with us. Use whatever words are appropriate for your situation and comfort levels.
- You will have a higher chance of successful bonding and attachment with your adopted child if you support her in the above ways, and she will have a better chance at an integrated self, instead of a split between her pre-adoptive family self and post-adoptive family self.
If you don’t meet your baby until after her birth:
- Find out as much as you can about the biological parents/family, and how the conception, gestation and birth went and think about what might need particular healing and attention. You may not be able to ask the bio parents for this information if they are not available for contact. When I work with babies, they tell their story without words, you can always find someone who is adept and experienced at listening to babies who can help you with this healing and integration.
- Always remember that your baby has had a lot of life before you met her, some of it traumatic and devastating, and she has probably had no help to process these experiences. Listen and empathize, and don’t behave as if she had no life before your family.
- Imagine yourself in the place of your baby, empathizing with what she has been through. You can’t practice too much empathy, and holding space and giving permission for your baby to have her feelings, rage, grief, and sadness as much as needed. Babies need to express their feelings, they need to be listened to just like us! If your baby is crying a lot (trauma crying), or has inconsolable crying, get some support. Aletha Solter’s book “The Crying Baby” can help parents to feel more at ease with a crying baby. We have a tendency in our culture to always want to shush crying baby’s, as long as you know your baby is well, fed, and clean you can allow her, with support and empathy, to have her feelings. Feel into her cry and get a felt sense of the feeling she is conveying to you, look into her eyes and you will see deep emotions.
- Some babies, when overwhelmed, will be very quiet and you may mistakenly decide she is just a “good” baby. If you are adopting a baby you can assume she has been through a lot and be curious about the quietness that could be masking overwhelm and survival strategies.
- If your adopted baby cries a lot, she is traumatized and you need to get help for her from someone who knows how to listen to babies, and who can teach you to do the same.
- If you are adopting a baby from another country: These children have more complicated layers of trauma and loss to deal with because they have not only lost their mother and her biological family, but their culture, country, and people who resemble them physically. Pay attention to these extra losses with empathy and understanding.
- Be patient. If your child has been left with other people between her birth and meeting with you, she will need time to process all that has happened to her, and to attach to you. If you are patient and do the right things, she will honor you with her trust.
Your adopted child has a much better chance at a healthy self image, and a happy life, if she/he has been supported to integrate his/her early developmental period with understanding and empathy. Include your adopted child’s life before she came to your family and she will have much higher chance for happiness, integration, and balance.
If you are already parenting an adopted child, it is never too late to address these early developmental issues. The same is true for those of you who are now adults who were adopted.
1. Primal Connections, Elizabeth Noble
2. The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, Thomas Verny, M.D., with John Kelly
3. Nurturing the Unborn Child, Thomas Verny, M.D. and Pamela Weintraub
4. Welcoming Consciousness, Wendy Anne McCarty, PhD
5. Windows to the Womb, David Chamberlain
6. Stories of the Unborn Soul, Elisabeth Hallett
© 2016 Karen Melton