In the field of Somatic Pre & Perinatal Psychology we know that attachment begins much earlier than birth, potentially even before conception. Preconception through early infancy is our foundational period of development. Wisdom gathered from within the pre- and perinatal community is continually being validated by research, which is available at www.birthpsychology.com.
The belief held within mainstream psychology has been that attachment begins at birth, or even later. Despite this mothers and babies are routinely separated in hospital birthing. The first hours after birth are crucial, sacred and are a very important part of our attachment imprinting. Birth is a time for connection, holding, gazing, smelling and meeting. I would like to see the importance of attachment at birth acknowledged by the medical birthing community, and an end to the routine separation of babies and mothers in hospitals.
We have to attach – it’s imperative for survival, even if our attachment environment is challenging, toxic, or at the extreme end of the spectrum, life threatening. A big moment for us all in the womb is during implantation. On entering the womb our next step is to find a place to implant in the lining of our mothers womb. Our mother is our first physical home, into which we literally burrow to attach. If we don’t attach we won’t survive. Here are three examples of pre and perinatal attachment dynamics:
1. Angela was a very wanted baby who came into a womb in which there had been two prior abortions that had not been grieved by her mother. The unprocessed abortion imprints created an environment that felt unsafe to Angela, and left her feeling that her life too was under threat. As prenate’s we are aware of what has happened in the womb before us and the previous occupants had not made it. Even though nothing happened directly to Angela, and she was wanted, she felt that she was in a life-threatening environment. In response to her environment Angela became hyper-vigilant (constantly alert) and held the mistaken belief that people are dangerous, and the world is unsafe. She was unable to more securely attach later as an adult when she got support to resolve, integrate and understand the root of her issues.
2. Tim’s mother was compromised emotionally/psychologically when she was pregnant. He knew that his mother didn’t have the resources she needed. In the womb we know everything about our mother – how she feels, what her resources are, who she is, etc and we are having our own response to our environment. Tim felt that, as a prenate, he had to take care of his mother which is a common prenatal survival response when there are low or challenged resources. The feeling is, “If I don’t take care of her, I won’t make it”. This can result in a person who is a compulsive caretaker, a behaviour that is often based in anxiety coming from their Little One (their inner prenatal baby) that s/he will die if not compulsively caring for people. This dynamic and imprinting makes secure attachment harder because relationships are driven by survival fear.
3. Natasha came into her life feeling reluctant and ambivalent. She did not fully want to leave Source to come into a body and a new family, and felt coerced to do so. This pre-conception dynamic manifested in her feeling dissociated, unable to be fully present in her body, and angry about being here at all. Natasha developed an avoidant attachment style – unable to fully arrive here she couldn’t fully attach. Her ambivalence about life showed up in her attachment style and relationship dynamics. She could attach to people as long as she avoided full connection, or for short periods of time, and and then she would need to leave or dissociate again. Resolving her ambivalence, and integrating her experience of coercion, helped her to more fully embody, and to feel more connected with herself and others. She made a choice for herself about being fully here.
As conscious, sentient beings from pre-conception we all make many choices on our way into our life. We also form beliefs about life, people, our parents, relationships, whether we are safe or not, etc. We have experiences to which we respond and both of these become part of our early imprinting. Our beliefs, perceptions and imprints are not necessarily about a situation that continued after our birth, but we can continue to feel or respond to life as we did in the womb, unless we get some help to make changes and heal. Our Little One within often doesn’t know that anything has changed since their time in the womb, so they continue to feel and respond as a prenate often right into adulthood. This is the power of early imprinting; in the womb we are learning about what we need to survive here, and whether it’s safe to attach to people fully and feel secure and safe enough.
Trans-generational Imprints Affect Attachment:
Stress and trauma profoundly affect the way that we orient to people, and to life. Growing in a womb that we perceive as unsafe or stressful means that our system develops around the need for self protection, bracing against stress or unsafe people/events. Growing in a safe, loving womb with parents who welcome, love and connect with us creates calm, present, empathic people. Whatever our womb environment our training there becomes an automatic way of life, an unconscious orientation. It’s important to know that early imprints can be healed and transformed.
There is often a layer of ancestral imprinting that we have to deal with when we com into a family. Ancestral attachment dynamics are passed down unconsciously from generation to generation, usually without question. They are the behaviours and dynamics (the good and the challenging) and traumas in our family of origin that seem normal to us because they feel like, That’s just the way life is’, and that this is the way it’s always been done. If our maternal grandmother was unable to successfully attach to our mother, or to meet her needs, our mother may in turn have found it difficult to attach to us and meet our needs. These are dynamics that can be worked with and changed; we’re are not stuck with them, and it’s certainly a good idea to explore ancestral dynamics, and our own personal imprinting, before conceiving a child.
Attachment Imprints and Choosing A Partner:
Most of us choose our significant others very unconsciously. Our Little One holds all the memories of our journey-into-life, and s/he is often very involved in our relationship choices. This can make for difficult relationships with incompatible people who, at a deep somatic and unconscious level, are perfectly in sync with our early imprinting. When we take a deeper look into our relational/attachment dynamics we will often find their roots in our pre and perinatal foundations.
It’s possible to have relationships that heal our attachment wounds, and intimate partners can choose to make this healing a conscious part of their relationship. Our attraction to our significant others are much more unconscious than we might like to think. We may attract a partner who keeps us stuck in old, early patterns. A positive way to see this is that each person has a Little One (prenatal self) within that is continually expressing their unresolved early experiences by showing up through relationship and attachment dynamics. If we can learn to listen to ourselves, and each other, in a new way to those repeating dynamics in our lives – with empathy and understanding – and connect with our Little One, there is the potential for healing and a shift in our relationships.
Our attachment dynamics can hold layers from a variety of events, timeline’s and ages. These layers may need to be unraveled before a full understanding can be reached about what happened, how we responded to it and why we feel this way. E.g. Emily’s mother was unable to attach fully to her after they suffered a long separation post-birth. Later at age five Emily went into hospital and whilst she was there her post-birth separation and attachment trauma was triggered. Emily had not yet had the support to recover from her earlier hospital experience and this unresolved trauma made the later hospital stay much more challenging. Her Little One was still distressed about the earlier separation. Separation for babies is challenging at best because they are totally dependant, and their cortisol levels (stress hormones) go up considerably during a separation.
It’s important to learn about our journey-into-life and the resulting attachment imprints and dynamics, so that we can get support for change if needed. It also helps us to understand what’s happening in relationships with significant others. Having this deeper understanding of ourselves can help us to be more discerning about choosing the right partner, give us more choice, create deeper intimacy, and build new internal resources for healthier relationships. See article Internal Resources and Why We Need Them
Early Attachment Parenting:
It is particularly important to take a look at how we come into life, and at our attachment dynamics, when considering stepping into parenthood. Exploring this before conception is ideal, and it can be explored throughout pregnancy too. Get my free e-book ‘Early Memory: How We Remember Our Prenatal Life’ by subscribing to my occasional newsletter, and take a look at my Love Your Baby Into Life classes for conscious early parenting support.
I advocate for early attachment parenting; connecting with our conscious baby from pre-conception and throughout pregnancy and birth, preparation before pregnancy, and building a secure attachment as early as possible. An important advantage of conscious early parenting is that it creates a buffer between baby and life’s stresses, and grows resilience in our children. It’s never too early to begin attachment parenting. In our fast moving, high stress world, we all need as much buffer as we can get. The earlier we begin conscious attachment parenting, the better for the whole family. Another great advantage of early attachment parenting is that if something stressful, or traumatic does happen during pregnancy, we have a beautiful and strong two-way connection with our baby in which we can heal and repair stress and hurts, and protect them with our attachment buffer.
© 2022 Karen Melton
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