Saturday, May 19, 2012

Worth repeating

I got an email today from a reader who is an adoptive parent. I won't share their name and I feel slightly bad sharing their comment but I really, really think this is information that needs to be out there in as many places as possible.

The reader says "I'm seeing lots of comments about him being quiet, not fussing, very little crying etc. I just wanted to share my thoughts with you. Attachment springs to mind. I'm not sure if you know much about attachment and if you do forgive me but if you don't it might be worth looking in to."

Short answer (and actually slightly rude): why is it bad for a baby to be quiet and not fuss? this sounds like something my mother would say! Baby Spouse is actually one of the happiest, sunniest babies that most people we know have ever met. And premature babies are often quiet and don't cry. That's what the NICU staff told us and I'll take their word over someone who hasn't had any newborns in the house (and that's not just rude because it's flippant but also because I know many UK adopters would love to adopt a newborn, but can't. So I am sorry).

Long answer: I am very very worried by what adopters are being told in their adoption preparation about attachment. I am not posting this to make people look ill-informed but in case I can help someone who has not had good information.

Background: this reader said she hadn't read back beyond January, so does not know that I teach people about children's development, and research children's development, for a living. So can be forgiven. But even while I'm off work, I can't help trying to make sure people are well-informed about children's development. The reader does know that Baby Spouse was a newborn when placed.

In our adoption preparation, the timescales of attachment were clearly gone through.  Infants first become properly "attached", in other words they know who their caregivers are and they miss them when they leave, at the earliest at about 6 months of age.  I won't copy and paste the Wikipedia article as that would be a bit pointless, but it is up to date on current research. We didn't go into attachment styles or attachment in adults at our prep course, as it isn't appropriate. The most important facts though, are those on early time scales, and those were strongly emphasised.

Irresponsible people point those in the adoption triad to the book The Primal Wound, which I won't link to.  The thesis of this book is that any separation, however early, disrupts adoption.  I've looked for articles in respected, peer reviewed* journals cite this book (as most of the citations of this book are by the author, a sure sign of a one-person theory) and did find this article in what is really the top journal in my field. From this article I quote:

"Mainstream adoption researchers and specialists
(Brinich, 1980; Brodzinsky et al., 1992; Nickman,
1985) do not believe that infant adoption constitutes
an immediate loss at placement that inevitably disrupts
early attachments."
Most other articles I could find were in minor journals I hadn't heard of, or in journals that don't deal with child development. 


I shouldn't be too surprised that some prep courses don't cover it properly, though, as at our adoption approval panel, one of the members asked us what we'd do if we had a child who had attachment difficulties. I was very well behaved and did not say "write a really famous paper overturning everything we know about attachment theory" but charitably assumed they had not read the bit saying we'd be adopting a baby a few days or weeks old.

Adoption involves loss, in the same way that death of a parent involves loss. But there's no evidence that adoption in the first few weeks or days involves disruption of attachment and there's no reason it should because attachment has not formed by then. I do see a lot of adopters writing on message boards that their child will be sad/will have a disrupted attachment because of moving to a foster home at birth. They may well be sad later in life when they know more about what happened to them. But they won't experience it at the time and neither will they experience a disruption to attachment since it hasn't happened yet.


Of course things that happen before birth affect children and of course genetics matter - both are important for Baby Spouse. And there is information in what we know about that that could lead to him being quiet, but which we aren't sharing.

But since attachment is formed in the first six months of life, this is when inconsistent caregiving can interfere with it. I hope we are consistent caregivers, but a fair few children who spend time in foster care in their first few months don't spend all their time in foster care, but shuttle back and forth to birth family, or between carers.  This is one major reason why the UK assumptions that children will go to foster care while their fate is decided, and then to an adoptive family, is bad for children. Children who spend long periods of time in hospital are also at risk of attachment problems, as although they have loving carers in hospital and at home, the carers are not consistent.

If you are interested in a readable and accurate account of the actual facts behind attachment (not the pseudo-facts behind the attachment parenting movement), I highly recommend Understanding Attachment by Jean Mercer.

1 comment:

Emily said...

great post!