My friend, colleague and fellow Huff Post blogger Jessica Zucker has posted a beautiful and thought provoking piece,”Connecting with Baby Before Birth” written for the PBS “This Emotional Life” project (June 10, 2010). In it, Dr. Zucker encourages women who are pregnant to “…focus on the developing baby in utero to… create space for prenatal bonding…” She also informs us that “attachment and bonding during pregnancy and in the early moments of your child’s life sets the frame for your relationship with your baby and their relationship with the world.”
This article reflects the growing knowledge we now have about just how profoundly prenatal care impacts our children. From the proper medical attention to the mother’s state of mind, we are learning more and more about how a baby’s in utero world impacts its post birth life and life long emotional development.
I would like to invite adoptive and prospective adoptive parents to read this article with an open mind and heart as you reflect on the meaning of your own adopted child’s prenatal experience. What do you really know of your child’s birth mother’s medical care or state of mind? There may be some medical information available to you, but what about the mother’s emotional world? What were her emotions about giving her baby up for adoption? How did this impact her baby’s world in the womb? How do you imagine your child’s world has been effected by the loss of the person it was bonding with for those nine months? How do you believe this experience has set the frame for your child’s relationship with you, with themselves and with their world?
These are difficult questions I know, but essential ones I believe in order to not only begin your own bonding process with your child, but also to help your child come to know and understand this loss and its impact on them. While it is a deeply sad situation for a child to lose it’s birth mother, in adoption that is a reality — and one that is better to be acknowledged, grieved and emotionally made sense of than denied and misunderstood.
In their best selling book, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel further discuss the impact of prenatal care when they let expectant moms know that:
“Talking, reading, or singing to your baby while in the womb…won’t guarantee a scholarship to Yale, but it will guarantee that your baby will know your voice at birth – and will give you both a head start on bonding.” (p.248.)”
As well as not to:
“…underestimate the power of touch. Since this sense also begins to develop in utero, stroking your belly now may also help strengthen the bond…” (p.248.)”
What does it mean then for an adopted child to lose that bond that happens naturally in the womb? To never know the voice it has come to know so well? To lose the soothing touch it has relied on for nine months? I believe it most likely will mean that your adopted son or daughter will have some built in emotional issues by the time you come to be a family – whether that is at the moment your child is born or much later in its life.
It means that your adopted child has a distinct history of bonding and of loss at birth or soon after. It means that the more you are able to accept and emotionally process this fact for yourself — that prenatal bonding is a profound and unique experience for all babies. You will be better equipped to help your child develop in a way that embraces all aspects of its history — not just the parts that you have come to be a part of through adoption.