January 17, 2010

Infant-Maternal Separation Has Lasting Effects

Upset crying
© Photographer: Dmccale | Agency: Dreamstime.com

"Separation in early life is associated with changes in
hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) responses to stress [38], transient and
long-term changes in immune competence in non-human primates [39], and reduced
maternal-infant attunement [40]. The impact of maternal-infant separation during
the sensitive period may permanently alter affectional ties [23], and may
consequently influence developing organ systems, including the nervous system

Events that affect the ability of the mother to attend to her infant shape
the capacity of the newborn to tolerate stress
, since the immature nervous
system is unable to regulate states of high arousal. Events occurring during
labor and delivery that may affect the mother or the infant's ability to bond
include early separation, pain in the mother or infant, the use of medication
such as anesthesia, and anxiety, among others [23]. Whereas healthy newborns
demonstrate more rapid returns to baseline cortisol following exposure to stress
[41], babies born following mild obstetrical complications have less optimal HPA
responses [42] as well as decreased habituation and sensitization to stressors
[41]. Maternal-infant separation following cesarean sections is common and
appears to negatively impact quality of maternal-infant interactions [43-46] as
well as frequency of breastfeeding [46]."

"CONCLUSIONS: Skin-to-skin contact, for 25 to 120 minutes after birth, early
suckling, or both positively influenced interaction 1 year later
when compared with routines involving separation of mother and infant."

***NOTE: If a ONE HOUR PERIOD of bonding with mother influences
relationships a year later, then what does mommy disappearing do???

My friend and fellow advocate (a first mother) Lori also pointed out in her comment a revealing article from Psychology Today:

An infant, due to the amount of time in the womb, and until the discovery of motor skills such as crawling, usually around 9 months old, is unaware that they are not a physical part of their mothers.
*Being both an adoptee as well as mother to a preemie who spent his first four months in a neonatal intensive care unit, reading these studies 'explain' the issues and behaviors so readily apparent in both myself and my son, and also saddens and angers me. Dr. John Bowlby and others have researched the importance of the mother/infant bond for years.
Yet both the medical and adoption communities have been either too slow or completely unacknowledging of the ABUSES they have committed against human lives.
Taking an infant away from mother immediately after birth is damaging to a child. Yet it is practiced daily in hospitals everywhere, and applauded in "open adoption", all for the benefit of waiting adoptive parents. Furthermore, research like this is avoided during "options counseling" when adoption agencies spout the "benefits" of adoption in marketing pregnant mothers. These conclusions are certainly not provided to prospective adoptive parents either.
How can we call "counseling" provided by the very "professionals" who make their living in adoption non-directive or ethical?
I recently attended the "grand opening" celebration of a new NICU in our local Children's Hospital and could hardly hold back the tears touring this beautiful "mother/child" friendly facility. Each room is completely private, with a warming bed/incubator, a comfortable recliner, and even a pull-out bed. The best-practice philosophy in neonatal care is "family-centered" where the mother (rightly) becomes an integral part of her newborns care from day one, including "kangaroo care" (skin to skin contact) as much as possible. I would have given anything for this environment when my son was born. He lived in a "pod" of open space with numerous other babies within just a few feet. I sat for four months propped on a tall bar stool by his side, with no privacy, noise and traffic surrounding us continually. The "alarms" alone were enough to send even an adult through the roof at times. What did they do to tiny, under-developed nervous systems? Just thinking back to this experience causes my heart to race with anxiety.

Last night I snuck away to a women's meeting at my church and then went out to eat with a dear friend afterwards. I got home after my son was already in bed asleep. Mind you, he is 4 years old now and has come a long way after his traumatic start in life. But this morning, he threw a huge panicked fit, ordering me to "GO AWAY!!!" over and over again. He was still reeling from my (just a few hours) absence last night. This is very typical for him and it has been so hard. It hurts me to see him hurting - dealing with high-anxiety and insecure attachment. All because he was separated from me for so many months at the beginning of his life.

True, I got to hold him when he was two weeks old and then on, but only for minut periods of time. Getting to hold him for even an hour a day was a privilege that we didn't get to partake of until he was well past 2 months old. His vital signs calmed, and so did mine. But even that was not enough to give him the foundation he needed. God comforted me with a verse in Isaiah 66 which promises, "I will comfort you as a mother comforts her child" and I literally lived and breathed this to keep going.

I am so thankful the medical community is finally beginning to "catch up" with the known research of maternal/infant health.
Yet, the adoption community continues to ignore and contradict these important studies for their own benefit.
According to the research above, not only are children affected emotionally and psychologically by being separated from their mother, their physical health is detrimentally affected as well.

This growing body of research can't be ignored much longer. We call upon ethical professionals to take these studies seriously and use the knowledge to change policies and laws surrounding adoption. To protect voiceless children who are caught in the web of a financially, supply/demand driven adoption industry. Even puppies are not separated from their mothers until well after the time of weaning ~ for a reason. Shouldn't human children be given this same respect and more?

While finally allowing myself to grieve the loss of my own mother through adoption (several years before the birth of my son) I wrote several poems. The feelings of a human-being who experiences the trauma of pre-verbal separation from mother run so deep, it is truly fearful to acknowledge and experience them (especially in a society which disregards them, causing further trauma,'disenfranchised grief'). Yet, that is exactly what is necessary to bring healing. That which is kept in the dark and is never exposed to the light can never be healed. You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. That is why "sealed records" in adoption is a crime, perpetuating painful shame for all involved.

Here I Lay

Alone in the nursery I lay
Cries ring out like radar
Searching, searching, searching
In circles around my bed they reach
Striving to find the woman I know
Her breath, her hair, her touch
No where.

Alone in the nursery I lay
The ceiling so far away
Arms flinging hoping to find
Nothing but emptiness I feel

Where is she? Why isn't she here?
I am lost and alone. I can't feel.
The cries stop. There is no use
She is long gone
She or me? I do not know
Here I lay in the nursery alone.


Anonymous said...

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SustainableFamilies said...

Hey!!! You must be reading at AAAFC! : ) How's life been peach?

(sunnyblobbo, member me?)

Myst said...

Hey Peach,

Great post!

For some reason, when adoption is involved, this research is completely ignored. If it was validated, then it would hurt the business of adoption and "they" couldn't allow that to happen could they?

It is all very hypocritcal... this research and anything else supporting it will be acknowledged in instances of kidnapping etc in court cases but then TOTALLY disregarded in adoption cases... because somehow it isn't the same thing as the baby does have a mother; the adoptive mother is seen to completely replace the mother who the child has already formed some sort of bond with. Therefore the baby suffering any sort of trauma is completely dismissed. Yet infants who lose their mothers at birth through death have allowances made for them and are expected to feel the loss.

It is all so hypocritical.

Great research and thanks for putting it out there. As an early childhood worker who has witnessed children separating from their parents (including infants) for even just a few hours, there is much distress.


Lori said...

Peach, I have been quoting the Psychology Today article forever - the statement is:

An infant, due to the amount of time in womb followed by nursing or feeding, and until the discovery of motor skills such as crawling, usually around 9 months old, is unaware that they are not a physical part of their mothers. When this is discovered by the child/toddler/infant the testing of how far the child can go away from their mothers before the need to return into the comfort of the extended self occurs. This is natural growth in infancy, toddler and, in fact, all children until their ultimate entry into adulthood - or what is called by American society - puberty.

DUH! This particular information has been banging around in child psychology texts and journals for over three decades!

I can't even begin to comprehend how a competent psychologist, counselor, can even begin to work with children (which any adoption agency should have) and their parents without admitting without hesitation that this "adoption" or removal of a child from the child's natural environment will become a lifelong issue!

Sigh, Peach, thank you - I just wish I could convince others to do the research and instead of arguing semantics, use the research that is there to prove the point that adoption is wrong!

*Peach* said...

Yes, I love reading at Adult Adoptees Advocating for Change and was thrilled when this research was posted there!
You all are great and thanks for commenting! I'm so thankful for friends who are speaking out and educating so many from whom I learn!

Lora said...

It would be interesting to see a study of the adult effects of this decreased immune system.

I had breast ca at age 40. I have blamed it partially on my stuffing down of all feelings and not expressing myself. There is some documented evidence to support that. But I wonder if there has ever been a link to adoptees and early ca or auto immune disease due to a poor immune system.

a Tonggu Momma said...

Thanks so much for sharing this research... I doubt I would have seen it otherwise. More proof that mothers, even those who have made an adoption plan, should have time to hold and bond with their newborns.

legitimatebastard said...

Thank you for posting this. Well said and great research. Much needed.

Yes, premies are doubly affected. I had a hunch, but that was confirmed at an AAC con in late 1980s when Ken Watson spoke of bonding. He said that the separation of infant and mtoehr for adoption is one thing, but when that infant is a premie and thus is placed in "isolation" in an incubator, that infant suffers additional stress and loss.

Well, that's me. Been difficult to accept, and difficult to cope withthe long-lasting physical stress-illness associated with it, in addition to adoption separation.

We do need to pay more attention to research such as this.

Ave Powell said...

Do you happen to have the link to that Psychology Today article or know what it's titled?

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