Tuesday, November 13, 2012

More About Attachment

If you have ever brushed the idea of maybe one day adopting, you have certainly heard about attachment theory. In fact, Reactive Attachment Disorder was one of the first things that were mentioned to me by one of my closest relatives when I announced our intention to adopt, before even Congratulations...

I don't pretend to be a pro in the field of attachment, but I've done some research since we have decided to adopt.
In a nutshell, attachment is the very important ability that a person has to create healthy, secure relationships with others. This ability is developed in the first few years of life, based on the repeated experience of a safe and trusting relationship with a primary caregiver.
Pretty simple, when a baby is born in a healthy family, to a set of parents who have desired and wished for this child. But life is sometimes messy, and there are a variety of situations that can hinder the development of this primordial ability.

Obviously, less than perfect attachment is a risk inherent to adoption. And the consequences of an insecure attachment can be very scary as a child grows.
Luckily, there are things adoptive parents can do to help their child heal and learn to trust. Attachment parenting is a technique that can be used for children in all situations, from the young baby picked up in an orphanage to the older child with obvious disrupting behaviours. Professional help can be obtained for the latter and, though I'm sure the process is not easy, therapies have shown tremendous results on affected children.

So here are a few things I have learned about attachment:
  • The belief that children adopted under 18 months of age cannot suffer from attachment disorder is a myth. Age at placement does have an impact on the attachment patterns and the intensity of the damage, but even a child adopted at 3 months needs attachment parenting if these 3 months were spent in a traumatic situation.
  • Attachment parenting is often counter-intuitive, and will most certainly be judged by well-meaning friends and relatives.
  • One of the basis of attachment parenting is that the parents should be the only ones responding to their child's needs for the first little bit. As a general guideline, Becoming a Family recommends that you count at least one week per month that your child lived away from you before you can start involving the extended family in caring for your baby. This means that only you should feed, bathe, change, rock, hold or comfort baby during this time. It also means that we'll have the difficult task to tell Grandma that she cannot give a bottle to her grandbaby...
  • During this time, baby should be in his parents arms almost 24 hours/day. Eye contact and skin to skin contact should be pursued as much as possible, and baby should spend her days in a carrier. It doesn't matter that we are tired, this is not about the parents!
  • Some books recommend that only one primary caregiver be designated for the first little bit. The second parent can then be integrated later.
  • Attachment parenting means that it's ok to co-sleep (safely), that a child should never be left crying  alone (even when he is being punished) and that baby's needs should be met immediately. Can you see how friends and family will judge you for "spoiling your baby"? That's what I meant, when I said it was counter-intuitive.
  • After a few weeks, when we can differentiate her needs a bit better, we can probably transition to more traditionnal parenting. We'll have to play it by ear.

Of course, our baby may not even need this. But we won't know until she's much older and I don't want to risk hurting her more by not even trying.


  1. This is a great post!! I don't think most people understand the unique parenting required in the early stages after bringing your adopted child home. I completely agree with the idea that the parents should be the only ones to respond to the child's needs in the beginning, but I'm sure that will result in some hurt feelings from close family members and friends!

  2. Hi, Gen
    I'm Rosa, i'm italian. I'm waiting to adopt in Sri Lanka. I read your message about a family from Canada is due to go to court in November in Sri Lanka. Have been confirmed? You've got new news from your adoption agency. In Italy we still have no news on departures! I am very sad for this long wait.
    I hope to hear from you soon
    e.mail catapanorosa@tiscali.it

    1. Hi rosa,
      Sorry it took so long to reply. I have not heatd anything new in a while. To be honnest, I'm also starting to worry about the possibility of ever adopting from Sri Lanka. It makes me sad too...
      I have summarized the situation in this post: http://cinnamon-baby.blogspot.ca/2012/12/a-summary.html?m=1
      I haven't heard anything new since then...
      Hang in there, and I hope 2013 is a bettr year for us al...