Separation at Birth; The Primal Wound. Photo: afcoory
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Separation of mother and infant is cruel. There is no other word for it. It matters not whether the separation is brought about by adoption, maternal abandonment, or death or illness of the mother, the trauma is the same (see post August 13). The following articles explain it well.
“It can no longer be assumed that one can replace the biological mother with another “primary caregiver” without the child’s being both aware of the substitution and traumatized by it. The mother/infant bond takes many forms and the communication between them is unconscious, instinctual, and intuitive.”
Nancy Newton Verrier, Ph.D., “The Primal Wound”
What Is The Primal Wound?
Understanding The Trauma of Infant-Maternal Separation
by Marcy Axness
Throughout the generations of routine obstetrical, hospital, and adoption practice in this country, the assumption has always been, “Why would the separation from its mother affect a newborn baby?” But with the advent in the last twenty years of pre- and perinatal research, we now have astounding findings about what a fetus experiences in the womb, what a strong connection it has with the mother long before birth, and how intelligent, aware and remembering a newborn is.
“Many doctors and psychologists now understand that bonding doesn’t begin at birth, but is a continuum of physiological, psychological, and spiritual events which begin in utero and continue throughout the postnatal bonding period. When this natural evolution is interrupted by a postnatal separation from the biological mother, the resultant experience of abandonment and loss is indelibly imprinted upon the unconscious minds of these children, causing that which I call the primal wound’.” So writes Nancy Verrier in her book, The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child (1993).
Rather than deeply question whether the experience of adoption is traumatic, we as a society tend to believe that enough love and care can make everything right. But psychologists from Freud on down have taught us that the first stage of psychological growth includes the development of trust, as a foundation for secure relationships with others. [My Emphasis] Babies who are separated from the only connection they’ve ever known–their matrix–have had their nascent sense of trust deeply violated. (See ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’for more about the emotional scars caused by infant abandonment).
And so all that love and care we give to the adoptee often has a hard time “getting in”. [But if no love is given, then the trauma is much more acute] as Verrier says of her own relationship to her adopted daughter, “I discovered that it was easier for us to give her love than it was for her to accept it.” On very deep levels, adoptees often feel it too dangerous to love and be loved, authentically and deeply; they can’t trust that they won’t be hurt or abandoned again.
Children often split themselves off from the injured parts of their psyches, and develop functional, acceptable, “false selves”. This concept of the false self is often the explanation behind what seems like “wonderful adjustment” on the part of an adoptee (or any traumatized child) who has responded to the deep fear of further abandonment or trauma by becoming compliant and adaptive to the needs and expectations of the parents or caregivers. However, their grief and anger is simply buried, even out of their own consciousness, where it can remain throughout the years, curdling their emotional lives.
See Michael’s Sister Sent back