Promoting Attachment through the Senses
Babies under a year old are highly sensory beings. Because their primary intellectual task during the first few months of their lives involves learning to use all of their senses and developing motor skills, each of a baby's senses is finely tuned and he is acutely aware of any and all changes. While it's always best for children to experience a stable and secure environment from the moment of their birth, this is often not possible for babies who will be adopted.
Families adopting internationally and the professionals working with them seemed to acknowledge that change can affect even babies' attachments much earlier than have those working with domestic infant adoption. The symptoms discussed were the symptoms of grieving, as these children dealt with the loss of the familiar--familiar caretakers, familiar food, familiar sounds, familiar smells, familiar voices and language, familiar culture--and were forced to make a transitional adaptation.
Being asked to maintain the familiar for the baby's sake is sometimes a difficult thing for new adopters to hear. In claiming for themselves the role of parent, new adopters had expected that as parents it would be their role and their unquestioned right to make decisions that new parents make about nursery decor and layette, about feeding, about a comfort cycle, about family routine, etc. Now being asked to "adapt" to a parenting style and routines already established by birthparents or foster parents or group home workers may remind adopters once again that their family's beginnings are different from the beginnings of families built by birth.
The older your baby is at placement with you, the more significant transition issues may be for him. Please try to recognize your resistance to being told how to parent as a left over loss-of-control issue and attempt to be flexible here. Over the long haul, your willingness to compromise during transition, to allow your child's experiences to lead you as his parent, and to gradually introduce your child to the new sensory experiences and routines which reflect your own preferences may result in fewer adoption-connected problems or differences later.
Research seems to indicate that newborn babies quickly come to identify their birthmothers by smell--both through the phenomes generated by their bodies and the unique fragrance of their breast milk. Your baby's sense of touch quickly helps him respond to the shape of a trusted caretaker's body, the touch of her fingers, her rough or gentle handling, to a manner of being carried and cuddled.
Some professionals are apparently afraid of and resistant to your questions about the details of your baby's sensory and experiential life before adoption. If this is the case, all is far from lost! As parents your willingness to reach out for help if needed and, even more so, to be flexible and adaptable as you search for what seems to "feel" right between you and your baby is perhaps the most important element in building your attachment to one another.
About the Author: Abagaile Odalis is a family and relationship professional with 12 years of experience in this field. She has written two revolutionary books on how to Seduce Women and the other to Attract Men.