Tuesday, February 20, 2018

4 Ways A Child Adopted At Birth May Have Experienced Trauma And What You Can Do To Help

As an adoptive mom I have often been asked how old our children were when they came to us. When people hear that most of them were 6 months or younger, the inquirer usually says something like, "At least they were too young to remember their previous circumstances," or, "That's, good! Then you won't have the problems some people have."

I know most of those comments come from the thought that an infant is a like a blank slate. The thought is, if he is too little to remember previous trauma, surely he won't be affected by it.

Let me assure you that even if you bring a child into your home straight from the hospital, he will have trauma. An infants brain is being formed while in the womb and his mother's experiences, diet, prenatal care or lack thereof, all have a direct impact on her unborn child. 

Think about it this way, there is always a reason a child is placed in care or is available for adoption. That reasons may vary, but regardless what they are, the mother will have undoubtedly experienced some stress. Infants who are exposed to high levels of cortisol - a stress hormone - while in utero will have a higher chance for both physical and mental health challenges later in life.

Alcohol is a terratogen, meaning it crosses the placenta and directly impacts the baby. Whatever is being formed at the time mom consumes alcohol, can easily be damaged or destroyed. Sadly many doctors still tell patients that the occasional drink is okay. As the parent of a child with FASD, let me assure you that it is not worth it!

Substance abuse is often a factor when a child needs to be removed from his parents at birth. The impact of  drugs on a child's brain and nervous system is tremendous. This damage may not be visible until the child is about school age, then things seem to fall apart, while for others it is noticeable from day one.

If the mother lived in an abusive situation her unborn child will be directly impacted by her anxiety/stress. One of our children flinches at raised voices, we assume this is directly related to the conflict our child's mother was subject to while pregnant.

If none of these situations affect your child, the mere fact that he was removed from the one person who kept him safe and nurtured him prior to birth can cause for trauma. Of course an infant in this situation will likely be able to build a bond with another caregiver with relative ease since he already has had a firm foundation. However don't be surprised if you see sign's of trauma and don't take them any less seriously than you would any other traumatized child as these things can snowball.

So what can you do if you bring an infant into your home?

- Hold him. I recently told one mom that holding her child now may save her many sleepless nights down the road. An infant has an undeveloped nervous system and he regulates off his parents. Your heart beat "teaches" his heart how fast to beat. Your calm voice, smile and eye contact show him that he is safe. The feel of your skin helps him regulate his body temperature and assure's him you are near. You cannot spoil an infant, especially one who has been traumatized.

- Only mom or dad should feed baby if at all possible. Baby needs to learn that nourishment comes from you.

- Keep visitors to a minimum as Baby needs plenty of time to adjust to his surroundings.

- Do not pass him around for other's to hold. Baby needs to know you are near, he is hyper vigilent and it won't take much for him to enter a state of panic or he may shut down, neither is desirable.

- Keep him wrapped tightly if that calm's him -some baby's exposed to illegal substances are highly sensitive and being swaddled may provide too much sensory input.

- Some infant's like a noise maker, especially if they spent any length of time in the hospital where there was constant noise.

Find what works for your baby and do what it takes to provide those things. By the way, your baby will most likely retain the need for many of  these comfort measure's until way passed what is deemed socially acceptable. My advice is to let them have their comfort's as long as they need them.

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  1. I like your post however I wouldn't tell people not to have visitors and not pass baby around. I think our daughter is a very social girl partly becayse we exposed her to many people early on. Yes i balanced this with wearing her and holding her very closely for long periods to balance that but i think it is a mistake for some children (naturally depending on their previous trauma and experience etc) to not have opportunity to bond with close family and friends early on too as this gives them a sense of community too.

  2. Just to add our daughter was adopted from birth and though we hope that our particular situation meant she has minimal trauma we recognise it is a possibility and will hopefully have the support to help her work with/through it if signs of trauma develop.


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