SUPPORTING CONNECTIONS BETWEEN FIRST MOTHERS AND THEIR UNBORNS
AN ANTIDOTE TO DISSOCIATION?
The old saw in child welfare circles—“A baby is the only living thing without a past, only a future”—was always self-serving. Now we know it was always patently false. The new science in infant mental health and prenatal psychology makes it possible to reconsider the matter of various risks in prenatal life. We are then released to wonder what life is like in there, for example, for a child scheduled to be surrendered for adoption. While we don’t yet proclaim to have special avenues into the mental life of prenates—or even systematic means to investigate it—evidence mounts that there IS such life, that it’s responsive to the mother’s mental life, and that such early and interactive mental life is of consequence for the baby’s later development. While there is still much to learn, we can surely say that it’s incomprehensible that the first nine months of the life of a child whose mom does not intend to keep him is anything but innocuous.
What if we considered these questions non-rhetorically and non-judgmentally: “How could a woman ever be expected to forget a baby she had carried for nine months? What would it take to ‘move on’ from the experience…” (Glaser, 2021, p. 4). Might we even conclude that we’re disrespecting first mothers to assume that they pay no attention to what is happening, and have no psychological response to it? And if moms do have a response, is it detectable by the babies within? Finally, are early and primitive working models of self and other created in utero? Might these early working models be brought by the adoptee to his relationship with his adoptive mother? If so, to what effect?
This paper focuses on one aspect of the mental life of a mother who intends to surrender her child for adoption: the possibility that she may, as a defense, dissociate—a kind of withdrawal from her own experience—and that such withdrawal may be experienced by the baby as maternal absence and rejection. We will try to show what this experience is like for the unborn, what defenses may be erected, and how such early experience may shape later relationships.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.