Open an Attachment
January 7, 2010 · Posted in Infant Development · Permalink

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Watching the love affair between mothers and their babies is a privileged part of working with families at Soho Parenting. It has informed and shaped our academic knowledge about psychological development. Here is an except from our book, A Mother’s Circle that describes that very early relationship. Enjoy!


Attachment and Separation

Attachment and separation are elemental issues between parent and child. Invisible, immeasurably powerful ties connect them. At times these ties will bind and pull; at times they will stretch, turn, and spin. It is a dance that lasts a lifetime.
You and your husband were probably deeply attached to your baby well before he was even born. During the course of the pregnancy a mysterious, expectant relationship is formed with the life growing within. Parents-to-be often talk to their unborn baby, sing to him, “listen” to him hiccup, feel him kick and move. They have heard the tick-tick-tick of their baby’s heart racing along, loud and clear, amplified at the obstetrician’s office. Some have chosen to learn the gender of their baby and even have a name picked out. Well before their child is born, he seems to have an identity and a full, projected life of his own.
Adoptive parents also experience a prenascent attachment as they wait for the news that a baby can be theirs. They project hopes and fears on an unknown, but very real child as they prepare a nest and a place in their hearts for his homecoming. Sometimes expectations are raised only to be dashed. And yet, despite the stress of waiting and not knowing, these candidates for parenthood remain faithfully attached to the idea of a baby in their arms.
Some adoptive parents worry about the separation their child has already experienced. Some focus on the initial encounter and wonder if they will instantly love their adopted baby. We have heard mothers say that they were instantaneously attached to their adopted babies from the first moment they first held them in their arms, while others describe more difficulty in feeling connected. The same can be said of birth mothers, and it is important to know that attachment is not built on first impressions and reactions. Nor does it always happen at the moment of birth, that mythical bonding often described. Rather, connections between a baby and his parents are made in daily trickles and surges, as over time their relationship widens and deepens.

Early Attachment

As you tend to your baby and watch his development unfold you may be filled with unparalleled feelings of love, protectiveness, awe, and pride. You may become aware of how merged with your baby you feel—psychologically, emotionally, and somehow even physically. This merged feeling, this romantic symbiosis of sorts, is exactly what your baby thrives on. He needs you to fall in love with him, for you are his partner, mirror, interpreter, nurturer, savior, mother-love. It is on this base of secure dependence that a baby builds a sense of himself, and a sense of independence.
In the early weeks and months of your baby’s life, although he is undoubtedly dependent on you, it may not be clear that your baby is attached specifically to you. In fact, most infants up to eight weeks appear relatively indiscriminate. They will let almost anybody hold them, change them, or give them a bottle. They look with interest at any engaging face. They do not give clear signs that they recognize their parents. It’s no wonder, then, that a mother may catch herself thinking, “Would any competent pair of hands do?”
Although there is much that is mundane and repetitive in the care of a newborn, the job is far from custodial. Less visible than a brimming laundry basket and diaper pail at the end of the
day ar e the myriad connections that have taken place between mother and child. During the course of one twelve-hour day, a new mother may kiss her baby more than a hundred times, have dozens of “conversations” with him, and sing as many songs or nursery rhymes. This loving connection is the treasure hidden in the groundwork of a baby’s daily care. It is the most important goal and the most important accomplishment of the first year. Crucial to his emotional and cognitive development, it is the foundation from which he will establish and enjoy meaningful relationships.
Most new parents would be surprised to learn how reciprocal the attachment process is and how complex and capable their infants are. There is evidence that when a newborn is a few hours old, he recognizes and gravitates toward his parents’ voices and that he can use his sense of smell to differentiate his mother from other new mothers. An infant’s vision is far better than previously believed. And a baby is driven to get loving attention as surely as he is driven to be fed and to sleep.
The connection to your baby, and his to you, grows as you experience all kinds of feelings together, both positive and negative. A colicky infant can be grueling to cope with, upsetting and stressful to his parents. When crying and discomfort far outweigh smiling and cuddling it can be difficult to feel as though a loving relationship is developing. But colicky babies become attached just as other babies do. And so do their parents. In fact, caring for a needy, uncomfortable, or sick infant can make a parent particularly sensitive and responsive to a baby’s needs and comfort levels. As such, difficult periods with your baby may actually contribute to the depth of the relationship, not limit or define it.

As Attachment Grows

Your newborn’s dark, round, unblinking eyes draw you in as surely as a lover’s gaze. His infant yawns and stretches, his quivering hands and velvety skin invite admiration and touch. His first baby smiles, given to you and the world, ensure delight and attention. And then, sometime after his eighth week, his seduction act becomes focused on you alone. You are the one he wants. You are the one that can soothe and settle him and make him shine. No one can match you or replace you. By the time he is twelve weeks, a baby will flaunt his mother-love. When she comes into sight, he turns his head in her direction, his eyes and expression brighten, he kicks, waves his arms, makes sounds and smiles. He has come to know that this someone understands him and takes care of him. Her arms feel right, her smell is familiar and pleasurable, and she knows the rhythms and pace of his days and nights. These intense feelings of closeness can be some of the most fulfilling experiences in life.

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