Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

The Resulting Effects of in Utero Attachment on the Personality Development of an Adopted Individual

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

The Resulting Effects of in Utero Attachment on the Personality Development of an Adopted Individual

Article excerpt

While it may seem obvious that the experience of having been adopted in childhood has important implications for psychological well-being in adulthood, the nature of those implications remains poorly understood. The findings of contemporary researchers suggest that the experience before adoption - including the prenatal experience of the fetal-maternal relationship - can and does have a significant effect on later psychological adjustment (Brodzinsky, Schechter, & Marantz, 1992; Stott, 1973; Stott & Lukesch, 1977; Verrier, 1993).

In adoption psychology, we have begun to identify common threads in the nature of the primal wound that may account for problems in the adoptee's psychological functioning. In my clinical practice where I specialize in adoption, primarily working with adopted adults, I had begun to observe great diversity in the clients' psychological adjustment to their adoptive status. Despite the fact that many of them grew up in loving adoptive homes, some adoptees suffered more internal conflicts, poorer self-esteem, depression and anxiety, mistrust, and fearfulness. I began to notice that while some adoptees harbored tremendous fears about searching for their birth mothers and had a strong belief that their birthmothers1 would reject them, others had an internal sense that the reunion would be welcomed. Most often, these internal perceptions were accurate. It seemed that the overall psychological functioning of the adoptee appeared to be tied to an internal belief system based upon an experience that they had with the birthmother. I began to wonder what relationship there was between the degree of attachment felt by the birthmother who planned to relinquish her unborn child following birth and the subsequent emotional and mental development of the adopted individual.

It is widely accepted in both traditional and contemporary psychological research that the earliest relationship does not begin at birth, and that a mother's attachment to her child starts developing during pregnancy (Alhusen, 2008; Cranley, 1981; Deutsch, 1945; DiPietro, 2010). The assumption of this study was that the psychological adjustment of the adult adoptee is significantly affected by the environment that existed in the womb. It was further assumed that a significant attachment to the birth mother had developed prior to birth. Thus, even if the child was separated from the biological mother at the earliest possible age, the residual effects of the prenatal attachment were considerable.

The study specifically addressed the following research questions: (1) What are the effects of the birthmother's feelings for her unborn child upon later mental and emotional functioning in the adopted individual? (2) How does the relationship between the level of attachment felt by the birthmother to the unborn child manifest in psychological functioning in the adult adoptee? (3) What are the effects of being unwanted in utero on the adopted individual's later mental and emotional development?

The theoretical argument of this study is that the first object relations are established in the womb, with the adoptee's experience of their prenatal environment. The attitudes and experiences of the birthmother significantly impact the unborn child in a manner that is imprinted and later carried over within the individual's development. These early object relations manifest themselves in behavioral states and psychological functioning that correspond to their in utero relationship with the primary maternal object and the adoptee may experience significant adjustment problems in part because of the anxiety, unpredictability and ambivalence in their prenatal environment.

The implication of this prenatal research is that it is logical to argue that the memories of those pre-birth experiences will continue to affect the individual after birth. It is this author's belief that prenatal experiences account for individual differences seen in the adopted individual's psychological functioning. …

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