Last week, Southern California Public Radio’s Take Two show ran a piece that posed the question, “Does California’s ‘open adoption’ system help heal a baby’s separation wound?” The story featured an IAC adoptive family, and mentioned some challenges they face in raising their son. The article then attempts to link these challenges with the open adoption process, quoting Nancy Verrier, MFT, who advocates keeping babies with their birthmothers for at least six weeks after birth.
I totally disagree with the suggestion that babies should spend the first six weeks of their life with their birthmothers. Adopted infants should be placed with the adopting parents at hospital discharge so that bonding and attachment will be facilitated. We know from experience in the foster care field that there can be serious mental health and attachment problems for children who experience moves during infancy. Moving a baby at six weeks of age would not be in the child’s best interest.
I do agree, however, that it is important for the baby to have a smooth the transition from the birthmother to the adopting parents. This is best handled with an open adoption. In open adoption the adopting parents and birthparents develop a relationship during the pregnancy that will continue over the lifespan of the adoption. The baby hears the adopting parents’ voices while he/she is still in the womb. As a result, their voices are familiar to him/her when he/she is placed with them. The birthmother visits with the adoptive parents during the early weeks so the baby continues to hear his/her birthmother’s voice, as well.
There are other ways to facilitate a smooth transition for the baby in an open adoption. For example, the birthmother can make a recording of her voice or a recording of her singing a song that she sang to the baby while she was pregnant. The adopting parents can play the recording of the birthmother’s song during the early weeks. The birthmother can also give the family a stuffed animal that she held or slept with during the pregnancy. Having this stuffed animal in the baby’s crib provides him/her with her smell. This and other creative ways help ease the transition for the baby.
With open adoptions all parties are working together for a smooth transition and adjustment for the baby.