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Attachment and Bonding in Embryo Adoption

Regardless of what path to parenthood you choose, the end result will be the same… you will have a child to love and all your concerns and worries about bonding with your child often goes away the moment you hold the baby in your arms. However, sometimes there are concerns that you might not feel that connection you longed for which can be disconcerting and confusing.

Attachment is the emotional bond that connects one human being to the other. An “attachment style” is unique to every person. Attachment between a parent and their child will form the basis of the child’s future relationships with others. This process begins in the womb when the soon-to-be mother develops a connection with the growing baby which is called prenatal attachment. This helps parents develop love, compassion and affection for their baby. This attachment will improve the parent-infant bond after the baby is born. Parent-infant attachment is important for healthy social, behavioral and neurological development of the child. Both parents can develop a prenatal attachment.

If you are considering to adopt an embryo you may be asking yourself, “Can I love a child who is not genetically mine?” or “What if I can’t bond with my child because he/she does not look anything like me or anyone in my family?” These are two very common concerns that we will be addressing in this chapter.

Love bonds people together in spite of differences in looks, behavior and personality. Many women who have given birth to adopted embryos had no difficulty in bonding; often the challenges they had faced in becoming a parent actually supports the initial stages of bonding and attachment. Embryo adoptive parents have an opportunity for prenatal bonding and regulation of prenatal environment. The period of gestation supports the woman in seeing herself as the child’s mother by experiencing pregnancy and giving birth which supports the initial bond that is commonly felt. The child benefits from the additional bond of being gestated in their future mother’s womb with the support of their future additional parent. IVF Embryo adoption enables the couple to experience pregnancy, birth and child rearing the same as a ‘normal’ couple who conceived naturally. Gestation does not guarantee bonding between the mother and child; even in natural conceptions there are occasions when the mother fails to bond immediately with the child.

There is a lot written about attachment and bonding when it comes to adoption. It is a very important issue that always comes up during the home study process; this is mostly due to the general understanding that embryo donation adoption means that a child has already suffered a great loss and associated grief which may impact how a child will attach to their parent(s). An inability or unwillingness to attach often comes from a negative experience that has left an imprint. Babies born to these mothers can experience anxiety or dissociation. A woman who has been unsuccessful in trying to conceive and carry a baby may have difficulty being able to attach to the embryo she adopted throughout her pregnancy in fear that she will miscarry and lose another baby that she is carrying. Sometimes a frozen IVF embryo transfer is unsuccessful which is painful after taking a leap of faith and a huge risk with the hope of having a baby. This could impact a woman’s ability to push past the grief that is felt over the potential life this embryo would have had and the dreams of parenthood that could impact the degree of attachment during a subsequent pregnancy for a woman who might guard herself against another unsuccessful pregnancy. Grief and protecting one’s feelings can certainly impact the pre-natal attachment process until a successful birth occurs.

When a parent has difficulty feeling attached or bonded to their newborn is often trauma-based. If previous losses or difficult pregnancies occurred that can affect how a woman attaches to the baby growing in her or to the baby after delivery. The relationship between a baby and their parent can impact a child throughout their life. A secure attachment provides a sense of safety and security, regulates emotions by soothing distress, creating joy and supporting calm, and offers a secure base from which to explore.

Nothing is more important between a child and parent is the attachment relationship. Unhealthy attachment can become a healthy attachment if one does the therapeutic work that is necessary to move beyond the pain and choose to heal and form bonds. The quality of early attachment affects the rest of ones’ life. Secure attachment early in life leads to increased independence which blooms naturally out of a secure attachment and more successful adult relationships. Children who grow up in loving, supportive, warm and secure families were more likely to have secure attachments in life and can also affect their ability to parent their own child.

Sometimes the mother experiences post-partum depression which will impact attachment. Hormones tend to fluctuate immediately following birth which can make new mothers moody and emotional. It’s vital to take care of yourself during this time; most importantly get much needed rest. It is not uncommon to feel overwhelmed at first and this can often lead to feeling underwhelmed about your baby; if you are not immediately head over heels in love with your baby don’t worry; this is common and normal and is not a reflection of the type of pregnancy you had. It might be difficult to wrap your head around the fact this is YOUR baby after all the starts and fails you might have experienced. This is when looking into your baby’s eyes during feedings and just cuddling helps to regulate your hormones, sleep and other factors that need to adjust to a new normal.

Families who go for embryos available for adoption after giving birth to their genetic children, almost all stated they did not feel any more connected to their genetic children than the embryos they adopted, carried and delivered. When families who adopted children who also gave birth to their biological or adopted embryos they too stated they eventually felt the same love for their children no matter how they came into their family. Eventually is a key word that demonstrates that attachment and bonding between parents and children does not always happen naturally or easily for some. Having concerns about whether the child would feel like their own were common to many pregnant open embryo donation mothers, or that most mothers felt that the baby was their own by the end of the first year, may prove reassuring to both women considering treatment and pregnant patients. Sometimes mothers who feel that that the child is their own has taken longer than expected; again, this is normal and not concerning. It is not uncommon for mothers to express ambivalence and uncertainties about the nongenetic relationship with their infant, but still feel confident and secure in their identity as the child’s mother.

Mothers who opt for donor embryo adoption often refer to their babies as special, and a miracle. Discussions of physical resemblance, both in relation to similarities between the parents and child, and to others’ comments about the child’s appearance, highlight the sometimes uncomfortable comments from others about physical resemblance within families. Family resemblances are culturally understood as signifying genetic connections and research has found that heterosexual donor-conception parents focused on physical resemblance because they felt vulnerable about it, and because lack of resemblance embodied their sense of loss about the missing genetic connection. They also suggested that resemblance talk serves to help position the child within the family.

Essentially, there is no difference between how IVF embryo adoption parents and biological parents bond with their newborns. There are techniques to helping build a healthy attachment and bond while your baby is in utero; your voice can be recognized as early as twenty-five weeks into the pregnancy. Your baby is listening therefore singing, talking and playing music (they love soft soothing sounds) creates a familiarity that will make bonding easier as your voice is one they will know by heart and recognize. Skin to skin contact has multiple benefits for you and your baby as they transition to being outside your womb. It is calming for both child and parents, helps regulate the baby’s heartbeat, breathing, temperature and appetite. Be patient, look after yourself and enjoy the process as you and your baby form a loving lifetime connection.

Here are a few books on attachment during pregnancy and parenting that may be helpful:

The Attachment Pregnancy: The Ultimate Guide to Bonding With Your Baby by Laurel Wilson and Tracy Wilson Peters

Infant Massage: A Handbook For Loving Parents by Vimala McClure

How To Bond With Your Baby: A Short Guide for New Dads by Colin Cooper

Connecting With Your Child Through Secure Attachment: How To Emotionally Bond With Your Child by Dominic Tunez

Attachments: Why You Love, Feel and Act the Way You Do by Dr. Tim Clinton

Mindful Attachment Parenting: The MAP for Building a Secure Bond and Finding Your Zen Mommy Place by Molly Rose Holmes, LMFT

The Little Book of Attachment by Daniel A. Hughes

Raising A Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting Can Help You Nurture Your Child’s Attachment, Emotional Resilience and Freedom to Explore by Kent Hoffman

The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby by Martha Sears, RN and William Sears MD FRCP

Attaching Through Love, Hugs and Play: Simple Strategies to Help Build Connections With Your Child by Deborah D. Gray

How To Build Attachment With Your Baby: Using A Backpack Baby Carrier by Amelia Gagu Harris


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