Entry #7 Bonding/Attachment
I left the last entry hugging and kissing a child after knowing him three hours and knowing tomorrow he would be our child. Whether the word ‘bonding’ was in wide use at the time, or whether the pre-adoption seminars at the time used the word, I do not remember. Scanning my journal again, I don’t see the word on any of the pages I am now writing about (I later found we had been given information). Yet as we left he peeked through the banister to smile and wave. And we floated away into the evening on a happy cloud. I remember Dave and I going for a walk along the Volga in the evening still wrapped in this happy cloud. The journal says we felt Yasik was so much more than we could ever have hoped for.
This is why I ask: do people bond in three hours? ‘Bonding’ after all is the word most people use rather than ‘attachment’ to describe the feeling they have for their children. Few would be surprised at my use of it as well. However, and yes here comes another big ‘But’, asking this question I have begun to discover stuff excluding Dave and me from the circle encompassing only those who fit the scientific definition of the word. And whether is sounds like fluffy semantics nonsense or not, I want to respect the work of science because I want to continue to follow an explanation built on as empirically accessed information as possible to know if my understanding is as concrete as possible. To choose to use the word simply because of a feeling is not a stable explanation. Thus far my readings no longer allow me to use the word ‘bonding’, drawing a distinct line between it and ‘attachment’ which is where the writers want to go to explain those feelings, even though as I currently understand it, ‘attachment’ doesn’t burst within quite as quickly as the feelings Dave and I are sure were ours, and are just as certain cemented a love within us. So what is ‘bonding’? Why am I directed to use the word ‘attachment’ rather than ‘bonding’? Are the feelings we had that day merely the squirt of emotion needed to encourage the growth of attachment? Were they really sufficient to leave us with sense of commitment to Yasik as our son that has refused to wane right to the present? We have never questioned Yasik took his rightful place in our hearts then and there and has never been ousted.
With a question like this, I will start with a definition or two for these two words.
Attachment and Bonding: From Ethological to Representational and Societal Perspectives, Inge Bretherton, University of Wisconsin says: (bolding mine)
At a time when research on the topic was still sparse, [John] Bowlby (1958) postulated that the human infant enters the world pre-adapted to interact with and respond to a human caregiver. We now have overwhelming evidence that his claim was justified.
The word bonding was originally used to refer to a father or mother’s sudden development of positive, protective feelings toward a baby born to them or a very young adopted infant. When people spoke of bonding in that sense, they usually meant to imply certain ideas: (1) that bonding involved the feelings and behavior of adults toward babies, not of babies towards adults; (2) that bonding involved a dramatic, irreversible shift in the adult’s emotional life; and that bonding was needed for the child’s sake because it enabled the adult to do the hard work involved in early parenthood.
But ‘bonding’, suggests Jean Mercer in Understanding Attachment: parenting, child care, and emotional development (2006,p.5), became a bit of a loosy-goosy term, referring to whatever sweet emotional moment one person shared with usually another person, animal or even thing. The science world was forced to abandon it, though it was supposed to be a word specific to what began to develop in utero via hormone changes and the head start the biological mother gets while her child is in the womb. Yet Mercer returns to the word on pages 70 to 75 as a needed identifier, including fathers and parents of adopted infants who have no hormonal changes, nonetheless, “show bonding to the same degree as biological mothers”. Not even the belief about breast-feeding being essential to bonding holds weight for Mercer. She relegates that idea to persistent myth. In Thinking Critically About CHILD DEVELOPMENT: Examining Myths & Misunderstandings (2016 p.82) Jean Mercer talks about research looking at levels of oxytocin when asking if adoptive mothers bond with their adoptee. The research found mothers who produced more oxytocin when cuddling with their children showed more delight in their children but then concludes it is not easy to measure how bonding or loving occurs for it is still not clear how important early contact is. But there is no denial here that ‘bonding’ can be acknowledged for adoptive mothers (fathers?) of infants.
There is, however, denial in Inside Transracial Adoption: strength-based, culture-sensitizing parenting strategies for inter-country or domestic adoptive families that don’t “Match”? (2000, p 128) by Gail Steinberg & Beth Hall for they write,
By strict definition, adoptive parents can’t bond with their children. Bonding is a one-way process that begins in the birth mother during pregnancy and continues through the first few days of life. It is her instinctive desire to protect her baby.
Whichever definition hits the mark, on page 75 of Understanding Attachment: parenting, child care, and emotional development Mercer adds this caveat: “Adoptive mothers…ordinarily experience bonding…if [their children]… have been adopted early in their lives.” And with that seven word caveat, Dave and I are pushed outside the realm of the word “bonding”. And in taking in the full scope of the definition, we must recognize there was never any viable reason to wonder if Yasik has ever ‘bonded’ with us.
But Yasik looked me directly in the eyes and smiled. Connection of some sort was made and emotions were exploding like a fireworks display within.
I will see if the word ‘attachment’ is wide enough to offer explanation of the emotions we felt that day – in the next post.