Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Practice Babies: Unnatural Mothering

Jane

Reaction to recent news reports about Practice Babies is much like the response to Ann Fessler’s account in The Girls Who Went Away of young pregnant women sent to hide out in maternity homes or with distant relatives, delivering their babies in secret, and surrendering them for adoption.


We dismiss these now discredited but formerly widely accepted practices by saying “what were they thinking? Look how far we’ve come; we don’t do that anymore.”

Yet Americans continue to accept large scale infant adoption which has its roots in the practices we decry. At the turn of the 20th century, reformers turned to science to solve social problems. Whether you believed in the primacy of nature or nurture, those boys in white lab costs had something for you. Eugenics would keep defects out of the gene pool.
Behaviorists like Dr. John B. Watson could then take over. He boasted: “‘Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in, and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – a doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and yes, even into a beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors.’” Watson advocated infant farms with rotating caretakers not unlike the orphanages that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich promoted 70 years later. (Raising America: Experts, Parents, and A Century of Advice About Children, Ann Hulbert, 2003)

To test the new child-raising theories and to train future mothers, college home economics programs brought “practice babies” to their campuses and eager students set upon rearing these children for their first year or two of life. These practices, disclosed in Lisa Grunwald’s novel, The Irresistible Henry House, based on Cornell University’s program, began in the early 1900’s and continued as late as 1969. I recall reading an article about 15 years ago about a similar program at Oregon State University. Infants surrendered by their mothers for adoption were taken by the adoption agency to OSU (likely unbeknownst to their mothers). At the end of a year, the children with no defects were placed for adoption; the less desirable were placed in an orphanage run by the adoption agency.

Eventually universities stopped practice baby program because according to Cornell “new research in child development pointed to the need for a primary bond with a single caregiver.” While media accounts treat these practice baby tales as a relic of the past, long gone like air raid shelters and saddle shoes, they fail to note the enduring legacy of these experiments in social engineering: infant adoption.

Dr. L. Emmett Holt, another leading proponent of scientific child-rearing (the term “parenting" came along later) developed infant formula freeing mothers from the time-consuming and demeaning task of feeding their offspring. To Holt mothers were managers – “scientific professionals, or semi-professionals, charged with the care of delicate specimens whose health was under their control....” (Raising America) The logic became inescapable: If children did as well on formula as breast milk, if children were largely the product of their environment, and if good parenting was based on scientific training rather than instinct, it followed that children could – and should be raised by the best parents possible rather than those who gave birth to them. It also followed that an adopted child was as much a part of a family as a child born into the family.

While we decry or laugh at the practice of practice babies, we’re not ready to give up completely the theories supporting the practice. Those with resources scour the globe for infants, (kin, color, and culture are irrelevant), think tanks promote “the adoption option,” and states allow vague notions of “the best interests of the child” and “psychological parents” to strip parents of their children. We continue to keep original birth certificates sealed, reinforcing the popular notion that origins are irrelevant.

61 comments :

  1. A question: Does anyone think that the people participating in this grand experiment called international adoption ever be able to admit what they are doing might be wrong? People like Bartholet will go to their graves thinking they saved the children, ignoring the fact that the children's real parents might have been killed so that they could have a baby--as long as there is money to be made, babies will be used as a form of export from poor countries to rich.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jeez, Jane. This "practice baby" thing makes me sick to my stomach. I've heard of high school home ec classes giving students a fake baby, set to cry randomly, etc. that they have to take care of for a weekend. But experimenting with REAL babies! WTF!?!?!

    This also reminds me of the movie, "The Truman Show."

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for posting about this, Jane. I learned about the"practice baby" phenomenon very recently and it sickened me. I am old enough to have possibly have been used in such a way, and because my records are sealed, I will never know.

    When I read the npr.org story about Grunwald's book and "practice babies," I read some of the comments, and as you said, many were frightening. "Be grateful, whiny adoptees," "What's wrong with sorting out the feeble-minded?" etc.

    I know that some psychologists believe that it doesn't matter what happens to infants because once they get a consistent caregiver, they'll be fine. I don't subscribe to that view, but some of these babies weren't placed for over a year. How could they possibly attach to anyone when their "pretend" mothers could rotate daily, weekly, monthly?

    I want to cry. I can't imagine that my first mother would have approved of my being treated in this way--indeed, she thought I would go home with aparents within a few days of my birth, but I didn't. She was surprised to learn I was in the NICU with no permanent caretaker for 10 weeks.

    The lies and self-congratulation of the staunch pro-adoption faction are so horrible. How can all this possibly be justified?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I second Denise with the Truman Show reference.

    It really doesn't surprise me what these crazy people have come up with. After crazy people like Georgia Tann, this is a natural next step.

    People need to remember how to love and stop this craziness. That's great that we stopped the practice baby, now let's stop infant adoption. No, Adoption Is Not the Exception to attachment theories.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "The lies and self-congratulation of the staunch pro-adoption faction are so horrible. How can all this possibly be justified?"

    It is justified by those who can't have a baby of their own so they are entitled to another woman's baby entitled to a baby that will never be the child they want but they will swear it's just like their own. Who cares about the bond the baby has with it's mother or the bond the mother has with her baby even before birth. Of course the other factor being big money and how much can be made off of each adoption. Also, the public thinks that babies are unwanted and the adopters are the Saviors. In truth it's not about saving a baby as much as it about those who adopt trying to feel that gapping hole with the grief of a mother and baby.

    ReplyDelete
  6. reformadoption said:"No, Adoption Is Not the Exception to attachment theories."

    Who ever said it was? The attachment theories that get discussed here are all about adoption, although from a negative viewpoint.

    Also given your views perhaps you should change your moniker to "abolishadoption" as that seems a more accurate word than "reform".

    ReplyDelete
  7. I read the article, listened to the NPR program and wept through the whole thing in horror, especially when I realized that one of the Universities they mentioned in the article was in the same town as the agency that placed my son in 1967. I wondered why he was in foster care for over 6 months. All I could think was, "Was this REALLY better than the Unmarried mother who desperately wanted him?"

    Then I was on the way home and had NPR on in the car. They were talking to one of the students who practiced on the babies. She said that she remembers it fondly, because it made her a better mother later! What about the baby? Is THIS the better life his mother was promised he would have? Here is the link to that...
    http://www.npr.org/2011/01/12/132869061/Letters-Practice-Babies


    I am still trying to get my mind around this. It really sickens me. I no longer doubt that anything I can imagine will not be nearly as bad as what actually happened.

    ReplyDelete
  8. My granddaughter was not a "practice" baby but she was not adopted until she was a year and half, and her adoptive mother told me that she had attachment issues for a long time. Today my granddaughter tells me she has commitment issues.

    Oh Sandy, I am so sorry to hear your story. You have my sympathy. It never ends, does it?

    ReplyDelete
  9. While not "practice babies" a great many middle-class and higher not adopted American children were raised by the "scientific" principals of Watson and others in the 30s, 40s, and into the 50s. This included formula rather than breastfeeding, a rigid schedule, obsessive concern for germs, never picking up a crying baby "off-schedule" or you would "spoil" the child, and very early toilet training. This was why the quite moderate approach of Dr. Spock was met with such outrage by the older school of "expert advice to mothers".

    My aunt who was a nurse held to these principals, while my mother and grandma thought she was nuts:-)I was a a very "spoiled" baby as we lived with my grandparents the first few years.

    Fashions in child care advocated by "experts" have swung back and forth and changed many times over the past 150 years or so. Today's "latest advice" may be met with horror and amusement in 50 years, just as this mechanistic approach to childcare is seen by us today, but was embraced by many parents at the time.

    The "practice baby" program was indeed horrendous, and showed disregard for surrendered babies as human beings, and the wishes of surrendering mothers that their babies be in secure families from the start. However, I do not see how these programs led to more infant adoptions, as these babies were toddlers by the time they were placed, if they were placed at all and not institutionalized.

    What the behaviorist school of psychology led to was secrets and lies and sealed records in adoption if heredity did not matter, and in this sense was a pernicious influence.

    But it is hardly a force today in psychology or in promoting adoption of infants. The "blank slate" theory is dead, killed by genetics advances and a better understanding of how heredity works.

    ReplyDelete
  10. maryanne:

    did anyone say the practice of "practice babies" led to more infant adoptions?

    If so, I missed it. All Jane and the others are saying is that the wide-scale adoption of kids from Africa and elsewhere may one day be seen as another experiment in child care. The other comments about adoption are not making the point you are arguing against.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Susanne, you must have missed these statements in Jane's post. Not that "practice babies" in and of itself led to infant adoption, but that the theories that inspired the practice baby experiment did. The spectre of "social engineering".


    Jane wrote:"Yet Americans continue to accept large scale infant adoption which has its roots in the practices we decry."

    and:
    "While media accounts treat these practice baby tales as a relic of the past, long gone like air raid shelters and saddle shoes, they fail to note the enduring legacy of these experiments in social engineering: infant adoption. "

    The above statement especially is very clear: "the enduring legacy of these experiments in social engineering: infant adoption"

    finally:
    "If children did as well on formula as breast milk, if children were largely the product of their environment, and if good parenting was based on scientific training rather than instinct, it followed that children could – and should be raised by the best parents possible."

    ReplyDelete
  12. Ms. Marginalia wrote "I know that some psychologists believe that it doesn't matter what happens to infants because once they get a consistent caregiver, they'll be fine."

    Citations please.

    Haigha

    ReplyDelete
  13. Jane wrote, "Eugenics would keep defects out of the gene pool."
    This inevitably reminds me of Tommy Douglas's Masters thesis, submitted 1933 and titled "The Problems of the Subnormal Family":

    http://www.westernstandard.ca/website/article.
    php?id=1818

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_Douglas

    Haigha

    ReplyDelete
  14. How did the thinking which led to practice babies led to increased adoptions? Here's an answer from "Raising America," pp 87-91:

    By the 1920’s, a full-fledged campaign had developed to educate parents and replace mothers’ ‘common sense’ with scientific knowledge. ... Throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s experts bombarded mothers with literature on every aspect of childhood from physiology to psychology. While many child-welfare experts questioned the reliability of maternal instinct, some went so far as to suggest that unchecked intuition could actually harm a child. As numerous scholars have pointed out, this advice made mothers both insecure and dependent on expert, mostly male guidance. Yet from the perspective of some adoptive mothers, if women needed to be educated to motherhood, physical birth no longer gave biological mothers an automatic edge.”

    In the first decades of the 20th century, there was “a drastic decline in the birth rate among white, middle-class women, and many commentators ominously warned that America’s ‘superior stock’ was committing ‘race suicide.’ Meanwhile the ‘new’ immigrants from eastern and southern Europe were reproducing at double the rate of their native-born counterparts. Social critics prophesied that the progeny of these ‘lusty sexual ... foreign breeders’ would soon overrun the nation, and they urged native-born women to do their duty’ and procreate. ... Doctors often blamed women for their fertility problems, arguing that they had brought on their childlessness by too much education or a stubborn unwillingness to accept their womanly role. ...

    “The problem, many people believed, was not only the relatively high birth rate of the new immigrants but also the large numbers of homeless, often immigrant children, who might pose a threat to social stability and the American way of life. Most articles on adoption before 1920 presented adoption as a potential solution to this dilemma and encouraged women – especially childless middle-class women – to adoption as part of their civic duty to society. Adoptive mothers could redeem the masses of dependent children and turn them into solid Americans.....”

    “Saving society was not always enough to save adoptive mothers from unflattering public portrayal. ... Sometimes prospective adoptive mothers were portrayed [in popular magazines] as desperate, conniving, and mentally unstable. A number of articles told of women who approached child-placing agencies looking for a child they could pass off as their own to cement the affections of their wandering (and unsuspecting) husbands. An article in the New York Times in 1910 stated in Chicago alone, over three thousand men had been the victims of this kind of deception. One author told of how adoption transformed ‘hysterical and nervous women,’ who, with a child to take care of, forgot ‘their more or less imaginary ills.’”

    The voices of critics were soon out shouted. “Firsthand accounts by adoptive mothers began to appear in popular magazines. ... These stories tried to demystify and normalize adoption by showing adoptive families experiencing the same trials, tribulations, and joys as nonadoptive families.... When authors of stories about adoption did acknowledge a difference between their families and biological families, it was a positive difference. After all, their families were consciously planned. As one adoptive father explained: ‘We took the boy because we wanted him. This cannot always be said of own parents.’ In the few stories in which the ‘rescue’ theme appeared, it was minimized or an afterthought. The message was clear: adoptive parents benefited as much from adoption as did the adopted child.”

    ReplyDelete
  15. Haigha,

    Wow! Love how you get to the point.

    Dr. Jean Mercer would be one psychologist who argues that adopted children are unaffected by early experiences, even those involving lack of attachment and social deprivation. She has published broadly in developmental psychology, but you can assess her arguments on this topic at her blog, childmyths.blogspot.com, and look up the papers she has written by reading her CV.

    I have to admit that because I am adopted, and because I am triggered by the debate of infant loss and attachment, I have not gone out and minutely researched the standpoint opposed to mine. I would suggest taking this discussion up with Dr. Mercer if you are more interested. I am certainly not going to argue for the point she advocates.

    I am sure there are those who will be happy to step up and fill in the gaps. I do not care to debate you, or anyone, on this topic here.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Stolenid- Ok- so If the Totawa infant home loaned me out- so to speak, to a Trenton State, Montclair, Rutgers etc. home ec dept. and based on an hourly wage of $.50, with 3% interest compounded for 57 years- the State of NJ owes me $257,150.00. I want my money...
    My mind is still reeling over this. I mean is there any wonder why some adopted children (like my adopted brother)may have what they call disasociation (sp) disorder, the inability to bond with anyone. Well if we were systematically being farmed out as lab rats, and then the adoptive parents were not told about these experiments, it certainly explains why so many of these placements were fraught with such hardship. I am at a loss to find out if NJ was involved in this seedy behavior. I don't even know where to start.-

    ReplyDelete
  17. My understanding that these practice baby programs were run by college Home Ec departments which were usually at the state land grant college.

    Stolenid, you might start with the land grant college in NJ and ask if they ever had a practice baby program.

    I'd guess that if you looked at year books or college catalogs from the 50's you'd find something about the program. The Home Ec departments thought they were running a good program and did not try to hide it.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Rutgers would be the college in NJ. No idea if they ever did this or not, but it would fit with their program. Years ago they were a big agricultural school and of course had home ec for the girls. They didn't call it "The Garden State" for nothing.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Sorry, Ms. Marginalia, I have to offer a correction. I've certainly never said that disruption of attachment or social deprivation had no ill effects. What I did say was that attachment is not already in place at the time of birth. Instead, it develops gradually if the baby has a consistent, interactive caregiver, and becomes evident some time after 6 months of age, but usually before 12 months. Social deprivation has the very important effect of slowing language development, which in turn affects social skills and other types of learning.

    I'd like to point out that the "practice baby" business occurred many years before developmental issues surrounding attachment were generally known. Please don't get the idea that any developmental psychologist today would countenance this kind of treatment or consider it relevant to adoption reform.

    For those who are interested in modern research evidence about the long-term effects of serious deprivation, I've posted at www.childmyths.blogspot.com a discussion of the recent report by Michael Rutter and his colleagues about the English-Romanian adoptees in adolescence.

    ReplyDelete
  20. The agency who handled my adoption told me that I wasn't allowed to know where I was post-relinquishment and pre-placement because it would violate my "birthmother's" privacy.

    Of course my mother doesn't know where I was either so this is all just agency hogwash. I have no idea what they did with me, although I was being monitored for a possible heart condition, so I don't know if they would have loaned me out.

    I am kind of afraid to know what happened to me. It is certainly not a warm and fuzzy feeling to have part of your life classifed away from you.

    @ Ms Marginalia:

    Well said, we adoptees are constantly being taunted about a very traumatic event in our lives, at least for me it was the most traumatic event of my life from birth to now.

    Even though we are the ones who experience the feelings first hand we are often told how to feel about it by others who seem to thrill in ridicule. The trauma being described as "mass hysteria" etc. by uneducated lay-people with an agenda.

    Like we would invent being utterly dismissed by a 'professional' based on conjecture and opinion? That would be just another day in adoptee-paradise.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "Wow! Love how you get to the point. "

    Thank you. Someone needed to.

    "Dr. Jean Mercer would be one psychologist who argues that adopted children are unaffected by early experiences, even those involving lack of attachment and social deprivation."

    Really? I must have missed that. That's why I asked for citations.

    "She has published broadly in developmental psychology, but you can assess her arguments on this topic at her blog, childmyths.blogspot.com, and look up the papers she has written by reading her CV."

    I already have.

    "I would suggest taking this discussion up with Dr. Mercer if you are more interested. I am certainly not going to argue for the point she advocates."

    I never supposed that you would, especially as your description bears no resemblance to my understanding of her position.

    "I do not care to debate you, or anyone, on this topic here."

    Nor I with you.
    I've already had my say on Dr. Mercer's blog, and my opinion has not changed substantively since then.
    If I have a layman's revelation, I shall proselytize accordingly.

    Haigha.

    ReplyDelete
  22. “Dr. Jean Mercer would be one psychologist who argues that adopted children are unaffected by early experiences, even those involving lack of attachment and social deprivation.”

    “Unaffected”? Wow, Ms. M—I have to say this is rich, even for you.

    “I have to admit that because I am adopted, and because I am triggered by the debate of infant loss and attachment, I have not gone out and minutely researched the standpoint opposed to mine.”

    But have you researched it at all? And if you haven't, what gives you the right to misrepresent her work in this way?

    My understanding of Mercer's position is that children can grieve loss and form new attachments if there is a new and consistent caregiver available. However, this is heavily contingent upon the age of the baby and the nature of the care. As soon as you eliminate the loving consistency of a mother-substitute, whether that be a father, grandmother, stepmother, adoptive mother, whatever, and get into situations like months or years with multiple care givers (the subject of this post), group/institutional care, isolation in a neonatal intensive care unit, or being a “border baby” (just to give some examples), there will be a serious risk of attachment issues.
    Moreover, none of this has any bearing on the “fact” of being adopted, which, no matter how loving the substitutes, will always be a core issue of identity for an adopted child.

    ReplyDelete
  23. " For the first few months, babies don’t seem at all worried about who is taking care of them. Sometimes they seem to respond better to a familiar person, but that’s probably because the adult knows the baby well, not the other way around—the adult already knows what the baby likes." Jean Mercer


    "Attachment develops gradually and is certainly not present at birth. Babies don’t have a mysterious emotional connection to their birth mothers," Jean Mercer

    Obviously you interpret these statements to suggest that infants are attached to their "birth mothers"

    Richness abounds.

    There are tons more but since I strongly disagree, since to prove her assumption wrong I need only one adoptee to do that, and I am an adoptee who did/does experience a mysterious and abiding connection to her "birthmother" I don't really need to do any more research to "disprove" her speculation.

    To illustrate: If I say all cats are grey and you produce one black cat; no more research is required to prove that my assertion that all cats are grey is false.

    Mercer and others of her ilk claim that infants have no attachment to mothers at birth. I did, her statement is therefore false.

    ReplyDelete
  24. The only people who can speak with authority on the effects of being adopted are adult adoptees themselves. I am sick of so-called experts, even if they are highly educated, telling me how I am supposed to feel. During the BSE it was believed that if a child was placed in an adoptive home not long after birth that there would be no difference between being raised by one's natural mother or a non-genetically related mother. Well, as so many of us have found out, that is utter hogwash.

    And I second what Joy said on this issue.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Joy wrote: "Even though we are the ones who experience the feelings first hand we are often told how to feel about it by others who seem to thrill in ridicule."

    I do not see anyone "thrilling in ridicule " or dismissing your personal feelings here, just people disagreeing about a theory, quoting and misquoting and correcting misquotes. Nobody is telling you how to FEEL, but putting forth different ways of THINKING about infant development that you are free to not accept if it clashes with your feelings. Nothing personal at all. It is not always about you, or me or anyone.Sometimes it is about ideas and theories, and this is one of those times.

    ReplyDelete
  26. "Attachment develops gradually and is certainly not present at birth. Babies don’t have a mysterious emotional connection to their birth mothers."
    - Jean Mercer

    This is neither opinion nor conjecture. Attachment behaviours are present but selective attachment to one person, i.e., mother or other caregiver, is not. Go to any review of psychiatry and you'll find the same observations repeated. It's not about adoption per se and the effects of adoption. If course, everyone could be wrong but that would be a lot of people.

    ReplyDelete
  27. "Please don't get the idea that any developmental psychologist today would countenance this kind of treatment or consider it relevant to adoption reform."

    Please don't get the idea that I, who am concerned with adoption reform, thinks that what a developmental psychologist like yourself thinks is relevant or not relevant to adoption reform.

    Despite being in a so-called helping profession your dealings with adoptees who are primary sources for this very subject disappoints to say the least, and I find quite damaging.

    Most psychologists have only furthered harming adoptees by denying that many adoptees do feel a tremendous, staggering loss.

    I have absolutely seen no evidence that you are a friend of reform in the least Dr. Mercer and find it curious that you would be inspired to offer such an opinion. I agree with Jane that the out-dated kind of thinking that saw infants as blank slates inspired these "practice" babies, which seems to dove-tail nicely with your misguided belief that no connection exists at birth from infant to mother.

    Perhaps not all babies love their mothers, perhaps I would not know, I don't know all babies. I know that many do love their mothers and many who have lost their mothers were very affected and impacted even when receiving loving adoptive parents shortly if not immediately after birth.

    I think you have much more to learn from the adoption community than to teach to the adoption community. Any diligent professional researches gaps in their learning.

    I have seen no studies to back up your assertions and have no knowledge of any involvement of yours in adoption reform, a subject I am steeped in.

    I mean brill., you think it is not okay to mash children with blankets, me too. You assert that some children are afraid of Santa, well you know what? I knew that as a stoned 15 year-old so am not sure what ground you are breaking here.

    The nexus you have spontaneously created between "developmental psychologists" and "adoption reform" does not hold. Adoptees should be able to count on developmental psychologists, it is unfortunate that they are more foe than friend.

    ReplyDelete
  28. "Mercer and others of her ilk claim that infants have no attachment to mothers at birth. I did, her statement is therefore false."

    Except that you cannot have an opinion about your own mental state at birth or shortly thereafter. Your view is utterly tainted by your own experiences and bias looking backwards down the long lens of your own life. Have your opinion by all means. Don't call it science.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Jean Mercer has been working against the use of holding therapy and misuse of physical restraint for a long time which is something that's been commonly prescribed for adoptees who cannot "attach". It's not easy to speak out against such things and I admire her for doing it as well as support her in doing it. I'm disappointed about the lack of support she's gotten from the online adoption skirmish which I believe is only because she doesn't support the primal wound theory as it's presented.

    I don't understand how such supposedly enlightened individuals who claim to be concerned with the rights and well being of children can dismiss all of what Dr Mercer says and continue to malign her for the rest of time because she doesn't agree with a subjective theory of an adoptive parent who is a psychotherapist.

    ReplyDelete
  30. If only adoptees can speak for adoptees, what do you do with widely differing beliefs and feelings within the adult adoptee population? Perhaps better to say each adopted person can speak for themselves, not for "adoptees" as a group. It is not only "experts" who have differing views on these theories, but adoptees themselves.

    I happen to not believe that being a member of a group makes one an expert. I am not an expert on birthmothers because I am one. Being an adoptee does not make one an expert on adoptees, and all of us can sometimes learn something from an outsider's view of our situation.

    Here is my theory as a mother. Feel free to dispute:-)The connection felt between many adoptees and their mothers on reunion is not about pregnancy or infant bonding but about the strong pull of genetics. Nobody ever said adoptees feel no connection to their mother, and yes, many of them (not all) do. And mothers, myself included, usually feel the same connection back. This genetic connection can also be felt profoundly by fathers, siblings, and other relatives upon meeting their kin.

    It is an incredible experience to see one's child again as an adult, and must be even more so for an adoptee who has never met a biological relative to suddenly meet one face to face. That human experience needs no studies to prove, and does not require faith in permanent primal wound or infant memory and attachment to the biological mother from birth.

    I believe people can experience an instant recognition and connection to kin without prior infant attachment being a factor. I could be wrong, but so far have not seen real proof. For the millionth time, I am not dismissing adoptee pain, issues, lifelong problems of feeling of connection to their mother, but only looking differently at where these issues may originate.

    ReplyDelete
  31. OSoloMama, yes I have researched this. Of course I have, but you are coy in suggesting that you are unaware of how difficult this topic really is for me. Since you have forgotten, let me remind you of the conversation in which I did research and spoke with you about there being as little concrete evidence to suggest that there ISN'T a primal wound as to suggest that there is. http://osolomama.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/jean-mercer-talks-about-kids-parents-attachment-and-adoption/
    and
    http://childmyths.blogspot.com/2010/10/primal-wound-or-blight-man-was-born-for.html

    Also, have you not read Dr. Mercer's recent blog posts about how some Romanian adoptees who lived through severe deprivation but are are now well adjusted? http://childmyths.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2010-12-23T12%3A45%3A00-05%3A00

    I would liken "practice babies" in Home Economic class environments to orphans in institutions who were not able to attach to single caretakers--since there was likely no single caretaker. Perhaps you might ask Dr. Mercer to weigh in herself on this topic rather than attack me without evidence yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I feel very attacked, and I am not quite sure why I am such a heated target. I am sorry that a certain number of people here feel the need to personalize things. Rich and rude indeed.

    I did not demean Dr. Mercer, merely originally stated that some psychologists would believe practice babies would have no long-lasting effects to the psyche once they had a permanent caregiver. I do not believe this. That is all I said.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Oh brother, and you used to read my blog. :/

    Consider the following facts to your erroneous assertion that I called my experience "science"

    I am an infant adoptee

    I was deprived of my mother until I was 18.

    I did not have a search.

    I did not fantasize about my mother.

    I claimed adoption had no impact on me until I met my mother, and believe it or not recognized her and experienced a crisis, the proportion of which I never had known before or since.

    My mother has a preternatural influence on my feelings and experiences.

    I have no comparable relationship to my relationship with my mother with anyone anywhere ever.

    You personally, O Solo, know that my mother and I don't get along quite often. I hardly have her on a pedestal.

    I really shouldn't have justify this though, being a primary source in this unpleasant and fairly unusual set of circumstances is more than enough to make my opinion relevant due to my pushing 40 years of field research.

    What scientific evidence can you produce that you love your daughter or your parents?

    To this date in time anecdotal evidence that it hurts to be separated from your mother at birth is some of the best evidence that exists.

    True maybe not all babies, maybe not most even, but plenty.


    @ Campbell:

    I am not in the least impressed with the difficulty Mercer has saying, "don't mash kids with blankets it is stupid" I just said it, it was really easy.

    I do not feel bad for refusing to embrace someone who harms adoptees no matter how fond your little clique is of her.

    I am really disappointed that your clique attacked a fellow aodptee who was being both considerate and reasonable in her response.

    I totally stand by my comment about taunting adoptees about something very painful.

    Good work guys.

    I can't make you believe me, your prejudices against adoptees who do suffer as a result of adoption are clear. That doesn't make me wrong though. I know what I experienced, you don't. I know that dismissing people esp. people suffering from deep grief is a damaging practice.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Nobody is disputing that many adoptees suffer because of adoption, including those commenting here. Nobody is denying or disputing your subjective feelings of loss and pain.

    Debating infant cognition and primal wound theory is not the same as saying there is no suffering caused to adoptees by adoption. Whether primal wound theory is true or not, adoptees loose much more than their natural mother. They lose their whole biological family, family history, in some cases ethnic connections as well, and in many cases are made to live as if none of this mattered. That is a lot to swallow and a lot of pain. None of that is any way dismissed by me, Dr. Mercer. or those who question primal wound but are sympathetic to adoptee's real suffering.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Although I do read here regularly I am not fond of commenting and will only do so when I feel an obligation to defend something or someone who is being maligned. In my opinion the following exchange did just that.

    "I know that some psychologists believe that it doesn't matter what happens to infants because once they get a consistent caregiver, they'll be fine"

    "Citations please."

    "Dr. Jean Mercer would be one psychologist who argues that adopted children are unaffected by early experiences, even those involving lack of attachment and social deprivation."

    I have no prejudice against adoptees who suffer as a result of adoption. I will not let you say that without refuting it.

    My weighing in on this thread has nothing to do with cliques although I'm well aware of why you decided to use that particular dig. It does however have everything to do with Dr Mercer being misrepresented and as long as people continue to do that, whether they are adopted or not, I will continue to respond.

    ReplyDelete
  36. If adoptee doesn't fit into grateful to be adopted mold.
    Along with expressing ones true opinions to anyone
    they are not looked at a being relevant. After all those researchers know it all, no matter what we say.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Joy, you quoted Jean Mercer, who said "For the first few months, babies don't seem at all worried about who is taking care of them. Sometimes they seem to respond better to a familiar person, but that's because the adult know the baby well, not the other way around - the adult already knows what the baby likes."

    Dr. Mercer hasn't said she believes there is no connection between babies and their mothers. What she said was there is no "mysterious connection". Emotions, "mysterious or otherwise, can't be quantified empirically because they are subjective.

    Later, you asked Osolo "What scientific evidence can you produce that you love your daughter or your parents."

    You didn't, but if you were to ask me, I would argue that the way someone treats another is a valuable litmus test of that. Behavior is observable, and especially over a period of time it is a fairly reliable indicator of love and respect.

    Haigha

    ReplyDelete
  38. Robin said:
    "The only people who can speak with authority on the effects of being adopted are adult adoptees themselves."

    Does it follow therefore that the only people who can speak with authority on anything are those with personal experience of it? That would exclude medical doctors, historians, archeologists, social scientists, etc, etc, - all sorts of people - from saying or being acknowledged as knowing anything about anything.

    Nancy Verrier, whose voice is central to this discussion, is regarded as an authority by many adult adoptees, and, as already noted, she is *not* an adoptee.
    B. J. Lifton, who had, of course, walked the walk, preferred the term "cumulative adoption trauma", in which the original separation is compounded by the child's gradual realization that he is not the biological child of his parents, followed by dissociation as a consequence of trying to live as of not knowing doesn't matter to him.
    I buy that, and I think it may be why reunion can sometimes precipitate a sort of existential crisis in some adoptees.

    Haigha.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Again: I didn't misrepresent Dr. Mercer. She has gone to great lengths on her blog and elsewhere to say that all assertions about infants must be proved with firm scientific evidence.

    Dr. Mercer said to me directly once that anything I feel about being adopted can only be attributed to my finding out that I was adopted and knowing that there was loss that I could communicate with words. What I feel as an adult is just that: adult feelings that I am projecting backward. As though I didn't live and feel before today.

    I agree with Joy that I am a field researcher in this subject. I would much rather not feel and know what I do about adoption, but it's my life. I am sick of having to justify how I feel to people who not only don't care a whit about it, but are rude and nasty to boot.

    I feel for the adults who were these "practice babies." If any of them came forward to say that they feel that their early lack of consistent caregivers had an impact on their quality of life, however, I fear they would be told that what they went through was irrelevant because infants are adaptive and resilient. Those who were adopted ended up with a consistent caregiver, so there is no harm, no foul. There is no scientific evidence to show that "practice babies" suffered ongoing emotional harm, so to suggest they did would be incorrect because it can't be backed up by objective data. I think it would be incredibly insulting to say such a thing to a person.

    I agree totally with Joy: where is the scientific proof that people love each other? How can love (or love taken away) be quantified and measured? Can suffering be quantified and measured? No.

    How insulted would you be to be told you needed to produce quantifiable, scientific evidence that you love your child? Especially a child that is not biologically related to you, or a child that you did not raise?

    Adoptees are forever infantilized and made mute in discussions like these, in which we are told what we feel, when we feel it, and what it means.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Ma. Marginalia said "I would liken "practice babies in Home Economics class to orphans in institutions who were not able to attach to single caregivers-- since there was no single caretaker."

    I disagree, because I don't think the comparison is adequate, particularly in respect to the kind of deprivation suffered by children in Romanian orphanages. Again you and I are putting a different interpretation on Dr. Mercer's words. Her definition of "severe deprivation" includes this description of what many of the children in Romanian orphanages had to endure. She wrote "The Romanian orphanages were characterized by extremely severe deprivation, including confinement to cribs and bathing with water squirted from hoses, conditions unlike those in most other child-care institutions. Children with different histories may be quite different from the ERA group."

    Children in orphanages like the ones described here are generally routinely ignored for most of the time, except for the most cursory care. As a result they are deprived of essential emotional and sensory stimulation. They are not nurtured physically or emotionally, at least not in any sense that I understand nurture. I do not think that would have been the same with "practice babies". It is very possible that they were in some respects *over* stimulated (by endless fussing by rotating people), and I imagine that their physical needs were obsessively met.

    Haigha

    ReplyDelete
  41. Ms. Marginalia said "I feel very attacked . . . I did not demean Dr. Mercer, merely originally stated that some psychologists would believe practice babies would have no long-lasting effects to the psyche once they had a permanent caregiver. I do not believe this. That is all I said."

    Well, you did raise the issue, albeit in a rather oblique way.
    As further confirmed by your response to me ("Wow, etc"), it is rather obvious that you meant Dr. Mercer, who, at that point, had said nothing at all about "practice babies".
    Besides, if you had really meant "some" psychologists and not just Dr. Mercer, one would think you would have named them too.

    Haigha

    ReplyDelete
  42. Haigha,

    I said "Wow" because I thought you comment was snide and uncalled for.

    I know that you baldly asked for "Citations please." because I did the same thing to Dr. Mercer when I asked her for studies to back up her statements that babies do not prefer their natural mothers. As I recall, she didn't produce any.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Haigha,

    Do you posit then, that it is possible for infants to attach readily when there are rotating caregivers, as there were in the Home Economics courses?

    If you know more about the "practice baby" phenomenon, as you seem to do by saying that some babies were "obsessively" cared for, I would appreciate your sources.

    Dr. Mercer quoted from--and agreed with--Rutter et al.'s study of the Romanian orphans on her blog: “A striking finding at all ages was the heterogeneity in outcome. Thus, even with the children who had the most prolonged experience of institutional care, there were some who at age 11 showed no indication of abnormal functioning on any of the domains we assessed. Conversely, there was a substantial proportion of children who showed impairments in multiple domains of functioning.” So, some are lucky and some aren't. But those "practice babies" have to be better off?

    Moreover, when it comes to me bringing up Dr. Mercer, I am familiar with her and her ideas. She says that she is only one of many psychologists who subscribe to same point of view where it comes to infants and their relationships with their mothers.

    Dr. Mercer said in our previous debate, "For the first few months, babies don’t seem at all worried about who is taking care of them. Sometimes they seem to respond better to a familiar person, but that’s probably because the adult knows the baby well, not the other way around—the adult already knows what the baby likes." So it's not about the infant, who "doesn't seem worried." Dr. Mercer is saying that infants "seem" to see caregivers as interchangeable. It follows, then, that the "practice baby" environment would, in her opinion, not be stressful to babies, who don't favor their caregivers or exhibit attachment until 6 months of age.

    Could it not be that my singling Dr. Mercer out is a compliment? Giving her attention that might be due another psychologist? By all means, chime in with other sources if you want to point out that Dr. Mercer belongs to a great majority of thinkers. All I said before was that I DON'T AGREE WITH HER or anyone who says that infants are malleable and "seem" to do just fine with any rotating caregivers, as long as they are eventually adopted and find a permanent home.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Anon 1:52 wrote: "After all those researchers know it all, no matter what we say."

    I appreciate this tongue-in-cheek comment :-)

    @Haigha,

    In the preface to Nancy Verrier's The Primal Wound she writes "The only people who can really judge this work, however, are those about whom it is written: the adoptees themselves. Only they , as they note their responses to what is witten here, will really know in their deepest selves the validity of this work, the existence or nonexistence of the Primal Wound.".

    It seems Ms. Verrier is aware of her limitations on writing about the adoptee experience as she is an adoptive parent rather than an adoptee. I happen to agree with her work and appreciate her respect for the adoptee experience which only we can fully understand. Just as I cannot understand on the deepest levels the experience of relinquishing a child since I am not first mother.

    Maryanne wrote:"The connection felt between many adoptees and their mothers on reunion is not about pregnancy or infant bonding but about the strong pull of genetics."

    I disagree with this. I felt a very strong pull to my n-mother and a great sadness at losing her way before reunion. The pull to being a part of my first family was there even before I knew who they were. It was a strong need to be with my OWN family and an enormous sense of loss. Yes, human beings are different and react differenty to similar experiences. However, many adoptees feel as I do and are tired of having these feelings invalidated.

    And Ms. Marginalia,
    Thank you for your comments. I agree :-)

    ReplyDelete
  45. Robin wrote:"The pull to being a part of my first family was there even before I knew who they were. It was a strong need to be with my OWN family and an enormous sense of loss."

    Robin, I agree, that is exactly what I meant by " the strong pull of genetics". Being with your own FAMILY, not just mother, those people whose blood and genetics you share. Not knowing them or seeing them is indeed a tremendous loss. Meeting them as an adult, seeing blood relatives for the first time, must be an amazing experience. Nothing I believe or have written disputes or discredits that.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Here's an analogy. I was reading a book about crisis pregnancy and the author wrote that if a woman chooses adoption she will grieve for about a year after relinquishment. According to my fmother and other mothers here at FMF, grieving lasts a lot longer than that. So if everyone the fmother turns to and every expert she hears tell her "there's something wrong with YOU that you are still grieving after a year" she will probably start to get pretty ticked off. This is why many (not all )adoptees get annoyed when (once again) we are told that we didn't attach to our true/real/birth/first/original mothers and that any mother substitute will do. And no, we are not made mute here at FMF but in the larger world we often are.

    As for Ann Fessler's book, The girls who went away, Ms. Fessler did not consider herself the authority to speak about being a first mother as she is an adoptee. That's why the voices in the book are from first mothers themselves. And an underlying theme of the book was how most of the experts were full of bunk.

    ReplyDelete
  47. @Robin

    In the preface to Nancy Verrier's The Primal Wound she writes "The only people who can really judge this work, however, are those about whom it is written: the adoptees themselves. Only they , as they note their responses to what is witten here, will really know in their deepest selves the validity of this work, the existence or nonexistence of the Primal Wound."

    I remember reading that and thinking, well, she knows how to cover her bases and keep herself off the hook.
    It certainly is a great disclaimer.

    Haigha

    ReplyDelete
  48. Personally, I don't care who this Mercer person is or what her research says when it comes to adoption everything that is normal isn't because most haven't experienced the true loss. I don't really care to post with my name as I too
    Have felt the attacks. Now I post anonymous.

    I am sorry this has happened but I have even found at a
    Place where natural moms should be able to post I have been attacked by a certain two here plus a certIn adopter.
    Trying to be politically correct after losing my baby at birth just doesn't work for me. There are always a few here who just try to stradle the fence even though it makes me wonder why?

    ReplyDelete
  49. "If you know more about the "practice baby" phenomenon, as you seem to do by saying that some babies were "obsessively" cared for, I would appreciate your sources."

    But I *didn't* say they were obsessively cared for.
    What I said is "It is very possible that they were in some respects *over* stimulated (by endless fussing by rotating people), and I imagine that their physical needs were obsessively met."

    "Possible" and "imagine" are the operative words here.

    I used those words to indicate that I was speculating, and even though I think the whole idea of using "practice babies" is disgusting and deplorable, I do think it is a reasonable hypothesis to suppose that more than a few of the young women enrolled in the program would have been warmly responsive to these babies for the brief time they were with them.
    I do not think for a moment that this would have countered the ill-effects on the children caused by a constantly changing round of caregivers.

    I am also sure and I have read somewhere (will try and find again) that their health, hygiene and diet needs were minutely monitored. Which is what I mean by "obsessively cared for".



    Haigha

    ReplyDelete
  50. Jane and I are very torn about what comments to post, and what not to. Because people get mad at us either way because they feel the other person has the last word. But I really hate to read that someone feels the need to post here as anonymous, though I understand the reasoning.

    Once again, we are going to try to not post comments that get into you said, I disagree and by the way, you are full of it, you are speaking for everyone but you can only speak for yourself....Come on, can we have more civility at least here?

    We try to keep this blog open to both first mothers and adoptees and adoptive parents and anyone else with a valid comment, such as Ms. Mercer herself, so can we please be civil and KIND to each other? The next step will be to set up the blog and only post comments from people who leave an email address, though that will not be posted. The nasty, disagreeable tone that creeps into the blog is very disturbing and counterproductive.

    I won't appear on panels with people from NCFA, or Bartholet, because of this. The issues discussed here hit very close to the bone, and perhaps that is why passions are ignited. But let's stop attacking each other when basically we are all on the same side.

    ReplyDelete
  51. I disagree ith the statement too. It has been proven mothers and babies are interacting in uterine.

    Maryanne wrote

    :"The connection felt between many adoptees and their mothers on reunion is not about pregnancy or infant bonding but about the strong pull of genetics."

    ReplyDelete
  52. @ Robin:

    I appreciate that you are trying to make a point about an experience you have had; unfortunately this conversation has devolved into taunting, if it didn't inititate with it.

    I am not sure the excitement about 'educating' people about their own experience from non-initiates but it is an old hobby for some.


    I am just saying this as a vetran of these bloggy kinds of wars, they are just having fun with you. If they were interested, they would respect your opinion.

    You know this reminds me of one of my favorite poems, for all your enjoyment:

    `Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

    "Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
    Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
    The frumious Bandersnatch!"
    He took his vorpal sword in hand:
    Long time the manxome foe he sought --
    So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
    And stood awhile in thought.
    And, as in uffish thought he stood,
    The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
    Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
    And burbled as it came!
    One, two! One, two! And through and through
    The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
    He left it dead, and with its head
    He went galumphing back.
    "And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
    Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
    O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
    He chortled in his joy.



    `Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.



    Why Carroll of course! And infinetly more satisfying than arguing that the statement about no connection to mother means no 'mysterious' connection, lol.

    Matters of the human heart can not be quantified by hard science as of yet. Adoptee human hearts are just as important as others and if others can't respect that, you shouldn't let them play with yours.

    Just my unblushing opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Okay, I posted one last comment because it did discuss that this has devolved into taunting. Time to stop.

    ReplyDelete
  54. "But let's stop attacking each other when basically we are all on the same side."

    Thank you, Lorraine and Jane.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Can I ask if those who critique the work of Nancy Verrier have actually read her literature before forming their opinions as well?

    ReplyDelete
  56. I have read both her books, seen her speak many times, and consider her a sincere and nice woman. We are cordial to each other and I do not consider her an enemy, nor she me. There are useful and practical psychological insights in her work, aside from Primal Wound.

    However, I so not agree with her conclusions or method and question Primal Wound theory as universal to all adoptees, or at this stage of our knowledge of how the brain works, as provable.

    ReplyDelete
  57. What is so different from Primal Wound theory and the way Betty Jean Lifton explained it, that the "wound," or impact of adoption was more of an ongoing process begun at surrender but continued throughout a person's life?

    ReplyDelete
  58. I'm curious here, Joyful adoptee, what do you mean, set boundaries? Often we first mothers feel that our children purposefully seek to hurt us, and so we pull back in self-preservation. I am not suggesting that is the case in your situation because I do not know any of the particulars, but I'm curious (and I'm sure many of our readers would be) what you mean by "set boundaries." If you come back, will you be more specific?

    ReplyDelete
  59. Anon wrote:"What is so different from Primal Wound theory and the way Betty Jean Lifton explained it, that the "wound," or impact of adoption was more of an ongoing process begun at surrender but continued throughout a person's life?"

    There is a primary difference of style and approach in how B.J. Lifton writes about adoptee suffering and how Verrier writes about it. Verrier is an absolutist about ALL infants separated from their biological mothers suffering a primal wound from this event, no matter what happens later. She also claims scientific proof for her theory, not just emotional or subjective proof, even though she is unable to provide any substantial unbiased validation of her claim.

    B.J.'s take on this is more loose and elegant, more metaphor and story which does not have to be tested in a lab to resonate with other adoptees' personal experience. She writes from an inner adult psychological viewpoint grounded in humanistic psychology which does not claim to get inside the mind of a newborn or measure hormone levels and such.

    Her theory allows for further impact as the adoptee matures and learns what adoption means, how adoption is treated by the adoptive parents, other life experiences the adopted person has. Her theory of cumulative trauma does not sink or swim on infant cognition and memory, but takes into account the whole life of the adopted child and adopted adult and the many cruelties that secrets and lies, cultural attitudes, and sealed records inflict on adoptees beyond separation at birth.

    Both she and Verrier deal with adoptee trauma, but for Verrier, it begins and ends with separation from the biological mother,the damage is done shortly after birth, while in B.J.'s writings it
    is a series of events and attitudes that do not really depend on retained infant trauma to be valid descriptions of many adoptees' feelings, even if she herself believes in a sort of separation trauma as the first event.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Its all a big Social ExperimentFebruary 12, 2011 at 8:49 PM

    Any number of us adoptees may have been practice babies.

    It was common during the baby scoop era not to place the babies with prospective adoptive parents until they were from four to eight months of age. The agencies received a revenue stream from the foster care payments paid to the agency prior to placement. Mothers and their adopted out offspring have been unsuccessful in obtaining the records of pre-placement care. Many went to women who enjoyed fostering the newborns: a generation prior such "baby farming" was illegal. The babies were brought once monthly for pediatric visits to ensure they had no effects of syphilis or were not otherwise infirm or unsuitable for adoption. Adoptees have reported being taken to pediatricians far from their home neighborhoods, and suspect they were involved in some sort of study/experiment.

    ReplyDelete

We welcome comments from all, and appreciate letting us know how you relate to adoption when you leave your first comment.

COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish or not. We are trying to find a way to end the endless anonymous comments, which drive many of us crazy. Pick a name! Any name. Choose the NAME/URL selection. You do not need a URL. Your name does not have to be your name IRL though we appreciate those who do, and we understand due to the sensitive nature of our subject, many will prefer to use a nom de plume. Okay with us, but the endless Anons are tiresome for everyone. If you post as "anonymous" you run the risk of not being posted.

We try to be timely but we do have other lives.

For those coming here from Networked Blogs on Facebook, if it does not allow you to make a comment, click the "x" on the gray "Networked Blogs" tool bar to exit out of that frame and it should then let you comment.

THOSE WHO WISH TO LEAVE LINKS PLEASE WRITE MORE ABOUT IT THAN SIMPLY LEAVE THE LINK--TELL US WHY WE SHOULD GO THERE--AND ALSO KNOW THAT YOU CANNOT COPY AND PASTE FROM LINKS. We are unlikely to post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.