Trauma and Infant Adoption

Trauma and Infant Adoption

What is childhood trauma?

To help us understand childhood trauma, we use the 3 “Es.”

Childhood trauma is the experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful which often results in lasting mental and physical effects. (National Institute of Mental Health). The event can be a one time or chronic event. The experience of the event is scary or threatening to the child. The effect may be life altering and long lasting.

What does trauma informed mean?

If trauma refers to extreme stress that may overwhelm the person’s ability to cope, than trauma-informed care (TIC) is the approach that focuses on how to respond to the symptoms of the trauma (child’s behavior) in order to improve coping.

I am adopting an infant. Why should I be aware of trauma-informed care?

Research now identifies that as early as the second trimester, the human fetus is capable of auditory processing. In fact, the fetus is capable of processing rejection in utero. In addition to the rejection and abandonment felt by the newborn adoptee, it must be recognized that the far greater trauma often occurs in ways in which the mind and body of the newborn is incapable of processing.

This early experience is generally the child’s original trauma. The child may face many more traumas in their life including premature birth, inconsistent caretakers, abuse, neglect, chronic pain, long-term hospitalizations with separations from the mother and parental depression. Such life events interrupt a child’s emotional development, sometimes even physical development, subsequently interrupting the ability to tolerate stress in meaningful relationships with parents and peers.

An important aspect of trauma is in recognizing that simply because a child has been removed from a traumatic environment, does not remove the trauma from the child’s memory. ( Post, 2013)

Marcy Axness, a leading authority on adoption, separation, healing and survival emphasizes the important of adoptive parents understanding that all adoptive babies are in shock, which is the most severe level of trauma. They need to be held a lot and give true empathy. Their behavior needs to be interpreted in terms of their loss. IF this type of trauma is denied or minimized, there is a risk of adding to the infant’s trauma.

While this may sound hopeless, it is not. Adoptive parents who are trauma informed understand that by responding to the infants needs, by providing physical and emotional connections to the infant and by allowing the infant to grieve, they may be allowing the infant to recover from their first trauma experiences.

It is also important to understand the infant’s behavior may be more of a symptom of their trauma than what it may appear to be. Such things as sleepless nights, constant crying, colic like behavior may be the infants way of communicating their stress. Caring for an infant who has experienced trauma requires a shift in the way we think about child development. Childhood trauma impacts an infant’s physical and emotional growth. It colors how an infant views the world and others in it. As a parent who understands children react to trauma in many different ways and that their behavior is a response to the trauma, you will be able to promote healing. For more information talk to your adoption specialist or click here for helpful information.