don’t tell me babies don’t feel trauma

We had a good time at M’s bio family’s party, celebrating her cousin’s 9th birthday. There were about 40 people there, no lie, about 21 kids! Everything went smoothly and we met M’s oldest sister who is 12 (and not that interested in her 4th baby sibling at the moment) and M’s great-grandpa and godfather! She had fun and sister #3, A, who I picked up and took home, had fun.

When we got home, came inside, M had a big meltdown. That doesn’t sound abnormal for a tired toddler but trust me, it’s different when rather than just whining and fake crying, she sobs like her heart is breaking. She also screamed, “no! go away” at me if I tried to touch her but cried even harder if I didn’t try to hold her. Yes, she was tired, but it was very evident to me, as her mom who knows every nuance of her every cry, that she was feeling something very deeply. This happened after we saw her bio family for the first time last year, too.

I think it’s very understandable. Yeah, she was 5 weeks old when she was taken from her family, but she’s not a grown up who has pretty much forgotten her early babyhood. At the age of two, something traumatic like that is really not that long ago in her short life. It’s been proven in studies that children up to the age of six can recall details in their babyhoods nearly as vividly as adults can recall events that happened in the last 6 years. It’s only in late childhood that our brain essentially “dumps” these early memories, with very rare exceptions.

So although she doesn’t yet have words to create a “story” out of, the memories and feelings of abandonment and trauma are less than two years old, still very fresh. That she knows, really knows, her bio family is very obvious to me. She doesn’t know how to explain the complex and heartbreaking emotions she has when she visits her first family, but it does come out in a very noticeable way.

So, I sat next to her and told her over and over, “Mama loves you, and Mama Cindy loves you. Aunt K loves you, and so and so, and so and so, and so and so loves you” basically all the people she knows, both adopted and friends and bio. And she calmed down. And I tell her that we’re going to visit them a lot and she’s going to see them soon, and she starts to feel a little better. Then I ask if she wants to watch Nemo, and have milk, and finally she stops crying and gives me an enthusiastic, “ok!”. Then she wants me to hold her.

So we work through it and I’m glad we’re doing it now, instead of 20 buried years later in a therapists’ chair!

Author: Mother of All Things

Mother by fostering, adoption, and marriage... wife to my best friend... Bay area critical care nurse... travel in my blood, reading in my bones, clean food on my mind!

2 thoughts on “don’t tell me babies don’t feel trauma”

  1. That’s heartbreaking. I hate that any baby would have to experience that kind of trauma. I’m so glad you and M found each other. I don’t throw this phrase around lightly anymore, but it seems to me you were meant to be mother and daughter. Have you created a photo album for her of her extended family? Kind of like the family tree, a way to link her to all her family members. I don’t think it would fix anything, but maybe it could help the transition of visiting and coming home feel a little less abrupt.

  2. You’re absolutely right that babies feel and experience trauma. I know it is not the same as adoption, but Noa remembered me for the first three years of her life. She would run to me, seek me out for comfort, and knew my voice, even though we only visited once every couple months. Babies/children DO remember. When she was about 4 years old, she told me she came late (she was a week late and 48 hours of labour!) because she wanted to spend more time with me before she had to go to live with her dad.

    Have you read “The Primal Wound”? I think I’ve seen you mention it before…can’t remember fully, though.

    I know you don’t want/need to hear it but you are doing right by M in being so open and giving her these opportunities for connecting with her first family. Some day she may choose to not pursue these relationships, but you’re doing it right by keeping that door open, and making it happen. So many adoptive parents don’t do this, and I think it speaks so highly of your love for her and what a good mom you are that you put her first.

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