One of the most important parts of the adoption assessment is deciding the age range of child you’d like to be considered for. Some people have a fixed idea before they start. Others don’t and their thoughts on age evolve with the assessment.
The average age children are adopted in the UK is three. However, children of all ages, including babies, are waiting to find their forever family.
Many think that it’s only older children that will be affected in the long term by trauma experienced in their early life. And that babies can’t be affected by trauma before they’re born. This misconception can lead to a complete misunderstanding of issues later on.
For a variety of reasons, we wanted to be assessed for as young a child as possible. That’s also the age range that our social worker felt best suited us and our circumstances. One of the first things she drummed into us though was there’s a lot of uncertainty with a young baby.
Absence of information
No-one can predict how a baby’s going to develop. However, using their parent’s history, you can usually predict whether there are going to be major issues. The reality is that birth parents aren’t always completely open and honest with professionals about their history. Sometimes the identity of birth father isn’t known. That could mean there are conditions and illness that aren’t known about.
Issues like birth mother drinking alcohol or taking drugs, can go under the radar. The effect that has on an unborn child can be life changing although the symptoms aren’t always obvious straight away. For example, the main characteristic physical features of foetal alcohol syndrome are most prominent between eight months to three years.
Trauma suffered in utero
When we started the adoption process, I knew intake of alcohol or drugs during pregnancy could have a lasting impact on a baby. And obviously physical abusive. But I had no idea that babies could suffer emotional trauma before they’re born.
One of the speakers on our preparation course was a psychologist. She was fascinating and really opened our eyes to emotional trauma suffered in the womb. She told us about a study carried out to see if babies were affected by what they heard in the womb.
A group of pregnant women were asked to play the EastEnders theme tune regularly throughout their pregnancy. EastEnders was picked because of its distinctive tune. A second group were asked to avoid listening to the tune while they were pregnant.
Once the babies were born they were all tested for their reaction to the theme tune. Those babies who had listened to it regularly whilst in utero, had a strong reaction to the tune. Those that hadn’t, had a much weaker reaction. The conclusion of the study was that babies can hear and are affected by loud noises whilst in their mother’s tummy. Loud noises such as shouting during arguments.
This article by talks in more detail about the kinds of things babies learn in the womb. Fear or anxiety experienced by a pregnant mother can have a lasting impact on their unborn baby. If there is evidence of domestic abuse during pregnancy, this may be something that affects a young child as they develop.
Another helpful article on the subject is “Helping to heal invisible hurts” published by American Foster Care and Adoption. It talks specifically about about this kind of trauma from an adoption and fostering perspective.
Our daughters were nine months and just under six months when they came home. When our eldest was about 18 months old, she started to have an extreme reaction to loud voices or noises. Even excited loud voices scared her. Without the knowledge we’d gained during our preparation course, we would probably have just dismissed it as a phase.
We’ll never know what’s caused it. But knowing it could be as a result of something that happened in utero has changed the way we react to it. We reassure as much as possible and explain more than we would have done. She can’t avoid loud noises, but hopefully she’s learning to cope with them better.
Knowledge definitely gives you power. If you’re considering a young baby, read about early trauma. As I said at the start, no-one can predict how a baby is going to develop. But knowing what they could be facing gives you a head start.
If you’d like to read adoption stories from adopters, adoptees, birth parents and foster carers, click here.