Monday, September 18, 2006

I listened to the terrific radio show This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass from WBEZ in Chicago, last weekend and found myself in tears, pained, and very afraid. The show itself was about unconditional love and featured two stories about parents and their children. One story was about a child who was adopted from a Romanian orphanage at age 7 and came home with severe attachment disorder, among other things; the other was about a family with twin sons, one of whom who has severe autism, and the parents' struggle over that child's institutionalization.

Ok, what got me, though, was the introduction to the show. Here's a portion of the blurb from the show website:

Hard as it is to believe, during the 30's and 40's
a whole school of mental health professionals
decided that unconditional love was a terrible
thing to give a child. The government printed
pamphlets, warning mothers against the dangers
of holding their kids, and even a mothers'
organization endorsed the position that mothers
were dangerous – until psychologist Harry Harlow
did a series of experiments with monkeys that
proved the whole idea was insane.

What Harlow did was to take brand new baby monkeys away from their mothers and put them in cages with substitutes. Some were metal mesh cylinders with bottles of food, some were covered with soft fabric and no food. He was testing the prevailing theory that attachment comes from feeding so if that's all there is to it, the baby monkeys would hang with the food-mommies and not the cozy-mommies. Nope, they'd spend almost all of their time with the cozy-mommies, and leave only to eat or explore. If the cozy-mommies were removed, the baby monkeys were anxious and didn't play; if the cozy-mommies were there, the baby monkeys were confident and soothed. Ok, cozy trumps food. No surprise (anymore) there.

Then he upped the ante. He made the evil-mommies. Mommies that shocked the babies, mommies that were spiked to poke into the babies and make them jump off, mommies that had really scarey faces. And here's the part that stabbed me in the heart: Those little baby monkeys returned over and over again to be shocked or poked or scared over and over again; they cooed, they cajoled, they did everything our precious little human babies do when they're trying to get our attention. They did everything they could think of to try to fix the broken relationship with their mommy-figures.

And what does this have to do with me and my family? We haven't seen BabyGirls's birthmother but twice in the last three years despite repeated plans (she's a no-show), emails, phone calls. She lives only a few miles away.

My fear--my gut-wrenching, reduce me to a quivering mass of mommahood fear--is that my beautiful baby will internalize that broken relationship and do everything she can think of to fix it. Does that mean my baby might be more likely to try to identify with her birthmom by also getting pregnant at 16? Might she be more likely to make spectacularly bad choices when it comes to schooling and men (aside from BabyGirl's birthfather who is a gem amongst men) to be a little more like her birthmom? Can I love BabyGirl unconditionally enough, support her enough, to help her through her teenage-hood and come out the other side reasonably healthy and whole?

1 comment:

afrindiemum said...

ugh. i worry about that every day.

like someone said on my blog - acknowledging is the first step toward fixing it.