Attribution and Cellular Memory

"Situational variables can exert powerful influences over human behavior, more so that we recognize or acknowledge."  – Phil Zimbardo

Is surrendering your child to strangers a situational or dispositional act?

Does a mother abandon her child because of the circumstances she is in or because of the person she is and was raised to be? Was she pressured to conform to societal norms or did she spend her young years dreaming of having a baby so she could give it away to strangers or leave it in a dumpster or at a hospital?

Naturally, based on my point of view, I will say a mothers decision to abandon her child to strangers is situational. Many (usually those that profit from the sale of children or adoptees themselves) have openly disagreed with me. They choose to believe that a mother abandoning her child is dispositional. She wanted to. She enjoyed it. She has no regret. She is evil. She never wanted the baby. She met with an adoption counselor before her child was born. Clearly she did not want the child.

When trying to decide what caused a mother to surrender her child, many prefer to focus on her abilities, traits and motives rather than the situation she was in. These factors are often grossly overestimated (She could have changed her mind. She had a choice. She was not drugged). This results in what is commonly known as a fundamental attribution error. Said differently, fundamental attribution means that certain people have an unjustified tendency to assume that a mothers actions depend on what "kind" of person that mother is rather than on the social and environmental forces influencing her.

This attribution concerns me in reunion. If our children believe that we never wanted them, always planned on abandoning them, did it with knowledge and intent and glee, what can we do? Can we correct that attribution error? Will anything we do or say make a difference?

Researching fundamental attribution tells me that certain "debiasing" techniques have been effective in reducing the potency of the error. Two of those techniques are:

1. Taking heed of "consensus" information. If most people behave the same way when put in the same situation, then the situation is more likely to be the cause of the behavior.

Interesting. Does this mean if most of the mothers that are sent to maternity homes abandon their children, we might be able to suggest that the situation (the home and the influences it provides) are the cause of the resulting behavior? Or perhaps if you have a group of mothers told for nine months they are worthless and their baby is better off without them, they might actually end up believing that?

2. Asking oneself how one would behave in the same situation.

In my limited experience, this technique doesn’t work in adoption reunion. It is nearly if not completely impossible for a male to imagine himself in the same situation as his unsupported expectant mother. This technique works sometimes with our female children but not always. Many adoptees insist they would know better, they would do differently, they would never abandon their child. This is even less likely to work if the adoptee being asked the question was also pregnant and unwed but kept her child. She is unable to separate her and the support and knowledge she may have had from that which her mother did not.

To complicate the attribution error concern further, there is cellular memory. Cellular memory is the hypothesis that certain memories, habits, tastes are stored in cells in human bodies not just our brains (imprinting). There is research that suggests an abandoned child knows, feels, remembers, in every cell of their body that their mother left them. At the age the abandonment likely happened, they would have been unable to intellectually process the cause of the event (situation).

If this primitive memory meets up with an adult fundamental attribution error, does a mother have any chance in reunion with her child?

13 Thoughts.

  1. They choose to believe that a mother abandoning her child is dispositional. She wanted to. She enjoyed it. She has no regret. She is evil. She never wanted the baby. She met with an adoption counselor before her child was born. Clearly she did not want the child.
    Oh puh-lease!!! This really pisses me off! Reeks of adoption industry myth. What woman would CHOOSE to carry a child for nine months for the purpose of giving him/her up? (Other than surrogates, and I doubt that they do it without twinges — the baby is growing in your body, for cryin’ out loud!)
    There was a time when abortion was illegal and only available via the most dangerous of routes. In any era, there are those whose religion prevented that option. And don’t forget about the mothers who held out hope, thought they would find a way — whether that her boyfriend would change his mind or she would run away or find some support. Even after I was sent away and hooked up with the adoption attorney, my fantasies of finding a way out ran rampant.
    No one who hasn’t been through the experience, in any era, can say what they would do. And yet, they are often the ones saying what a selfless thing we did, what a wonderful gift we gave a couple who could not conceive.
    Trust me, that was never our intent. F–k dispositional and anyone who says otherwise.
    No wonder indeed, if social workers and adoptive parents and whoever else are perpetuating this kind of BS (and they are!), that our children believe that we did not want them. Even if they don’t make that point, children form their own perceptions. Chosen “here” means unchosen “there.”
    Yes, there is cellular memory. It’s real. It endures. It hurts. And no explanation we give can ease that.
    First mothers in reunion have their work cut out for them. Thank you, adoption,

  2. I think the pro-adoption side is always in there pitching whether it is with fancy psychological theories,guilt or stories about how x happy adoptee has no interest in meeting or knowing their family.
    I also think that the reason that society has issues with we mothers is that at its core it believes that placing a child for adoption is an unnatural act. See the quote on the masthead of Writing My Wrongs for the answer to that one.
    You did not have to be in a maternity home to have been told you were unable to care for your child, family can do a pretty good job of that all on their own.
    On Oprah yesterday there was a story about surrogate mothers in India. When asked by Lisa Ling how they feel about the children they have born they all said they would never forget them. Lisa Ling went on to talk about all the controls they had in place to minimize or elimnate attachment. I thought the whole thing, including dorm rooms of pregnant women carrying children for wealthy couples was a scene right out of the Handmaid’s Tale.
    Kris

  3. Kris:
    Lisa Ling went on to talk about all the controls they had in place to minimize or elimnate attachment. I thought the whole thing, including dorm rooms of pregnant women carrying children for wealthy couples was a scene right out of the Handmaid’s Tale.
    Handmaids Tale indeed. The idea of it makes me literally want to vomit. I believe it is Celeste Billhartz that has said
    Adoption: Women inhumanity to women.
    It makes me feel so terribly, well, icky, to know that women are behind this breeding, this surrogacy, this continued damange to children.

  4. I realize I am probably going to upset some of you with what I am about to say. So, first know I am only telling you my view and I read here to learn. So, even if I am wrong just know I am not trying to upset anyone.
    I often believe that both factors play into it. I would never say any birthmom wanted to give her child or certainly not that she enjoyed it. That is ridiculous. I think situation is the main component of why children are given up for adoption. I mean really, how many women who have support, make decent money and are perfectly healthy give up the child they become pregnant with? Ummm…none I would imagine. However, I do think disposition plays into it. Especially, in this country where we can have abortions and they are safe. Wanting to, enjoying it, etc are awful ways to put it. But I do think that often times (and I have obviously read Suz’s story and I am not really talking about women like her who were sent away and given no support, I am hoping that today things are not the same – maybe I am wrong) the women who choose adoption did know what their options were and chose to give the child up. I do not think that means they wanted to or that the child was unwanted (heck, I look at my son and KNOW with all my hear there is no woman who could look at his sweet face after giving birth to him and not want him:)), but that this was what the woman thought was the best decision at the time.
    Again, if I have offended anyone I apologize.

  5. What should matter is that whatever the circumstances involved one can not determine the outcome of a single mom and her decision to relinquish her child. A controlled group in a maternity home is at best the outcome of what she will do as a conditional response to those attending her needs.
    Outside of women breeders, the factors and variables, the emotional trauma of a mother giving birth and finds no way to keep her child. Working with a social worker is an event that is used to keep placing babies. All I ever heard is “sign the papers, its been six months and you need to sign” And as the family quietly ignores and will not get involved because it would mean a commitment for them. Then the bf or husband time has run out he has no commitment. Ultimatly, your train has reached the station.
    It is a very lonely cold place and one you never forget.
    And I wonder after all the blogs I read, Does a meeting or a reunion suffice to recognize your pain is never over?

  6. Mary – As an adoptive parent (meaning you not me), dont you think you HAVE to believe that even if it is true or not?
    What I wonder often is how many adoptive parents would adopt if they were fully aware of the circusmtances of their childrens birth and surrender? If an adoptive parent was told by an agency “This mother does not want to give away their child. They were presssured by their family. The mother is a wreck right now So, here you go. Enjoy your new bundle” would adoptive parents still take the child as easily as they would if they were told “The mother is fine. Shes happy. Shes good. She is thrilled to give away her child”
    ???

  7. Suz, in regards to your last question (here in the comments section). My daughter’s parents chose not to adopt again because of their concern for me and my pain. I believe it was something they hadn’t thought (or been told) much about before adopting my daughter, but in our initial (few) letters it was clear they were concerned about me and how I was coping. Again I point to the agency for misleading the three of us (her aparents and me) and giving us terrible advice (to reduce contact which was supposed to help us all “heal”). The only positive outcome of all that is that they consistently delivered to our daughter a very positive message about me and her birth and the circumstances surrounding her relinquishment.

  8. Mary said:
    “I am hoping that today things are not the same – maybe I am wrong) the women who choose adoption did know what their options were and chose to give the child up. I do not think that means they wanted to or that the child was unwanted (heck, I look at my son and KNOW with all my hear there is no woman who could look at his sweet face after giving birth to him and not want him:)), but that this was what the woman thought was the best decision at the time.”
    Mary, It does happen today, as it did in the 80’s when I relinquished. Adoptions Agencys, Church Run Adoption Homes, etc…. spend 9 months coercing a girl into believing she is doing what is best for her child. It is easy to do when you tell a young, scared woman, how very brave she is to make this choice, how wonderful it is to think of this child before herself, how much the afamily can give this child, you want your child to have the best don’t you and on and on… Let’s turn that around for a sec, let’s see, what they are actually saying is this: You are not good enough, you cannot make it on your own with this child, you are lacking, someone else is better than you. In the end, you feel worthless, you lose the will to fight, you feel unworthy of this precious child that means the world to you. Yes it still happens. Mary, there is a place for adoption, however EVERY option to maintain an intact family must be exhausted prior to that happening. Young mothers still TODAY are still victimized, just like they were then. It won’t stop until adoption as it is today is stopped. (and yes, as I said, I believe there is a place for adoption in our society, just not like it is and has been practiced).
    Just my humble opinion 🙂

  9. Suz,
    I think maybe saying I hope that for some women it is a choice based on their belief that at the time it is the best option. Do I need to believe that? I suppose I do. I suppose I need to believe that the woman who gave birth to my son is comfortable (notice I do not say happy – I do not assume anyone can be happy with the situation – but I hope she has peace)with the decision to place him for adoption.
    Kristy,
    I realize that it does still happen. What I meant more was that I hope that there are more women today that know their options and are making a choice more than they are being forced.

  10. I think the notion that some how the grief of losing a child to adoption can be managed so that the mother feels “comfortable” with her decision is part of the big lie.
    It is a way to make people who want to adopt these days think that what they hear from those of us who have been through is no longer true. Clearly we only feel that way because previously, in days past, that grief was not well-managed. Not so. Sorry.
    Kris

  11. I get a little het whenever I read/hear presumptions that any woman who wants an abortion nowadays can get one. Something like 85% of all counties in the USA that have no abortion provider. Add to that state laws restricting access according to age; parent/guardian notification requirements; rampant and purposeful misinformation about the dangers of termination procedures and “post-abortion syndrome” (why are there no laws requiring a detailed description of all the possible harms resulting from adoption before a woman is allowed to sign parental termination papers?)… and, you know, the fact that pregnancy termination isn’t covered by public assistance or otherwise made affordable for those who don’t have $200+ in their wallet at any given time. Still sound like a viable option for any girl or woman who would prefer not to take her pregnancy to fruition? Not to me.
    If a woman doesn’t want to have an abortion (i.e. wants to have a baby), more power to her and my best wishes for a healthy pregnancy and child. But if a woman does want an abortion, there’s no guarantee that she’ll be able to get one simply because Roe vs. Wade hasn’t been overturned yet. And if you’re pregnant and don’t have an abortion, you have a baby. If you’re pregnant and don’t know what you want to do and you fall in with people who are deeply invested in you not having an abortion, it’s a pretty good bet that adoption will be presented to you as an attractive package all tied up with a pretty win-win-win bow. Sad but true, in all too many cases.
    To say that a woman *wanted* to be pregnant, give birth, and adopt out her child simply because she didn’t have an abortion is to miss a major flaw in the reproductive-care options available to American women and girls today. To overlook the common adoption-focused Crisis Pregnancy rhetoric that simultaneously applauds women for “choosing life” while priming them for the “courageous”, “angelic” role of Birthmother is an even bigger mistake.

  12. “If this primitive memory meets up with an adult fundamental attribution error, does a mother have any chance in reunion with her child?”
    Possibly.
    Joy and I have definitely dealt with both of these. Although I sometimes am not so sure of the adult part, because there was so much growing up for us both left to do when we reunited.

  13. Lula – Excellent points! You clearly illustrate the pro-life connection to the NCFA. Trap a woman so she cannot have a child she does not want and force her to surrender to adoption. Keeps the supply line nice and full for NCFA.

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