There’s one question bothering an adoptive mum….
I’ve read the posts and nodded in agreement, the ones with a list of ridiculous statements or questions, that none adopters sometimes utter. On the whole however, none adopter’s unawareness can be forgiven, I mean I wouldn’t be that interested in learning about early life trauma if I wasn’t living with it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fascinating how the brain of a child is damaged through neglect and abuse, but with all the other things that family life can bring, would I really go out of my way to understand it if it didn’t overly affect me?
However recently one of these questions has been bothering me and I think deserves a little space for consideration. That question is “do you really think they still remember?”
This question alerts us to one of the fundamental problems that adopted children can face when coming into contact with individuals that are not trained in, or understanding of, early life trauma.
The concept that our children suffer from nightmare style memories of their previous life, and that in time these memories fade and disappear and the child is then cured of their past. I myself may have had this naive belief at one time or another, way back in the early days of dipping our toe into adoption.
I’ve now however come to believe that this idea is one of the main points to understand with children within, and from the care system. Just to clarify, the point is that, challenging behaviour is not always to do with or just about, conscious memories of a past life; it’s actually much more to do with damage to the brain. This damage is caused by a lack of relevant stimulation, or detrimental interaction, during formative years of brain development. It’s not that it has nothing to do with memory, many of the difficult behaviours our children display are triggered by something that stirs memories from their subconscious be it noises, smells or certain images.
However, a child’s lack of understanding of certain situations or an inability to perform certain tasks is unlikely to be as a result of a memory from their past, but is instead more likely a result of their brains not being wired in a way which allows them to do so.
My understanding is this. The part of the brain that they often operate from is The Reptilian Brain, where primary needs for safety are contemplated and the actions of fight, flight or freeze are instigated. Whilst this part of the brain functions, the other part of the brain that allows logical consideration and thoughts cannot operate. Whilst children living in a abusive and neglectful environments spend extended amount of time operating from the reptilian brain, other areas of the brain which enable a child to think logically and problem solve, remain under developed, and necessary hard wiring of the brain does not occur. If this wiring of the brain does not occur in the brain during the relevant period of infancy, then some development may never occur or at least take an extended amount of time to stimulate and fix.
As an adoptive parent and someone who has immersed herself in many a book by Dan Hughes et al, I take for granted sometimes, that because I get this, that others do too. And lots of people do get it or make the effort to try to understand, in an aim to support children in their family, of friends or that they work with. All efforts to understand are much appreciated. However it very much saddens me that some people, who work supporting children and their families, do not get this, at all.
Of late I had a lady, who had been referred to us by post adoption support say to me, “they’ve been with you seven years, they’re yours now”. To me this person very much saw early life trauma as vanishing memories as opposed to brain damage.
It frightens me that some of those supporting our children have the naive belief that their past lives will fade into insignificance and the love of their new family will make them forget.
As I said parents of none adopted children can be forgiven for not understanding the concept of early life trauma, but is it really acceptable that those working to support those living with it don’t?
So in answer to that question, do they still remember?
Each child’s experience will be different. I know my children have very few conscious memories of living with their birth mum. This has created its own problems ,as my oldest struggles to understand that such life changing decisions have been made for him, based on things he can’t remember. So I will pose the question now.
Do you think you really think it matters if he can remember or not?