Imprinting – It’s not just what happened in Twilight!

I’m watching this incredible documentary on Netflix. As a side note, I’m addicted to documentaries and Netflix is seriously feeding my addiction but I digress…. 

The Dark Matter of Love – trailer

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The early part of the documentary explores imprinting in babies, both animals and humans. I have only ever heard of imprinting in the Twilight context:

Imprinting is a fascinating concept which occurs in babies, both animal and human in the first minutes and hours post birth, during this critical period, it is believed that everything that relates to their instinct and senses (smelling, touching, seeing, hearing, tasting) will be attuned to a higher degree than at any other time in their lives. 

There have been thousands of experiments done to test imprinting and each time, it finds that babies will imprint on what they see first post birth. I’m giving you a very simplified explanation here from what I’ve learned from reading up and researching imprinting. But this is apparently a practice widely known and understood in breeding circles, especially horses for example. Apparently horse breeders will always try to be present at a foal’s birth and ensure that in the minutes post birth the human is present and handles the foal, this is to ensure the foal will grow up comfortable around and being handled by humans. 

There is a very famous scientist, Konrad Lorenz, who has tested and proven this theory using geese. You can watch this fascinating video on his findings:

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And this really got me thinking about the effects of imprinting on adopted children and forgive me if you’re part of the adoption community in any capacity, but I may be a little controversial with what I’m about to share.  

And really, this is my completely uneducated, layman’s hypothesis but …

I have had two very different placement experiences with my children, Ava’s placement was magical, because I was with her birth mother when she gave birth. I watched Ava crown, I cut her umbilical cord and she was placed in my arms first. I remember it being an incredibly powerful experience, and one that now I know a little bit about imprinting, seems even more profound. In the minutes post birth, Ava did not cry, she did not come out squalling like most new born babies, she was dead silent and staring right into my eyes, staring right into me, and it was in that moment that I felt myself undeniably bond to her. It took a second and then minutes of close cuddling and looking at each other for me to fall completely and utterly in love with her. I was not her mother, but I was what she saw when she was first born. So I can only assume based on the science of imprinting, that that was her imprinting on me.

Then between Ava and Hannah’s placements, the child act changed and babies could no longer be placed immediately  with their adoptive families. Instead, Hannah was born and alone in the critical hours post birth. She was cared for by nurses in the maternity ward and then a couple of days later, transferred to a place of safety where she, along with about 10 other babies were cared for. She remained their for two months before she was placed in our care.

I don’t believe she got that imprinting experience in the minutes and hours post her birth. And after reading up on all of this, I am wondering if some of the issues we experienced with her post placement could be related. The thing is, Hannah has a lot of issues, and it’s taken us YEARS to help her. As a baby, she was terrified ALL the time. She was terrified of everything. Distrustful of everything. Craved being touched and held but would scream anytime we did touch or hold her. She was tactile defensive. She was orally defensive. She was curious but terrified of everything. It took months to see an improvement in her disposition and that only happened after she was under the care and treatment of an occupational therapist for months and after we followed the home care program, which involved Wilbarger brushing and all kinds of other treatments at home too. It’s taken her years to learn to feel safe in our family environment. 

I’m not really sure where I’m going with the point of this whole post, except to say that I am fascinated by the imprinting hypothesis and I am now more than ever, convinced that while placing babies in places of safety for the duration of their consent period pre adoption may be in everyone’s best interests except perhaps the child. I get that the consent period protects the birth parents and the adoptive family but does is it really in the best interests of that tiny, fragile, helpless little baby? 


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