Attachment and the loss of fertility: the attachment strategies of prospective adoptive parents

Stephen Farnfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose – The purpose of this paper was to determine the attachment strategies of prospective
adoptive parents and any correlation between attachment and the defensive strategies they used when
talking about loss of fertility. The study also examined whether attachment strategy of the applicants had a
bearing on the decision by the local authority to place a child.
Design/methodology/approach – The sample was comprised of 48 respondents (21 couples) representing
84 per cent of all people who applied to one UK Social Services Department in a 12-month period. Placement
of a child was reviewed two years following the assessment. The study used the dynamic maturational model
version of the adult attachment interview (DMM-AAI), together with added questions on loss of fertility to assess
the applicants’ attachment strategies together with unresolved loss and trauma and the DMM modifiers.
Findings – Unlike adoption studies using the Main and Goldwyn system, this study rated very few of the
applicants’ AAIs as secure (13 per cent), 48 per cent were in the normative low-risk range and 52 per cent of
the AAIs were coded in the more complex DMM insecure strategies. There was a significant bias towards
marriages where the partners deployed opposite low-risk/DMM strategies (13 (62 per cent) of couples).
Compared with data on non-clinical populations the AAIs showed a high level of unresolved loss or trauma
(58 per cent). Using a six-way distribution (A1-2, C1-2, B, A3-4, C3-6 and A/C) there was an 87 per cent
correspondence between discourse about loss of fertility and that about attachment, thereby supporting the
established proposition that reproduction is part of the attachment system. Twenty one per cent of the AAIs
were coded as “disorientated” and this is discussed in terms of conflict for adoptive of parents concerning the
raising of a child who carries their own genes or those of strangers. A case is made to conceptualise negative
impact of infertility in terms of unresolved trauma rather than loss.
Research - limitations/implications – This study adds to research showing that the DMMapproach is more
finely calibrated than the ABC+disorganised model with the latter likely over coding for security. The results
emphasise that fertility and reproduction are legitimate subjects for attachment studies and that AAI discourse
analysis is a valid methodology for future research. However coder agreement as to whether or not loss of
fertility was resolved was only fair (64 per cent) κ. 0.25 (po0.33). More work is required in order to determine
what constitutes unresolved loss of fertility and what impact, if any, this has on parenting an adopted child.
Practical implications – The practice implications are considered in a separate paper.
Social implications – The findings are contentious in that they suggest a significant number
(48 per cent) of adoptive parents have needs not dissimilar to other clients of psychological services.
Originality/value – This is the first DMM-AAI study with prospective adoptive parents and the findings show
significant differences when compared with previous studies using theMain and Goldwyn AAI. It is also the first
study to establish fertility as a legitimate area for attachment studies by using AAI discourse analysis.
Keywords Attachment, Assessment, Adoption, Infertility, Adult attachment interview,
Dynamic maturational model
Paper type Research paper
Adoption in the UK is an integral if numerically small part of the child welfare system. Over the last
few decades the profile of adopted children has changed from that of infants relinquished by their
birth parents to older children
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)78-96
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Children's Services
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2019


  • Attachment, Assessment, Adoption, Infertility, Adult attachment interview, Dynamic maturational model

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