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

Steve Farnfield (Department of Psychology, University of Roehampton − Whitelands College, London, UK)

Journal of Children's Services

ISSN: 1746-6660

Article publication date: 28 June 2019

Issue publication date: 15 July 2019




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.


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.


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 DMM approach 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.


This is the first DMM-AAI study with prospective adoptive parents and the findings show significant differences when compared with previous studies using the Main and Goldwyn AAI. It is also the first study to establish fertility as a legitimate area for attachment studies by using AAI discourse analysis.



Farnfield, S. (2019), "Attachment and the loss of fertility: the attachment strategies of prospective adoptive parents", Journal of Children's Services, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 78-96.



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