At birth as the baby is separated from mother, the cord is cut and the placenta is retrieved from the womb. Severing the umbilicus from the placenta is a physical event that occurs in a moment in time. We might think of that experience as separation.
However, separation in attachment is not separation in the usual sense.
Using an attachment lens we are able to see that when the cord is cut, mother’s first urge is to hold the baby.
When the physical separation occurs, the psychological separation must be soothed, and that is the role of attachment. The intention in mother’s immediate urge is to draw the baby to her breast and keep the infant safe. The safe or ‘secure’ base is a living concept. Separation and the latching experience brings to mind midwives, and the ancient traditions of birthing. As the baby is guided to latch onto the breast for sustenance, both mother and baby are soothed. Indeed the infant has been brought to a safe base.
Bowlby’s great gift is that he gave us to understand that mother and baby need to attach soon after birth, and that attachment is a psychological event that is demonstrated physically. Or, in this way, attachment is a physical act with a psychological representation.
This insight allows us to recognize that during pregnancy mother/embryo is a single system, which becomes two systems that interact in order to attach at separation. Through observation, Bowlby discerned that at the point of birth and first attachment the infant’s brain begins to grow.
There are implications for brain growth from the cradle onward when interactions between mother and infant do or do not exist within a safe and secure base in any or all of the physical, emotional, psychological, developmental, and neurological realms.
A moment of clarity occurs when we make sense of something we haven’t understood before, like the picture Bowlby shaped as he began to notice how the brain grows through the process of attachment. It is obvious after the fact, but it is not obvious until it is obvious, much like all simple ideas that are not simple at all.